The Sacramento Immigration Coalition has trained about 60 volunteers to serve as legal observers who will take video and notes during any Immigration and Customs Enforcement actions reported to the group’s 24-hour hotline. Observers also will provide detainees with contact information for local attorneys.
“After the calls we’ve been receiving, we want to change the message,” said Edwin Valdez, a member of Sacramento Area Congregations Together and the response program’s coordinator. “Yes, it’s an emergency hotline, but we’re also here to help.”
The coalition, which is made up of several local groups, including Sacramento ACT, gathered inspiration for the response team from similar groups in the Bay Area and around the state, Valdez said. At a Tuesday news conference in south Sacramento the coalition unveiled yellow hats that legal observers will wear when responding to calls for help.
The hats featured a black logo with the words “Migra Observer” and two hands clasped together. The word “migra” is a Spanish nickname for immigration authorities.
“When they call in, they should feel confident that we’re going to be able to help them out,” he said. “We are basically able to tell ICE, ‘You can’t take people in the dark. We are watching.’”
The coalition said fears of deportation have increased since Donald Trump became president. In Trump’s first 100 days in office, more than 30,000 convicted criminals across the nation were arrested, a 16 percent increase from the year before, according to ICE.
On April 24, 123 people were held at the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center near Elk Grove by federal ICE agents, based on records obtained by The Sacramento Bee. An ICE spokesman could not provide updated RCCC figures Tuesday afternoon.
The volunteer program comes about three months after the coalition launched the response hotline. So far, the Sacramento Immigration Coalition has received more than 230 calls to the number since it debuted on May 4, though about half of those calls were from people who said they opposed the group’s work, Valdez said.
The coalition originally intended for the line to be used in emergency situations, like ICE raids. But many callers have questions about people already detained by ICE agents. Other callers include undocumented community members who want to find local services.
Questions about being detained while in public or during a court hearing was another common concern for local undocumented immigrants who called the hotline, Valdez said.
“People are afraid to go to court because they are afraid of ICE showing up,” he said. “They’re afraid to pay a parking ticket.”
Shireen Miles, a retired teacher, is one of the legal observers trained by the coalition. She said her Christian faith and the friendships she’s built with undocumented people compelled her to join the program.
“As a member of this community and this nation, I could not stand by as the immigrant community was attacked and harassed for living their lives,” she said.