SANTA MARIA, Calif. - Thousands of undocumented migrants could face deportation this weekend. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement is planning a nationwide raid on Sunday.
Migrants like Neofita Valerio Silva know what it's like to be in the system.
"They wanted to kick me out right away," shared the Grover Beach mother of three via FaceTime. Valerio was sent back to Mexico last year.
"I know we made a mistake when crossing the border illegally, but a year after we got here we looked for ways to fix our status," she said in Spanish.
The Acapulco native says she was able to obtain a work permit while she waited for her asylum request to be processed.
"We always feared going back," she said, citing two kidnappings in the family.
Despite efforts, Valerio was ordered to leave. Her fight to stay was further hindered by bad immigration advice. The former Central Coast resident says a lawyer charged her thousands of dollars before admitting he'd been disbarred.
In January 2018, she hugged her kids good-bye and turned herself over to ICE at their office in Santa Maria.
Many undocumented immigrants fear they could find themselves in her shoes after Sunday.
On Wednesday, acting US Citizenship and Immigration Services director Ken Cuccinelli said the ICE raids are "absolutely going to happen" following a delay from President Trump to see if Congress could work out a legislative solution on immigration.
"In case an immigration officer comes to their home, they have the right to not open the door," said Susana Covarrubias of la Hermandad Mexicana in Santa Maria.
Legal experts like Covarrubias are advising people to take precautions.
"Be prepared by having either your attorney's phone number, or the Mexican consulate number if they're Mexicans, or the consulate of their country," she said.
As reported by the New York Times, the operations are expected in at least 10 cities. Agents will be focusing on those who have orders of removal, but the Times reports authorities might detain immigrants who happen to be on scene, even if they are not the target.
"Under this administration, everybody is a target," said Covarrubias.
ICE had postponed this operation in June. Los Angeles and San Francisco were among the cities the raids were expected.
According to the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services director, there are approximately a million people in the country with removal orders.
Migrants may receive an order of deportation if they commit a crime, or have been caught crossing the border in the past. Some cases become more complicated when the person fails to appear in court. Covarrubias said some people may miss a hearing because they never received a notice.
"Here for instance, in Santa Maria, we have a lot of our community that work in agriculture, and they're moving from city to city following the different seasons. So they may not be getting their mail unless they properly request to forward it," she said.
However, she said some migrants might be able to fight an order of removal depending on how long they've been in the U.S
"There are people that have been here over 10 years, so they are able to apply for cancellation of removal," she said.
Experts say others are stuck in the system because of bad legal representation.
"There are cases that we do see were stuck in the 90s, but there was no reason for them not to already have their green card."
Covarrubias said when hiring an immigration lawyer, it's important to check they're in good standing on the State of California Bar website.
Even with adequate help, though, an immigrant's green card request could take years to be handled.
Data on the U.S Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs site, shows cases dating as far bask as 1995 are just now being processed.
"The waitlist is really long," said Covarrubias.
Neofita Valerio knows that first hand.
"My daughter (a U.S citizen) is petitioning for me to help me return. But we haven't gotten any answers yet."
Because of her history, however, Valerio may be facing a 10-year bar.