Coalition Launches Underground Strategy to Protect Immigrants from ICE

By Zaira Cortés

Large-scale raids initiated by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the beginning of the year created uncertainty and fear in New York and generated false reports of arrests in Hispanic neighborhoods. A month after the agency began its operations, none have been carried out in the Big Apple. However, a citizen coalition is helping immigrants be prepared.
The ICE-FREE NYC collective employs grassroots strategies and is formed by youths, students, workers, religious leaders and mothers who refuse to be separated from their children. They aim to face up to ICE through protests and civil disobedience, and have developed an emergency plan in case raids are performed in the area. The approach includes a network of churches operating as shelters, legal assistance and immigrant rights clinics.
The group was formed two years ago and recently regained momentum through a Facebook chat, after rumors of arrests supposedly being made in supermarkets and shopping centers in New York and at roadblocks in New Jersey and Long Island began circulating on social media.
“Many of us here are young people, but the collective is as diverse as our community,” said Peruvian organizer Claudia O’Brien. “We are trying to expand the movement to Long Island and other areas outside the city.”
The teens explained that they work in collaboration with the Black Lives Matter movement and pointed out that it is fundamental to form alliances to strengthen organizations advocating for communities of color.
“Many members of our community went from being afraid to planning strategies to protect themselves and defend other families,” said Lutheran priest Juan Carlos Ruiz, from the New Sanctuary Movement. “ICE’s recent actions only fueled a fear that already existed. ‘La migra’ has always been in New York.”
Even though ICE insists that they are not carrying out raids in New York City at the moment, Ruiz ‒ an assistant pastor at the Iglesia de Sion (Zion Church) in Manhattan, known as an immigrant sanctuary ‒ said that a list of sanctuary churches in the five boroughs will be published in the next few weeks. The temples will open their doors to immigrants at risk of arrest and deportation.
“We will not let our guard down even if we have no confirmed reports of arrests made by ICE as part of their recent policies. We are preparing for any possible action,” said Ruiz.
One of the churches already known to be offering aid and protection to Central American immigrants is the Bronx Spanish Evangelical Church. The temple is housing nearly 200 Garífuna women who arrived in the country as part of an immigration surge in 2014.
The first action performed by ICE-FREE NYC was a civil disobedience act carried out last month in front of the immigration court located on West Houston and Varick Street. Traffic was blocked, and seven activists were arrested.
“I am not afraid; I am determined,” said 26-year-old Mexican Yajaira Saavedra, one of the arrested, who considers herself an “underground” activist. “Fear is the shackle that enslaves us, and ICE is the tool of a political system that promotes the persecution of immigrants. We will not back down [in our fight] against their inhumane practices.’
Saavedra is a beneficiary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Even though the policy grants recipients a work permit, it does not normalize their immigration status.
“I am undocumented, but I made them arrest me to tell my community that no fight is won by standing in the shadows,” said the South Bronx resident. “For ICE, we are just numbers. The protest lets them see our faces.”
The Kenyon College graduate said that ICE-FREE NYC helps immigrant communities organize their own efforts and communicate their ideas and concerns to religious leaders and independent activists. Groups such as Families for Freedom and UnLocal, Inc. also participate in the actions, creating a united front.

Community patrols
With UnLocal’s collaboration, “community patrols” were organized through the revived ICE-FREE NYC Facebook chat. Their purpose is to monitor ICE’s possible activities in the streets of Queens, where arrests at the Corona, Elmhurst and Jackson Heights 7 train stations were falsely reported.
“We will not continue to be victimized,” said Jaime González, 48, a construction worker and resident of Sunnyside who took part in the community patrols. “ICE’s recent announcement was a wake-up call. Members of my community are becoming aware and joining groups such as ICE-FREE NYC to take action and to stop hiding.”
A group of between 15 and 20 residents walked the streets of Queens for three consecutive weekends between 5 a.m. and 9 a.m. They distributed 2,000 copies of a basic rights guide detailing how to act in case of an encounter with immigration agents.
“Street vendors helped out by relaying the information to their patrons,” said González. “My community is afraid, but they are getting tired of being afraid.”
Johanna Calle, program coordinator at the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, said that there is less fear among immigrants but that they continue to get informed about their rights.
“Like the presence of immigration authorities in our cities, fear is not a new phenomenon,” said Calle. “ICE’s announcement early in January generated a legitimate resistance consisting of immigrants learning about their rights and the protections offered by the law. People want to get informed, and knowledge is power.”
Gonzalo Mercado, executive director of the Staten Island Community Job Center, said that day laborers and their families remain cautious.
“Many mothers stopped taking their kids to school. The community has experienced a lot of fear,” said Mercado. “That fear has not gone away, but immigrant families are taking precautions. They know where their organizations are, what number to call and how to act.”
Martha Maffei, executive director of Services for the Advancement of Women (SEPA Mujer) on Long Island, said that the Suffolk County Police Department’s decision not to collaborate with immigration authorities helped ease the residents’ fears. “We met with the police chiefs to reinforce their commitment to protect the community. It came as a great relief to many families.”
Still, some immigrants continue to fear that ICE will include New York in their large-scale raids.
“When I arrived here in the late ’70s, there were raids in factories. ‘La migra’ took many people. Out of fear, I did not become a citizen during the 1986 amnesty, as there were rumors that they were deporting people,” said a 66 year old Ecuadorian who lives in Queens. “I have always been afraid, but now I am more worried because I am not so young anymore. I don’t want to be deported; I don’t have anything in my country. My life is here.”

Voices of NY

Posted by on Feb 14 2016. Filed under Community News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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