On Thursday morning at the youth center at Skyline High School in Oakland, about 10 women sat around a table and practiced shouting. “I want to speak with my lawyer!” demonstrated Antonio Medrano, the chapter chair of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California’s Berkeley/North East Bay chapter. He stood in front of them and said, “Repeat it!”
The women repeated the sentence with louder voices: “I want to speak with my lawyer!”
They were participating in a “know your rights” workshop hosted by the ACLU, which teaches undocumented immigrants how they can cope with the situation if confronted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers. The participants were given handouts which explained to them what to do when they encounter immigration agents, how to read a warrant, and what should be included in their emergency planning checklist.
Medrano led the workshop in Spanish, since many Latino women who speak little English were invited that day. He knocked on the table, pretending to be an ICE officer knocking on the door of the women’s houses, to make the participants practice the phrases that they had learned to speak. He also advised them to install a phone app called “Mobile Justice,” which offers users a free service to record and report their interactions with law enforcement officers. All of the footage and reports summited through the app are sent to user’s local ACLU affiliate immediately.
The ACLU is hosting the workshop to help undocumented immigrants to get prepared for possible massive ICE raids. President Donald Trump has expressed his frustration at city sanctuary laws, which prohibit local law enforcement from assisting federal efforts to deport undocumented immigrants, in cities including Oakland and Richmond. Recent news reports have warned that ICE officials are preparing for a major sweep in the Bay Area, even though California is also a sanctuary state. This has raised anxiety among undocumented immigrants in the area.
Maria, a woman who declined to give her last name due to her immigration status, came to the workshop to learn about possible raids. She has raised three children in Oakland—all born in the United States—along with her husband, who is also an undocumented immigrant. “The youngest 3-year-old daughter is very attached to my husband and myself,” she said, speaking as Medrano translated from Spanish. “We are very afraid.”
Maria said that she heard a rumor from her neighbor about a woman who encountered ICE officers blocking a street in Oakland last week. “I’d rather stay at home. Going out to the street scares me,” Maria said.
Medrano said that many undocumented immigrants don’t know that they have rights. They have the right to see a warrant when they are asked to open the door of their house, to remain silent when being questioned by authorities, and to refuse to sign anything before speaking with their attorney, according to the ACLU. Many immigrants tend to open their door to ICE officers without seeing a valid warrant, not knowing that opening the door could mean that they are giving the officers permission to enter their house, Medrano said. He instructed the participants to never open the door for ICE officers and to tell the officers, “I want to speak to my lawyer.”
Medrano said that immigrants should locate a lawyer that they can trust and can work with. The participants were given handouts which provided them with contacts at non-profit immigration legal services in the East Bay.
The workshop was also hosted by Youth Together, a non-profit organization based in Oakland that coordinates programs for parents and students at the youth center. Guadalupe Gomez, the family engagement liaison at the youth center, said that “a lot of parents are scared.”
“They don’t know how to act when they confront ICE,” said Gomez. “The biggest fear is being separated from their family, because they have kids who were born here, but the parents are undocumented.”
Matty Zepeda, Latino program coordinator at Bay Area Women Against Rape (BAWAR), a non-profit organization based in Oakland, said that undocumented Latino parents are worried about encountering ICE officers when they go to school to pick up their children. Zepeda, who is originally from Mexico but now lives in the US legally, came to the workshop to deliver information to members of her community who are largely undocumented. “The ladies are scared too much,” she said. “This is too much trauma for them.”
The ACLU hosted know your rights workshops for 4 or 5 times a month last year throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. The organization is anticipating more workshops this year. “We are going to do more,” said Medrano. “Over the three months, I think maybe 15 to 20 workshops, mostly in the Bay Area.”