‘Rapid response’ aims to support immigrants

January 4, 2019

A group aiming to support immigrants and track immigration enforcement activity is getting off the ground in Jackson.

The Wyoming Rapid Response Network formed in August 2018 in reaction to increased Immigration and Customs Enforcement activity across the state, and held its first training in Jackson on Dec. 15. It was founded by Juntos, an immigration activism group, with support from the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition. Teton County attorneys, residents and the local American Civil Liberties Union partnered to expand the network here.

The network offers a hotline phone number that dispatches trained “confirmers” to the site of a possible ICE incident to observe what happens, and to offer guidance to families impacted by detention and deportation proceedings, Cheyenne-based ACLU organizer Antonio Serrano said.

“They’ll get a text message, and they’ll have to go out and confirm what is happening,” Serrano said.

Volunteers also learn how to inform people of their constitutional rights and “how to offer the family support if needed, and resources that they might need to help them get through this situation navigating the immigration system,” Serrano said.

Other training has occurred in Cheyenne, Laramie and Torrington.

An opportunity to stand up

Zahan Billimoria, a 15-year Jackson resident, said he attended because he saw an opportunity to stand up in support of families “who are being torn apart during these ICE raids.”

“I think that as a country we’re experiencing an unprecedented change in how we perceive immigrants,” he said.

He hopes to be a more engaged observer of immigration issues in the community and to support families affected by deportation proceedings.

Jordan Garcia directs the American Friends Service Committee in Denver, a group active in creating a Rapid Response Network for Colorado. That network launched more than a year ago and now includes about 300 to 350 volunteers, Garcia said. Leaders from Colorado’s network are helping Wyoming develop its own.

Garcia said the network has helped organizers understand ICE activity. For example, he said they noticed a pattern of people being stopped at courthouses, and acted.

“We were able to try to move forward some legislation that protects courthouses from ICE enforcement, so that people can go in and take care of their domestic violence restraining orders or their traffic tickets or pay their fines,” Garcia said. “Not feeling safe going to the courthouse isn’t really an option.”

Fighting rumors and panic

Garcia said another benefit of the network has been combating fear and panic in Colorado communities by dispelling rumors when they arise.

“A lot of times what will happen is a rumor about ICE being on the corner of First and Main Street,” Garcia said. “People get scared, they don’t pick up their kids from school or they don’t go into work because they’re afraid.”

The network can check out what’s happening and quell fears by combating misinformation and false alarms, he said.

Patricia Rodriguez helped start a similar network in Ithaca, New York about a year and a half ago. She said it has been activated only twice, but its benefits have been broader. The volunteers have started working groups to study further resources, like detention and post-detention support and a legal defense fund.

“I think it’s brought the community together, and it has allowed for different people to be involved in different ways,” Rodriguez said.

Teton County Access to Justice attorney Barbara Prescott said she is “cautiously optimistic it can be a positive resource to the community.”

While uncertain about whether “confirmers” could arrive in time to help a situation “in the heat of the moment,” Prescott said, it’s certainly important to inform community members about rights undocumented people have, “so we can perhaps lend them a hand if we should happen to be an innocent bystander at the time there might be an interaction.”

It remains to be seen whether such a network will be an effective tool in Jackson, she said, but “if nothing else, it can increase awareness of people’s rights and how to be prepared should they get approached.”

Eighteen volunteers were certified in the Jackson group’s first training.

“But the more volunteers we have, the more effective we will be,” Serrano said.

Wyoming Rapid Response Network lead coordinator Kesslee Velasco said the network will return to Jackson soon for more trainings, including one that will allow volunteers to document past incidents via the network.

Organizers are not allowing law enforcement and media to attend the trainings.

Learn more at JuntosWyoming.com.

Update hourly