Teams Forming to Confront ICE

Steve Propes

Two years ago, Long Beach-area attorney Helene Hoffman switched from Social Security practice to immigration law. About four or five months ago, she met members of CLUE (Clergy and Laity United For Economic Justice), who involved her in the rapid response network.

Religious organizations have been involved in helping undocumented immigrants since the 1980s. Now, organizations like CLUE are taking a more proactive stand in actually intervening when federal agents from ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) or Border Patrol attempt to detain the undocumented.

That’s where the rapid response network comes in. “If ICE comes to the door and a family member calls the church, the leader from the team texts all the people on the team to go to an address, get there as fast as they can. If ICE is still there, someone should film the whole thing and write down everything they say, because they make a lot of mistakes. If an attorney speaks Spanish, they can tell the person of their rights, and tell ICE you want to know where these people are going. Go there and reassure the family, where do they think they’re taking that person. Once detained or deported, there is a way of telling where they are going. Finally, paying for part of all attorney fees, that way the person is represented.”

“If ICE knocks on the door, the person doesn’t have to answer the door or answer the questions. They can’t arrest you for not answering the questions,” said Hoffman. “On the street, ICE will say, ‘tell me your name.’ Answer, ‘I’m not going to answer your question. I do not wish to speak with you, answer questions, sign or hand you any documents based on my Fifth Amendment rights.’” Further, said Hoffman, “they have no permission to enter a home, based on the Fourth Amendment without a warrant, which has to be signed by a judge. It will be signed the honorable or judge so and so. Lot of times they present an unsigned warrant.” 

Three training sessions have been held for these teams at the First Congregation Church, Cedar and Broadway in February, which attracted about 80 people. About 100 attended at the Unitarian Universalist Church on Atherton on March 11. “Most of the people were Unitarian members.”  At a more recent training session at St. Lukes on Seventh Street on March 25, “50 people showed up,” according to CLUE organizer, Grecia Lopez-Reyes.

At the St. Luke’s session, former City Councilmember Tonia Uranga did some training.”

Currently, there are two rapid response teams in North Long Beach. “Most of the people are undocumented themselves,” with about ten people on each team. “Long Beach is the perfect place to have rapid response, better than L.A.” as Long Beach response times can be anywhere from twenty or thirty minutes.

Lopez-Reyes said, “We have an ICE office in Long Beach’s Westin Hotel to cover the airport and the hotels. ICE has been going into courthouses to hold checkpoints. Local police, LAPD and LBPD are not supposed to be with ICE.” 

“CLUE is based in Los Angeles,” said Lopez-Reyes. “We have 170 members in Long Beach/South Bay. “Long Beach is so diverse with a history of immigrants. 90 to 95 percent of some congregations are immigrants. It’s not a Latino issue, various groups in Long Beach are affected,” including the Filipino community and Cambodian community. Lopez-Reyes advises against using undocumented persons as rapid responders, as they might well be picked up also.

ICE Western Regional Communications Director/Spokesperson Virginia Kice said in an email, “we’re aware of a number of groups and organizations that have proposed actions such as those you’ve outlined. We’re not responding to those plans specifically.”

Wrigley resident, John Deats, 74, who served on the now-disbanded Public Safety Advisory Commission from 1990-2000, said L.A. County Sheriff “Jim McDonnell has the right idea. Deal with the criminality aspect. If it helps get criminals out of the country, let ICE do what they are doing.” 

CLUE Executive Director, Rabbi Jonathan Klein said, “For us to get into the deportation business for people who commit crimes, it comes down to due process. For a person who is accused, using deportation as a way of punishing them cuts short due process. They don’t have Miranda rights.”

LBIRC (Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition) spokesperson Alicia Morales told of the results of informing people of their rights. “ICE has been doing checkpoints. A woman in North Long Beach heard knocking on her door three weeks ago. They ended up leaving, no one got taken.”

Asked how ICE finds undocumented immigrants, Hoffman answered, “Sometimes people turn people in. Sometimes they’ll raid a company and just capture people. If an immigrant has a criminal record, they’ll sneak into jails, go to the guy’s house, with a warrant. While they’re there, they’ll catch someone else.”

“I’m Jewish,” said Hoffman. “My parents are from Czechoslovakia and Ukraine. It brings up memories, makes me crazy. Survivors are having a terrible time with this.”


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