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In Alameda County, a New Coalition Aims to Counter Deportations

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A man is detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents early on Oct. 14, 2015, in Los Angeles. (John Moore/Getty Images)

Lourdes Martinez, an organizer who works with Latina women in the Bay Area, says that since the election of President Trump her clients have been on edge.

“There were times when it was like daily -- we were getting people calling us with fears that ICE was in their communities,” said Martinez, political director of Mujeres Unidas y Activas.

She said that rumors of immigration officials patrolling Alameda County have been increasingly more common, and she believes that actual sightings of federal agents have spiked, too, based on the details callers have provided. “They would see the ‘ICE Police’ jackets and vans.”

In response to the heightened anxiety among undocumented East Bay residents, Alameda County and Oakland are funding a new 24/7 hotline where immigrants can report suspected enforcement activity by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. The hotline was launched this month and is operated by a coalition, known as the Alameda County Immigration Legal & Education Partnership (ACILEP).


The partnership is a collaboration between the Public Defender’s Office, Mujeres Unidas y Activas and eight other community organizations, and its purpose is to provide verification of suspected ICE activity, legal representation for detained immigrants and “know your rights” trainings at locations throughout the county, including schools and places of worship.

After the election, Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan said she began hearing about immigrants skipping county health care appointments and pulling their children out of school.

“Some people are going underground,” she said. Chan felt it was important to provide support and legal aid to the county’s undocumented population, which the Public Policy Institute of California estimates to number more than 100,000.

So Chan started searching for funding from local philanthropic organizations. She found a willing partner in the San Francisco Foundation, which pledged to match up to $750,000 from Alameda County. The foundation also matched Oakland’s contribution of $300,000.

This type of coalition is new to Alameda County, but will be modeled after the San Francisco Immigrant Legal & Education Network (SFILEN), which started a hotline to report ICE activity back in 2007.

“Raid verification ... is extremely important because of all the rumors and false information that is sweeping through the community and creating so much panic and fear,” explained Marisela Esparza, the network’s program manager.

When the San Francisco hotline receives a call, the operator dispatches volunteer observers who go to the scene to confirm whether or not enforcement is taking place. If it is, on-call attorneys are sent to enter their appearance as legal representatives for the detainees and try to prevent immediate deportation.

Alameda County’s partnership will work in much the same way, but it will receive more funding than the San Francisco network. This allows the partnership to hire seven paid community responders who will deploy to the site of a reported raid to check out whether ICE is actually arresting people.

Eleni Wolfe-Roubatis, the immigration project director for Centro Legal de la Raza, told KQED that, “It’s important that community members know their due process rights.”

She said that a common tactic employed by ICE is to have detainees sign a document waiving their right to go before an immigration judge, so it’s important that immigrants get legal advice during a raid so they don’t inadvertently deprive themselves of their day in court.

ICE officers have also been accused of letting people believe they are local police during enforcement operations. A recent KQED investigation revealed that federal agents who detained an undocumented Oakland resident told him they were investigating a hit-and-run as a way to get him to come out of his house.

And according to a study by the University of Pennsylvania Law Review, most detainees go without representation: only about a third of immigrants manage to find a lawyer and that proportion drops to around 14 percent for immigrants who have been detained by ICE.

Other counties in the Bay Area are looking at ways to support their own undocumented populations, but so far San Francisco and Alameda County are the only two with rapid response networks in place. Centro Legal de la Raza also represents many clients in Contra Costa County, so the staff has been exploring ways to collaborate with community groups there.

According to Ilyce Shugall of Community Legal Services of East Palo Alto, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors is considering a measure that would fund support and legal defense of undocumented immigrants.

Moving forward, Shugall explained that legal service providers are hoping to provide verification and representation on a larger scale: “We’re still working out, on a regional level, how to best address the locations that aren’t going to have a hotline for their specific jurisdictions.”

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