Orlando-area immigrants in 'state of panic' over zero-tolerance policy, attorney says

'This country has never had a history of separating families from children'

ORLANDO, Fla. – The Trump administration's "zero tolerance policy," which separates immigrant children from their parents at the borders, is having an impact in Central Florida, according to a local immigration attorney Gail Seeram.

"I have many legal and illegal immigrants that are in a state of panic," Seeram said. "They're worried. They want to secure their status in the United States."

[WEB EXTRA: Immigration by the numbers: White House data sheds light on 'broken system']

Seeram said even her clients who have green cards are now concerned about their status.

"I find a lot more permanent residents are actually applying for U.S. citizenship, because they want to make sure they won't be deported and forced to leave this country," she said.

While Central Florida doesn't have a border, it does have many people who are here illegally. 

[Tell us: How have you been affected by immigration system?]

"If you are here illegally, and ICE gets a tip that an illegal person is living at this house, ICE can come and apprehend you," Seeram said.

When people are taken into custody for immigration violations in Orlando, there is no federal facility to hold them so they are often held at county jails before being transported to facilities in Jacksonville and South Florida, according to Seeram.

Then the court process begins.

[READ: Florida lawmakers kept from entering facility housing immigrant children

It can be months or sometimes years before someone goes through the process and is finally deported, according to Seeram.

She says seeing small children away from their parents that long is disturbing.

"I don't think it's healthy for the child and healthy for the family to be separating these families in such a manner," she said. "This country has always had a history of families immigrating, but this country has never had a history of separating families from children."

About the Author: