By Carina Woudenberg
Roughly 80 people packed a room at the Community United Methodist Church last week for a special “Rapid Response Training” put on by Faith In Action Bay Area, a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco.
Spurred in part by the election of a president who made deporting undocumented immigrants a large part of his campaign, the session aimed to empower individuals to help their immigrant neighbors in the event of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid. It also provided specific instructions on how to help.
“We’re training you as allies,” immigration attorney Luis Angel Reyes Savalza said to the group that gathered on March 22. “We’re giving you a tool.”
The Half Moon Bay training session was held five days before plans to put the training to work. Faith in Action Bay Area and Pangea Legal Services — where Savalza works — are two of a handful of Bay Area organizations that have come together to form the Immigrant Liberation Movement.
The movement took shape in the fall of 2016 to provide this “Migra Watch” program in which the first responders will be taking part.
The goal is to have 40 people signed up in each city. When news of an ICE raid comes in the form of a text, volunteers will head to the nearest event.
Those who can respond are expected to text back to indicate that they’re on their way.
Before delving into the details of what’s expected of the volunteers during a response, the attendants were asked to share a few of the reasons that brought them to the training session.
One woman told the group that she hails from Chile and is concerned that some of the unrest seen in her home country might be unfolding in the United States as well.
“I see the signs of this happening in this country and I want to do whatever I can to stop it,” she said.
“I’m a practicing Christian (who’s) ashamed of the narrative,” said another in attendance. “I feel like it’s my Christian call to help my neighbor, whoever it is.”
Savalza said ICE officials use intimidation and lies to try to get people to open their doors for them.
“Who can tell me what an administrative warrant is?” Savalza asked the crowd. At least a few seemed to know.
An administrative warrant is one ICE will give itself and does not carry the legal weight of a judicial warrant, which is issued by a judge. Savalza said the vast majority of the time ICE officials will not have a judicial warrant.
For this reason, Savalza notes, it’s never advisable to open the door for ICE. In the chance that an ICE official does have a judicial warrant, he will tear the door down.
The first responders will work in tandem with dispatchers who are on the phone with the affected immigrants.
The responder’s job is not to interfere but to record and observe the ICE agents’ actions — material that could prove valuable in asserting an immigrant’s legal rights and preventing someone from being deported. The organizers are not asking the first responders to do anything unlawful, but rather exercise First Amendment rights to observe and record while remaining on public sidewalks and walkways to do so.
Half Moon Bay resident Roberta Gelt was in attendance at the training and said she was grateful for all the practical tips and advice — advice she hopes she’ll never have to use.
In addition to having signed up as a first responder, Gelt said she was also interested in participating as part of a complementary team that assists families affected by raids with rides to appointments and connecting them to services.
“We can’t do this without you,” Savalza told the group earlier.