Memebers of the New Sanctuary Movement during training. Photo Courtesy: Peter Pedemonti. 
Memebers of the New Sanctuary Movement during training. Photo Courtesy: Peter Pedemonti. 

Knowledge is Power: How Local Orgs are Fighting ICE in Trump’s Era

Local social justice organizations are ramping up and changing tactics in the era of Donald Trump.


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When you find armed federal forces at the front door of your home, how do you protect yourself? Across the city, and similarly across the nation, social justice organizations are taking on the task of ensuring that anyone who needs to safeguarding when Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) comes to their home is fully equipped with the ultimate weapon: knowledge.

Overcoming language barriers, misinformation, and a persistent feeling of fear within the community, community strongholds such as Juntos, Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition (PICC), the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia are hosting weekly and biweekly meetings in the form of “Know Your Rights” trainings to teach people how to properly handle the contentious situation of facing ICE.

For communities that often don’t have a voice and have been forced to hide for protection, access to these meetings may be the only time real facts and honest legal counsel are in their hands and in their language. This information is the only armor that can protect them when they are at their most vulnerable.

In February where immigration enforcement officials conducted raids in six states across the country, the fear was felt all over: even in a community that is said to be a “sanctuary” like Philadelphia.

From hosting protests to conducting ‘A Day Without An Immigrant’ strikes, the immigrant community and their allies in Philadelphia have been speaking up and showing solidarity to assert their rights as humans, taxpayers, and community members in the country.

But after the protests end and everyone goes home, the reality sets in and rumors circulate of a friend who was detained or seeing an ICE agent in the neighborhood and it’s easy to understand why people are doing whatever they think is best to protect their families in the long and short run.

But when did this government agency become the proverbial boogeyman that sweeps in during the night, destroying homes, destroying families, and taking away the security and peace of an entire community.

From Obama to Trump: How tactics have changed

In the age of President Donald Trump, who ran on a platform of “Making America Great Again,” while belittling marginalized people such as immigrants and communities of color, it is easy to feel that there is a target on your back. But the social justice organizations that are taking a stance throughout Philadelphia are committed to defending their neighborhoods.
The New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, a faith-based organization that focuses on providing support to immigrant communities of all backgrounds, has expanded on efforts to support the communities that went as far back as Barack Obama’s presidency.

Peter Pedemonti, executive director of the organization spoke of the “Sanctuary in the Streets” program where they currently have 1,400 community members signed up to turn various places throughout the community into places of worship to prevent ICE from entering. “We actually started this under Obama when he announced the raids on Central Americans. And the idea is when ICE comes to someone’s house during a raids, the family can’t go seek sanctuary in a congregation so the idea is that we expand sanctuary and bring the congregation to them,” said Pedemonti.

But Pedemonti says the efforts are have drastically expanded from what they were under Obama’s leadership. “We had a plan to get 1,000 signed up for the team during the first year of Trump’s administration. The day after the election, we announced our goal and ended up getting 1,300 in two weeks,” said the Executive Director.

The stark contrast make sense in comparison to an ever more militarized ICE force and a Presidency that has made immigrants and refugees effectively, enemy number one.

Vowing to take a hardline on immigration, Donald Trump signed a wide-scale executive order regarding immigration that empowered ICE to act as an even stronger force in our communities. Only five days after taking office, the order made it clear that any immigrant in the United States without proper documentation could be a priority, particularly those with outstanding deportation orders.
And with such a large presence - ICE is more than 20,000 strong with a presence in all 50 states and 48 foreign countries, according the U.S. government, not counting local law enforcement assigned to ICE cases - the impact of ICE is noticeable and at its strongest since the restructuring of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2003.

And though Obama deported 2 million people during his time in office, with a record 409,000 in 2012, Obama did have a narrower focus than President Trump’s current policies support.

His administration focused more closely on those the government or enforcement agencies deemed a “threat to public safety and national security,” people convicted of crimes, those who committed fraud and arrested persons.

“We need to shine a light exactly on what it is that ICE does and that is tear up families, destroy, homes, and tear apart our communities,” said Pedemonti.

To know that your family can be the target of ICE officials with no prompting at all, to know that your family could ripped apart at the drop of a hat is a feeling many families are experiencing and it’s costing them time, resources, and in many cases, their safety.

The Consulate of Mexico in Philadelphia has seen an uptick in calls and visits under the new administration, as many are seeking to get clarification and verified answers to even the most basic questions as the immigration orders are still unclear to many in the community.

