The number of day labourers waiting for work outside a Hyattsville, Maryland, shopping centre has dwindled to a couple of dozen a day, from more than 100 a few months ago.

Business is slow at markets and shops in immigrant neighbourhoods, and fewer foreign-born residents are coming to food pantries. In some cases, adults are skipping English classes or keeping children home from school.

US President Donald Trump's promised clampdown on illegal immigration is having a distinct impact on the Washington region's immigrant-rich suburbs, according to residents, advocates, workers and business owners.

Fewer people are venturing out into once-lively shops and commercial strips, and the economies of those communities are suffering as a result.


"It's too hard, and people are too scared," said Julio Umanzor, a carpenter and legal permanent resident from Mexico who comes to the shopping centre to find workers to put up drywall, paint or run wires for a day's wages.

Saqib Choubhry, part of a large Pakistani family that owns the Fair Price International Supermarkets in northern Virginia, said not as many customers are coming in, and those who do are buying less.

"We had a plan to open another location, but we postponed it," Choubhry said last week, on a day when Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe visited the store in Alexandria to demonstrate his support for immigrants.

"It's very slow - just look around."

A trickle of customers approached the halal meat counters, but the grocery aisles, where large jugs of sesame paste, mango juice containers and bags of basmati rice were neatly stacked, stayed nearly empty.

The federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has rounded up hundreds of undocumented residents across the country in recent weeks, including some outside a homeless shelter in northern Virginia and near a Walgreens in Baltimore.

Trump's executive orders - an expansion of who can be targeted beyond known criminals, as well as the travel ban that was blocked in federal court - have sparked what appears to be a new assertiveness in enforcement, and a rising wave of worry among immigrants in the Washington, DC, area and across the country.

"It's fear, fear, fear. That's the language we are speaking," said Theodore Ngatchou, a community activist within Washington's French-speaking African community. "Nobody knows what's going to happen. Even those with papers, like me, are scared."
But there is also an undercurrent of fatalism about a situation that immigrants know they cannot fully control.

Edwin, an Guatemalan day labourer who has been in the country for 20 years and did not want his last name used, said he will keep looking for jobs, guided by a verse from the Bible's Book of Daniel and a belief that the US economy relies on people like himself.

"This country needs us, the workers. But whatever happens, I trust in God's will," he said outside the shopping centre in Hyattsville. "God deposes kings and raises up kings. The same goes for presidents."

Elected leaders across many parts of the region have vowed to support undocumented residents, issuing a patchwork of statements denouncing ICE actions.
Governments in Prince George's and Montgomery counties in Maryland have reaffirmed their refusal to comply with certain federal immigration requests, and school systems have dispatched messages to remind parents that they should continue to send their children to class.

Absenteeism has, so far, not been widespread, area school systems said. But there are isolated reports of adults and children staying home, including in Baltimore, where immigrants are skipping their English-as-second-language classes at Catholic Charities' Esperanza Centre.

Parents are requesting legal consultations and applying for passports for their children in numbers organisers haven't seen before.