Immigration policy is the responsibility of the federal government. However, in the deeply polarized times we live in, achieving comprehensive immigration reform at the national level has not been achieved. Indeed, the last comprehensive legislation passed was in 1996 - and it was not good legislation, paving the way for mandatory detention.
While there have been a number of bills introduced into congress with the aim of overhauling the immigration system, the good bills have languished in committee, and the more problematic compromise bills have failed to gain enough support on the House or Senate floors.
In the absence of a reform bill, and amidst the ongoing war against immigrants being waged by the Trump administration, local action is an important way to push back against the system, while building networks and relationships that can become the foundation for a political alliance to ultimately transform the system. This past weekend the Quixote Center presented some ideas about local action in a workshop at Call to Action in San Antonio. While not comprehensive, we did offer a few examples of ways people can get engaged in local action to support immigrant communities. We offer a summary of these ideas below:
Rapid Response Networks
If you have a flexible schedule and are able to mobilize at a moment’s notice, volunteering with a rapid response network is worth considering. Response networks take on a variety of roles, the most common being mobilizing to be a witness to (and/or at times to disrupt) ICE activity in your community.
How to get started!
Labor Notes has a brief guide to creating a rapid response network here: http://www.labornotes.org/2018/08/building-rapid-response-network-defend-immigrant-workers
Before launching the process to create a rapid response network, first see what might already exist in your community. This is not an exhaustive list, but a few places to check:
National: United We Dream, Here to Stay Network https://actionnetwork.org/forms/immigrants-are-heretostay/
National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (list of hotlines): https://www.nnirr.org/drupal/sites/default/files/immigration_hotlines_pdf.pdf
Being held in detention is very isolating experience. People often have no idea how long they will be held, and can be moved at any moment. Visiting people in detention can make a huge difference for those being held.
Creating a visitation program requires meeting ICE guidelines and the specific rules of the facilities. They do not make it easy!
The best place to start is Freedom for Immigrants, which provides detailed information on how to create a program, and will help guide local groups in creating a visitation program.
To see a list of visitation programs around the country and learn more: https://www.freedomforimmigrants.org/visitation-network/
Local Policy Actions
There are a variety of ways in which people have organized campaigns to resist immigration enforcement measures at the local level. Until there is a comprehensive reform at the federal level, such efforts create important means of support, and help to build a broader network of public officials working in support of more humane policies. We offer a few examples below.
SAFE Cities Network
The Vera Institute for Justice coordinates the SAFE Cities Network, which provides legal assistance to immigrants who are facing deportation. SAFE Cities Network is a year old, and includes 12 cities and 8 counties in the United States. Through the first year, 38% of the people who received legal assistance were able to stay in the U.S., compared to the national average of 3% of people who face these proceedings without assistance. For more information about the SAFE Cities Network: https://www.vera.org/spotlights/safe-expansion-and-success
Trump has made Sanctuary Cities a target, by threatening to suspend federal funding in some cases. In addition, some states like Texas have passed state laws that attempt to obligate cities to enforce immigration laws. In response, new strategies have evolved for localities to push back. In Austin, for example, the City Council passed a resolution that police must inform people that they have the right to refuse to answer questions related to immigration status.
287(g) refers to a section of the Immigration and Naturalization Act that allows the federal government to enter into formal agreements with localities in order to, in essence, deputize local law enforcement to take on the roles normally reserved for ICE. Over the past several years, there have been numerous campaigns by local activists for their communities to withdraw from 287(g) agreements.
Background (map and explanation): https://www.ilrc.org/national-map-287g-agreements
There are a variety of actions community groups can take to challenge ICE, raise awareness about conditions in detention facilities located in their area, or work to block the opening of new detention facilities. There is no specific model to follow here, but we provide a few examples of campaigns.
Using inspections to end abusive detention
This is an initiative coordinated by Detention Watch Network. They have a detailed guide on how to use ICE contracts and inspections to build campaigns to challenge detention policies. The guide includes creation of visitation programs and ways to use the media and other grassroots actions to build local campaigns. You can connect to the toolkit and other information here: https://www.detentionwatchnetwork.org/issues/detention-oversight
A grassroots movement which has adopted some of the strategies of the Occupy Wall Street movement to protest ICE activity in cities around the country. The first encampment was in Portland in June this year. In Philadelphia protests led to the city canceling its arrest database sharing agreement with ICE. There have been Occupy ICE actions in many cities, mostly during the peak of the family separation crisis. Follow at hashtag #OccupyICE. Website: https://occupyice.org/
Background article (Guardian): https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/jul/06/occupy-ice-movement-new-york-louisville-portland