Groups educate immigrants on rights is crucial for safety
Four leaders of immigration rights organizations in Spokane, the Tri Cities and Ellensburg emphasize the importance of both immigrants and community members knowing immigrants’ rights and the need for their labor.
They suggested ways community members can help protect those rights.
Speaking at the recent Ethnicity, Race and Indigenous People Conference at Gonzaga University were Jennyfer Mesa of Latinos en Spokane; Abigail Scholar Bangs of Central Washington Justice for Our Neighbors; Martin Negrete of All In for Washington and Jim Dawson of the Spokane Immigrants’ Rights Coalition.
Jennyfer has visited the “concentration camps on the border where children are traumatized” and options for legal status are few.
She challenges the abuse there and the racist attacks that allow the abuse to happen.
Martin said enforcement is done by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP). The CBP—in white trucks with green stripes—operates within 100 miles of the border or port of entry—like the international airport in Moses Lake.
ICE and CBP work together. Police often turn people over to ICE officers, who wear civilian clothing and are in charge of both removal and prosecution.
“They criminalize immigrants in our communities,” he said. “They want police officers to look at papers and turn people over. Our people are intimidated.”
Jim, who volunteers with the Spokane Immigrant Rights Coalition and works with FUSE Washington, said an administrative warrant is like pfishing.
“At times, the CBP have turned their backs and let people cross the border, because Washington’s economy needs their labor in Central and Eastern Washington. Immigrants are here to do important jobs for us,” he said.
“Many here for 30 years are still undocumented and have no path to status,” he added.
“Filling a role in the economy, and knowing officials will turn their backs, they have been here decades contributing to our communities,” Jim said. “When they are picked up in sweeps, their families and employers suffer.”
Community members can support a legal defense fund for people picked up.
“With nearly one in seven people in the state an immigrant, immigrants are integral in the state’s communities and workforce,” Abigail said. “Protecting them strengthens local economies.” Jennyfer said Washington’s $8 billion agriculture brings three generations of immigrants every year to keep families together.
“Despite having no legal status, they contribute to our economy,” she said. “The system benefits many, but workers lack access to housing, schools, legal status and citizenship, so they fear ICE.”
One evening driving home, Abigail rolled through a stop sign and was stopped. Even as a U.S. citizen she was afraid.
“I cooperated. I know ICE, which formed after 9/11, needs a warrant signed by a judge within 30 days,” she said.
Abigail said border patrol officers often wait outside the Grant County Courthouse in Ephrata to pick up people when they leave after being a witness, applying for a protection order or paying a ticket. They are taken, and family do not know where or why.
Martin said All in for Washington trains people to recognize ICE.
“When they have a warrant, it’s for real, but when they don’t, they try to trap people. We tell people they have the right to be silent and leave,” he said, “but when they see authority figures, it’s hard for many to do.”
At Spokane’s Greyhound Station, CBP, who wear uniforms, tell people to step off the bus.
“If the person speaks, agents may have probable cause, so it’s best to remain silent,” Martin said.
Jim said ICE does not follow its own rules. They are meeting quotas and assume people do not know or won’t assert their rights.
Abigail, who has been executive director of Central Washington Justice for Our Neighbors (CWJFON) for a year, previously reported on ICE activities with the Washington Immigration Solidarity Network (WAISN) hotline.
“It’s painful to hear the daily trauma of people,” she said.
While people cannot interfere with a federal officer, they can video as officers detain people at a courthouse and bus station.
“Just being present is important,” she said. “The Latinx community goes into lockdown when they hear ICE or CBP is present.”
With Latinos en Spokane, Jennyfer hears of people detained while buying produce, going to child care, accessing Medicare or going elsewhere.
Jim protects vulnerable people in the environment of the federal government openly hostile to some communities.
Abigail helped develop WAISN to connect networks statewide. Someone picked up at Ephrata and transported to the Spokane County Jail is given an attorney and can leave before being transferred to a detention center.
Jim said the long-term need is to fix the broken immigration system. There are interim actions.
1) If immigrants know their rights, it’s harder for ICE or CBP.
2) When someone is picked up, rapid response teams contact legislators to request the person be released from jail and not sent to a detention center.
3) It costs less for legislators to intervene than for someone to go into detention. Spokane’s jail contracts with ICE and CBP to hold people two days before transferring them to a detention center.
4) A Spokane Immigrant Rights Coalition fund pays for immigrants to consult with lawyers to negotiate bonds to be released before they are separated from family and lose their job.
5) It also pays for people to apply for green cards or asylum.
6) It’s important to know that local jails and police can’t share information with ICE without a criminal warrant.
While Spokane City Council voted to make it hard for ICE and CBP to work through local police on city owned property, the mayor did not implement the policy, Jim said.
Abigail finds having immigration attorneys negotiate bonds is important, because “ICE may act as judge, jury and executioner.”
The Keep Washington Working Act, signed into law May 21, prohibits local law enforcement from asking individuals about their immigration status, notifying ICE that a non-citizen is in custody or detaining someone for civil immigration enforcement.
Martin considers the requirement for immigrants to renew their status every two years “is a way to control them.”
“A new policy targeting immigrants receiving public assistance is racist,” he said. “We come here to work. We earn low wages. Our people have been deported every day for years. It’s blunt racism, focused on Central and South Americans.”
Jennyfer invites people to volunteer at the bus station, partner with the American Civil Liberties Union, educate immigrants on their rights, provide immigrants with support, raise funds to support attorneys and bonds, and ask universities to show their written policies for keeping their campus safe for immigrant students.
“As citizens and voters, we can address families separated and children held in cages even here,” she said.
Martin urges people to hold Senators and Representatives accountable by writing them and having conversations with them.
“We need to be part of the ongoing process, not just wait for a Presidential election. We can work on a local level with city councils to understand immigration issues and give support in schools,” Jennyfer said.
For information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com, or call Martin at 206-349-4015 or Jim at 360-292-8540.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, November, 2019