THE BUZZ 3: Come Together

By on June 7, 2017

New efforts are taking shape in Wyoming to protect the state’s immigrant populace.

JACKSON HOLE, WY – In response to increased Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) presence, local communities are creating ICE Rapid Response Teams to advocate for immigrants and to hold ICE officers accountable. Two such groups recently formed in Wyoming, one in Casper and one in Cheyenne.

These groups help individuals understand their rights, are available to observe interactions with ICE, and help families rebuild in the wake of deportation.

According to Wyoming Public Media, arrests and deportations by ICE in Colorado and Wyoming are more than double what they were this time last year, a trend mirrored across the country. As reported by WBUR, the number of immigrants without criminal records arrested by ICE has more than tripled under the Trump administration. Some of these arrests occurred using tactics previously considered off limits. ICE agents, for example, have made arrests at schools and courts, and have detained people who are here legally, such as a DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) student.

“These groups are important because so much of what these arrests do is disturb community,” Sabrina King, of the Wyoming American Civil Liberties, said. “Rapid Response Teams use the fabric of the community to respond to an outside force.”

Support for immigrant communities must be local, King said. “It’s a community response that makes this work effective. It makes it harder for ICE to break or fudge the law when the community is watching. The ACLU can train people, but there have to be community members on the frontlines.”

“Am I the only person of color here?”

Dalia Pedro, 22, is one of the people on the frontlines. She moved from Olympia, Washington, to Casper a year ago and was troubled by the lack of resources for immigrants. “When I moved to Casper, I looked around and thought, am I the only person of color here? I know there are immigrants here, and I know they need help.”

In the spring, Pedro organized a meeting for immigrants and allies. Forty people attended. “We asked those immigrants who feel alienated what they need, and did a know your rights training.”

Two weeks later, an undocumented mother called Pedro’s co-organizers, telling them that ICE had been following her, and showed up at her door without a warrant. Besides a couple traffic tickets, she had no criminal history. According to a Casper Star Tribune article, ICE officers became annoyed when the family refused to let them enter without a warrant. They demanded the family speak English, and threatened to send the whole family to Mexico, though the kids are US citizens.

Pedro communicated with a lawyer and another member of the response team, sending them to the house. The ICE officials left in an unmarked car as soon as the lawyer arrived.

Since that call in March, they’ve had three similar cases.

Casper’s response team is still developing. Right now, they are trying to fill in the gaps. They’ve donated money and groceries. Once, a group member drove to Nebraska to help a Wyoming resident who was detained there.

Pedro’s goals are wide-ranging: “Groups like this could have a big impact because there’s no one here to advocate for immigrants. We want to help people know their rights, and to prepare for the worst—what will happen to their kids in the event of a deportation? We want to make sure people can be on the scene to make sure ICE doesn’t violate their rights.”

Eventually, Pedro hopes to engage on the policy level. For example, she said, “In Wyoming, we don’t give undocumented ID cards, like drivers licenses. We want people to do the right thing, but we give them no avenue to do so.”

While Wyoming groups begin to clarify their missions, regional groups have already done so.

Siena Mann, a paralegal for an immigration attorney in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is part of a statewide effort to create a 24/7 hotline to answer calls and dispatch local volunteers to help those in need.

“It will be a statewide hotline that anyone can call at anytime. Bilingual volunteers will be there if people think ICE is at their door, and they will determine if the fear is legitimate. If it is, they will activate a local response team. There will be legal observers to take notes and keep an objective record of what happens … to hold officers accountable at the local level.”

Legal observers may film or take notes, let immigrants know what their rights are, and, potentially, help deescalate conflict. There will also be a public relations team that will publicize any abuse of power on ICE’s part.

Observers are important, Mann said, because if ICE breaks a law, such as entering with an unsigned warrant, it cannot use any information it finds afterward against the immigrant. It is also critical that immigrants feel confident advocating for their rights. People may know that they have the right to remain silent, but during an intimidating situation, they may feel pressured to speak.

During a recent visit to Jackson to target specific individuals, ICE arrived at a target’s door to find that he wasn’t home. His wife answered the door, but refused to speak. Officials told her that if she didn’t tell them where her husband was, her kids might be taken away—an empty threat. She told the officers where her husband was.

“One of the main ways ICE gets people is that they themselves will tell officials that they’re not legally documented,” Mann said.

It is especially important now for people to understand their protections because of ICE’s renewed focus on undocumented immigrants without a criminal history and those who they may not have been specifically looking for. These detainments are known as “collateral arrests.”

Someone who has been an ICE agent for 10 years recently told The New York Times that ICE had previously been disallowed from making these collateral arrests and arrests of those without a criminal record: “Before, we used to be told, ‘You can’t arrest those people,’ and we’d be disciplined for being insubordinate if we did … Now those people are priorities again. And there are a lot of them here.”

Building networks of support

The goal of the response team is also to demonstrate support: “It’s a community building mechanism,” Mann said. “We’re building solidarity, especially in a town that is so conservative, much of the monolingual Spanish speaking community faces really intense segregation.”

Mann and other volunteers are currently training as legal observers, and hope to be ready to serve the Colorado Springs community soon. ICE has recently trained 100 new officers in Colorado, so they expect to see an increased need for advocacy.

King hopes to see other towns in Wyoming follow the lead of Casper, Cheyenne and Colorado.

Elisabeth Trefonas, a local immigration attorney, notices the impacts of increasing arrests. “When I first got here, we had a deportation once every week or every two weeks … that’s not the case now,” she said. “It’s not quite double, but nearly.”

Currently, she is handling five new deportation cases. Normally, she says she would have one.

Trefonas sees that a response team in Jackson Hole could be useful, partly as a mechanism to spread accurate information. “It’s beneficial to get the correct information out there. We’re having a telephone tag that is kind of hysterical, and we’re trying to have the library, the sheriff, and us all in line, all sharing the same information.”

An “information tree” that can gather and disperse objective, dependable information may help calm those in the immigrant community who are feeling intensely afraid right now.

Across the state, immigrants and allies are banding together to address this fear.

As Pedro explained, it’s important for the immigrant community to see this solidarity. “As a Latino, I feel for this community … I think of them as my extended family. When you’re in a place as isolated as Wyoming, when you see people who look like you, you want to help.” PJH

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