“You have the right to remain silent,” she said. And everyone was. The room was crowded and all eyes were on the slim, brown woman who was speaking about the laws of our country. About our constitution. About immigration. And about the rights of every person within our borders whether they are citizens, visitors, or undocumented residents. Rights guaranteed by our nation’s founding fathers.
Here on the Peninsula, more than 50 persons have been arrested and taken to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma in the last year or so. Most have been deported to the country of their birth. A dozen have been bonded back into our community. Some were in the room. Listening. Nodding. And now and then adding a bit of “insider information” to the lawyer’s words.
“At the prison, they take your teléfono,” said one man.
“So they can make money,” said another. “You have to use their phones. It is very expensive.” And several heads nodded in agreement.
“They don’t call them ‘prisons for profit’ for nothing,” someone said and there was laughter. Ironic with a twist of bitterness.
Friends, neighbors, strangers
It was a disparate group — blonds, brunettes, retirees, day laborers, citizens, undocumented adults, dreamers, long-time residents. They were from nearby and from farther away, but mostly locals from Pacific County. They had come for information about their status from an immigration attorney who works with the American Civil Liberties Union.
“But the most important thing you need to remember is to remain silent. It is one of the hardest things to do. Practice. Practice not answering an ICE agent’s questions. Be polite but firm. Practice saying that you do not have to respond to the questions. No matter what they ask.”
“Do I need to show them my ID?” a woman asked.
“Only if you are driving. Then, if they ask, show them your license, registration, and proof of insurance.”
“Am I safe in my house? Can they come in without my permission?”
“Only with a warrant signed by a judge,” was the answer. “They may try to use a fake warrant — an ICE warrant. Have them show it to you through a window. If it is not signed by a judge, you do not need to open the door.”
Take the high road
And, no matter what, she cautioned, “Do not lie.”
It doesn’t always work both ways. ICE agents may lie to get a foot in the door and then say later that they were allowed entry voluntarily. Once inside, they can legally “detain” the resident. As her audience listened, heads nodded with understanding and appreciation for the clarifications. Remain firm, but be polite, she repeated. Again and again.
Questions covered the gamut of concerns. “How long does it take for a citizen to help a sibling become documented?” Twenty-two years was the answer. There was a gasp of disbelief. “Yes. Twenty-two years for Mexicans. And the attorney gave specific examples from her own family’s journey to lawful status.
“My family came from Sri Lanka,” she said. “For us it was eleven years to get my parents’ siblings here.” Different amounts of time for different nations. “It all depends on how the lawmakers are feeling about our skin color,” she said. “And how poor or rich our nation of origin might be,” she added softy.
“You hear the term chain migration,” she said. “Don’t use it.” The phrase was coined in effort to dehumanize the immigration process as we have always known it, she explains. Call it what it is. What it has always been. “Family reunification. That’s the official, federally recognized term. It speaks to the ability to help our mothers and fathers, our grandparents and siblings, to leave unspeakable situations and to come here to safety.”
Some listeners told parts of their own stories.
“My daughter is a citizen. Her fiancé is undocumented. They have a child together but he is afraid to get married — afraid that will leave too clear a paper trail.”
The response was unequivocal. “They should marry. Being married to a citizen always gives you a better chance. The sooner they marry, the better.”
They know everything
“They know all about us, anyway,” another woman said. “Yes,” a man in back agreed. “When they took me, they told me the names of family members — even their ages and where they lived; they knew the names of my colleagues at work, even those who were not Hispanic. They know everything.”
At that point another woman, a non-Hispanic American citizen, joined the group. Her husband had recently been detained. “We have information about them, too, she said. About ICE. These are the cars they are using on the Peninsula.” And her cell-phone circulated from person to person. “That first one is here at the beach right now — at the parking lot at Okie’s.”
“Is it true that they have a device that will scan the license plates in a parking lot? Do they have access to data bases that will match up the plates with registration information?”
“Yes, it’s true,” said the attorney.
“They know everything,” someone said again. And the words reverberated through the crowd and around the room. Like a mantra. Right up there with “You have the right to remain silent.”
People Power: A grass roots group. The common or ordinary people, especially as contrasted with the leadership or elite of a political party or social organization; the rank and file; the agricultural and rural areas of a country; the people inhabiting these areas, especially as a political social or economic group. — dictionary.com
In Pacific County, most groups could be termed “grass roots.”
“Yep, that’s us!’ say members of the Pacific County’s ACLU People Power. “We first met about a year ago, on March 11, 2017,” according to Ann Reeves, leader and spokeswoman for the group. “That was when the People Power organization kicked off nationally with a live-stream resistance training by the ACLU. There were 25 of us who came to Long Beach to watch.”
They came together because of concerns about the ever-increasing presence of ICE, especially, at that time, on the Peninsula. They wanted to find a way to help their Hispanic neighbors. Since that first meeting, their numbers have grown to 120 and their accomplishments are many.
People Power has participated in rallies, supported community fundraisers for families, and met with law enforcement officers to clarify policies. They have contacted legislators and news media, have put families in touch with legal support, and have continued training and educating themselves and those affected by federal immigration policies. They have met with the Lower Columbia Hispanic Council, have hosted the Washington State ACLU immigrant attorney who held a series of meetings with various groups.
“We recently filed incorporation papers and got a tax ID number for a new nonprofit called Pacific County Immigrant Support. We hope to have bylaws completed in about 1-2 weeks and will begin the process of applying for 501(c)3 status,” says Reeves.
“The mission statement of this group is: Pacific County Immigrant Support provides assistance and advocates for immigrants in Southwest Washington. We have a board of five people and are looking for a few more people to join the board. ACLU People Power will support this organization and will help plan fundraisers.”
For community members who have questions or who are interested in helping, Reeves has set up this e-mail: PeoplePower.PacificCounty@gmail.com.