For years, advocacy groups working with undocumented immigrants have stressed the importance of knowing your rights and exercising them during an ICE raid or any other encounter with immigration authorities.
As the threat of mass arrests by federal immigration authorities looms throughout communities like Boyle Heights, various local advocates and organizations are encouraging undocumented residents to keep a hotline phone number handy.
“We’re training Rapid Responders to be legal observers,” says Azucena Hernández, Senior Coordinator of Organizing and Advocacy for Promesa Boyle Heights, a collective of local residents, schools, and community organizations. “Our goal is to observe, document, and support without directly interfering.”
Led by Proyecto Pastoral, a community-building project out of Dolores Mission Church, Promesa Boyle Heights was originally formed to build a cradle-to-college and careers pipeline to support Boyle Heights youth. In late 2016, the collective’s general assembly voted to have immigration become one of the main issues Promesa would take on in the coming years.
“One core value Promesa really has is supporting and strengthening the power, capacity, and confidence of community members so they are able to articulate and advocate for their own needs,” says Hernández. “We believe that those most impacted by certain issues should be at the forefront of the changes that are happening.”
At the beginning of 2017, Promesa launched the Boyle Heights Immigrant Rights Network, a coalition of organizations and community leaders committed to the education, mobilization, and protection of immigrants in Boyle Heights. The Network employs a three-tier strategy to make sure the community is informed before, during, and after an ICE-related incident happens in the community.
As the first step in a three-tier strategy, Promesa and its partners make sure to keep the community informed by hosting Know-Your-Rights presentations and going door-to-door to hand out immigration-related materials.
“We’re doing our part to help the community move from a culture of fear to one of empowerment, where people feel safe and are alert,” says Hernández. “We want to create and provide a network of safety for the community where everybody is working to pass on crucial information where everybody is working to pass on crucial information and spread awareness.”
In 2018, the Network created a Rapid Response Team to provide the community with a hotline to report and document ICE-related activity, the second-tier in the strategy. Following media reports of impending raids, the Network scheduled training sessions for rapid responders and dispatchers in the last few weeks.
The final step in the Network’s strategy deals with the aftermath of detention by immigration authorities. Although not a service provider itself, Promesa Boyle Heights refers residents to services and resources available through local providers.
“Being able to connect people to low or no-cost attorneys is something really important that we do,” says Hernández. “Sometimes the sole provider of a family is detained, so we can also connect folks with resources relating to housing and mental health support.”
The immigration issue also comes up as Promesa Boyle Heights implements its Community School strategies at three area schools: Roosevelt High School, Méndez High School and Hollenbeck Middle School.
“One of the things that we’ve seen through working at schools is that a student that goes to a school in Boyle Heights isn’t just focused on their grades” says Hernández. “There’s a lot more they have to deal with. We want to make sure students feel supported and are talking with their parents about issues in ways that don’t feel heavy or scary, but ways that are proactive and empowering.”
Making sure that all residents are aware of the hotline and know to call it to report ICE-related incidents are ways the Promesa members are helping keep the community safe.
“It’s the responsibility of all of us to make sure that we have a safe Boyle Heights and the only way we’re going to achieve that is if we’re all in it together and all have the same information.”
Residents can call the hotline at (323) 922-5644 to report activity by ICE to the Boyle Heights Immigrant Rights Network. The general number for information is (323) 685-2231.