Consulate Alicia Kerber-Palma has provided the community with a strong warning not to act on rumors and to turn to trusted organizations that can provide them support.

“When you act according to rumors, it takes a lot of time, you spend a lot of resources. So we want to have really official information,” said Keber-Palma.

And while Mexican immigrants can turn to their local consulate, they face long lines, high waiting times, and the constraints of business hours.

One visit to the Consulate in Philadelphia will show long lines and a busy environment, and with these time constraints, many working families may would lose vital earning time. And in order to supplement efforts from the larger entities like the consulate and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) community organizations are taking the time in afternoons and on weekends to educate everyone on what their real rights are and how they can assert them in their everyday interactions in the future.

But the Consulate of Mexico in Philadelphia has turned to technology to be their first line of defense in these trying times a new application form them, MiConsulMex, has been updated to include information from the Legal Defense centers that were started by the 50 consulates in the U.S. to protect Mexican nationals from violations of their rights under the Trump administration.

Luis Ponce, a visitor to the consulate who newly downloaded the app, stated he would use it in the future to clear up misconceptions. “What matters is that you have to be more aware of information because, you know, Mexicans are the [one of the] biggest Latino populations among Hispanics in Philly, and we are those whom don't have easy access to concrete information on issues that affect our lives. For example, the benefits of having two citizenships (American and Mexican), people who think that becoming American means losing rights as Mexican,” said Ponce.

This direct line of communication, available on both Androids and iPhones, may be the answer many are seeking.

Local entities such as Juntos and the New Sanctuary Movement have also turned to technology, providing text alerts of ICE raids and 24/7 hotlines for support.

“We have two emergency hotlines, one for Spanish speakers and one for Indonesian speakers. And those are staffed 24/7 so if ICE shows up at their door, we are going to respond immediately with our emergency text alert system,” said Pedemonti.

But when technology can’t be the support system, whether through access or lack of awareness of the text alert systems, the local organizations are working hard to make themselves available on a regular basis to guide immigrants on what their rights are when facing these difficulties.

What grassroots efforts have done

Going past technology and onto the streets, many of the organizations are amping up their efforts to restructure their on-site trainings.

With ICE having an unique combination of power backed with the newly formed rhetoric of Trump, the fight against this force is one of smaller entities - cities, states, community organizations - protecting themselves against the giant that’s constantly hanging over their heads.

Many times the only way individuals from the community can feel strong enough to stand up or protect themselves against a force that is raiding homes and entire communities without warning is to have pre-formed plans.

This is why entities such as Juntos, the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, PICC and other entities are lining up in local grassroots support via weekly “Know Your Rights” trainings, one-on-one counseling, “Sanctuary in the Streets” and constant community support.

“Know Your Rights trainings are part of our effort to take a comprehensive approach to inform immigrants of their legal and civil rights, provide the tools to defend those rights, and engage communities to address the roots causes of immigration injustice,” says a statement from the New Sanctuary Movement’s website.

The trainings in these models done by organization throughout the community are interactive and incorporate informative handouts, case studies, as well as a question and answer session with trainers.
It is these trainings that are the first line of defense on the ground and the organizations are all moving forward to make them increasingly accessible.

Take the power back

Community leaders like Pedemonti advise to keep calm and contact a legal professional or a local organization.

Below you can find a quick guide on what to do if approached by ICE or an officer asking for your immigration status provided by the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia.

“Ask for a warrant

Police and ICE need a warrant or owner’s permission to enter your home or employee-only areas. The warrant must have the name of the person they are looking for written on it.

Keep calm and quiet

Citizen or not, all have the right to remain silent and should exercise it. Advise undocumented persons you know not to run because it provide probable cause for arrest. Don’t let anyone answer or sign anything without a lawyer present, even if their name is on a warrant.

Have a plan ready

Officers need probable cause or a warrant to make an arrest. If everyone remains silent, there will be no probably cause. Coordinate a plan with family members and coworkers using these principles, and contact your local organization you trust for support.”

And while these tips may help, Pedemonti encourages people to get in touch with the local organizations representing the immigrant communities.

“What we really want to do is ensure people know they have real support in their communities and can turn to us in the event that they are facing ICE. Whether we get them in contact with legal representation, provide coaching, or anything, we want them to know we’re here to help,” Pedemonti says.

As the political climate tightens and new executive orders seem to roll in everyday, it will be up to these organizations to continue the fight and lead the way in the renewed fight for justice.

*Juntos and PICC were contacted for comment but were unavailable.

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