In a small back room at Victory in Praise, a predominantly African American church in the Central Valley city of Stockton, Calif., community organizer Arturo Palato assessed his troops. The gathering included a teacher, a social worker, a salesman and a student — about a dozen in all.
The “rapid response” training program was one of a half-dozen being carried out this fall by Faith in the Valley, an interfaith non-profit in California’s Central Valley that is seeking ways legal residents and citizens can respond if massive roundups and deportations begin. The programs have attracted about 150 volunteers who are signing up to manage distress calls, show up where ICE is conducting roundups and help children who are left behind.
Similar volunteer squads are being organized across the country, including in Virginia, Colorado and Massachusetts. But California’s effort promises to be among the largest and most sophisticated, in part because of sheer numbers. It is the state with the most people thought to be living illegally in the United States: more than 2 million. The Central Valley, with more than 300 varieties of crops that need to be harvested to feed the nation and beyond, is one clear magnet for them.
Sukaina Hussain, who teamed with Palato at Victory in Praise, spoke in a rapid cadence to the prospective volunteers, as if to underscore her message: Speed is crucial. She told the story of a man who recently was picked up by ICE in Merced and within a few hours transferred to Fresno, then Bakersfield. “We called our colleagues in Bakersfield, and by the time they got there, they had already signed deportation orders,” Hussain said. The man who was detained, she said, “did not know what to do.” And the responders? “All we could do was bring him his clothing.”
Faith in the Valley has been working for the past six months to set up the rapid response system.
The effort — funded by member congregations, individuals and foundations such as the California Endowment, Catholic Campaign for Human Development and Sierra Health Foundation — is built on a network of volunteers who are contacted via text message. They agree to show up at an ICE raid at a moment’s notice to take names, notes and photos to track authorities’ actions and find out where the arrested are being sent. Then they can try to send legal help.
Juan Schwanker, who offer various types of support, including legal aid, to troubled youths at Fathers & Families of San Joaquin, attended the training session at Victory in Praise. He was planning to take part in additional online training to become a dispatcher. “I don’t like seeing children being scared,” he said. “They come to America, where they have the possibility of seeing their dreams come true. That seems like a distant reality now.”
That fear is weighing on many people living in the U.S. without authorization. In the first six months of 2017, there was a steady increase in ICE arrests of those who had no criminal record in the U.S. beyond
“These are uncertain times for undocumented Californians and their families,” Gov. Jerry Brown said in a statement when he signed one of the laws discouraging information sharing with ICE. “And this bill strikes a balance that will protect public safety, while bringing a measure of comfort to those families who are now living in fear every day.”
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