A faith-based grassroots organization in the San Joaquin Valley is ramping up its resources and engaging its network of people to help communities that could be targeted by immigration raids this weekend.
The New York Times reported Thursday morning Immigration and Customs Enforcement is expected to arrest and deport thousands of people over multiple days starting Sunday. After the news surfaced, Faith in the Valley started taking local action.
The organization is reaching out to communities across the San Joaquin Valley to warn them, providing moral support, and contacting lawyers who could help in emergency situations, said Ariana Martinez Lott, the valley watch coordinator for Faith in the Valley. It’s also been giving out Know Your Rights cards, that explain the 4th and 5th Amendments.
“Our stand was since the beginning: ‘We will not back down to fear we will not give in to these intimidation threats and we will stand in our power and we won’t go into panic mode’,” Martinez Lott said.
In 2017, Faith in the Valley created The Valley Watch Network as a response to the Trump administration’s tightening on immigration policies and redirect. It’s also a way “to ensure that we have a support system to stand with families at any time there are immigration threats,” Martinez Lott said.
The Times reported ICE is targeting at least 2,000 immigrants who’ve been ordered deported in at least 10 major cities across the country. The sweep could also include immigrants who aren’t initial targets.
“In those deportations, the authorities might detain immigrants who happened to be on the scene, even though they were not targets of the raids,” the Times story said.
It’s “really common” and happens “almost every single time,” said Jeremy Clason, a Fresno-based immigration attorney. “The collateral damage is always more than the original target.”
“I have lots of clients who weren’t the original targets of ICE,” he said. “ICE was looking for a neighbor, or the ex-landlord, or the ex-renter, or a family member or something and then my clients get caught up just by the virtue of being there.”
Some of those people might have a way to get a green card or file a pardon before a judge, he said, “but the issue becomes the imbalance of power.”
Often times ICE will try to get detainees to sign a voluntary departure, Clason said, which is when immigrants leave the U.S on their own rather than being ordered to leave. Or, he said, ICE will give people false information as a way to persuade them to go back to their country, and many people don’t know they have a right to stay and fight their case.
Informing people of their rights is something Valley Watch stresses to community members, Martinez Lott said. Regardless of immigration status, everyone has constitutional rights, like the right to remain silent and seek an attorney, she added.
Clason said ICE can only enter a private residence when it has a search warrant signed by a judge. If ICE only has an arrest warrant, it can’t enter somebody's house or private property to arrest someone. But, he said, ICE is known for using intimidation tactics to get people to admit things and detain them.
“It’s not like they follow the rules,” Clason said. “ICE can claim to have a warrant, the whole thing’s in English, and it’s not really a warrant. It’s just a blank piece of paper or it’s a drawing. That kind of stuff happens, and it happens in the Valley, and it happens all the time.”
Although not all ICE agents bend the rules, Clason said he’s heard thousands of stories from his clients where ICE didn’t follow the rules when it arrested them.
“Know Your Rights advisors is really, really good information and it’s valuable for the public to know these things,” he said. “It’s really, really hard to prevent ICE from achieving its goal, I’ve found, at least right there in the moment in the detention or when ICE is knocking on your door.”
ICE did not respond to a request for comment.
For the record the law firm Jeremy Clason practices with, The Yarra Law Group, is a corporate sponsor of Valley Public Radio.