by Barbara Childs
More than one hundred people gathered at Peace United Church on Saturday, March 11, prepared to learn how to effectively document and monitor the raids on immigrants that are beginning to bear down on Santa Cruz County. The event, organized by a local group named YARR, Your Allied Rapid Response featured information on current organizing activities in Santa Cruz, followed by a two-hour training led by San Francisco Bay Area immigration lawyers who work with a Bay Area group called Migra Watch. The audience gave the two main trainers, one Iranian-American woman and one Mexican-American woman, a standing ovation at the end of their presentation.
The trainers emphasized that ICE works by planting fear. “ICE knows that what it is doing is unconstitutional, but it doesn’t matter to them,” said one trainer. “They are getting people to leave the country because of fear. They throw tables and chairs. They are deliberately trying to create fear.” This trainer said that ICE might turn up in the early hours of the morning with the name of one person. If someone else answers the door, they may apprehend that person. ICE might say ‘If your husband turns himself in we’ll let you go.“ Ernestina Saldana, a leading activist in the local Sanctuary Movement said, “If they want to arrest you, they will arrest you. ICE lies.”
The trainers explained to the crowd what ‘rapid responders’ would be expected to do. In the Bay Area, the phone number of the Migra Watch Hotline is being widely disseminated throughout the immigrant community. If there is a raid, anyone can call that number and a Migra Watch despatcher will immediately send a text message to a rapid responder who lives in the vicinity of the raid (within a radius of 2-5 miles). Once the message is received, the volunteer will text back “I’m on my way,” getting there as soon as possible to begin the documentation process. A similar system is being set up in Santa Cruz.
In order to make the situation more real for the audience, the two main trainers acted out two versions of a raid scenario. In the first version the observer in the role-play was more confrontational, creating a situation in which her phone was confiscated by the police. In the other, the observer kept videoing the situation but slowly inched backwards as the police yelled at her to back up. By minimally complying with police orders, the observer was able to keep videoing the raid without losing her cell phone. The trainers emphasized again and again that it is a constitutional right to document any police action.
Trainers emphasized the importance of staying calm, not talking with the police except to repeat that: “I’m here to document”, and capturing as much information on video as possible. Prospective observers were told to get badge numbers, number of agents, number of people detained, license numbers, identification (or lack thereof) on police vehicles, hate words used, examples of excessive force, weapons used, property damage, property confiscated etc. If more than one observer shows up, the second person can focus on videoing observer #1 to gather evidence on possible violation of observers’ constitutional rights to document. A third person could take notes, using a checklist developed by Migra Watch.
All documentation is being collected in order to protect and defend immigrants in court. Trainers emphasized that the documentation should never be sent out over social media, an act that could potentially put the immigrant family members at more risk.
Trainers said that after a raid, if the family is willing, observers can interview the family members to get more information about the siutaiotn. The family’s needs must always be respected.
During an especially poignant moment, one of the trainers, the Iranian woman who now works as an immigration lawyer with Migra Watch, talked about her own childhood as an undocumented immigrant in the U.S. “People often think that I came to America to seek the American dream. That is false!” she said emphatically. “How many of you know that the United States overthrew the democratically elected government of Iran in a CIA directed coup in 1953?” Her situation reflects that of many immigrants in this country whose families fled the violent aftermath of U.S. military and political intervention in their countries.
The pre-training session also included tables inviting participants to sign up for groups that are focusing on legal counsel, direct action, story-telling, fund-raising, tech help and more.
For more information:
Sanctuary Santa Cruz 831-239-4289