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At “Know Your Rights” Forum, Immigrant Rights Activists Go Beyond Trump’s Tweets to Prepare for What’s Next

Last Monday, President Donald Trump took to Twitter to threaten mass deportation raids targeting immigrant families that include people with undocumented status. Initially it was unclear what he really meant, as law enforcement officials typically don’t announce such arrests all across social media. But as the week has churned on and various media outlets found confirmation that ICE will indeed conduct raids across the nation starting this weekend, what seemed like just another Trump Twitter rant suddenly became very real danger.

Then at the last minute, Trump canceled the mass raids… Or did he just postpone them? At a North Las Vegas church earlier today, community leaders, activists, and others gathered to officer advice and support for local immigrants who have had to endure Trump’s chaotic attacks and figure out what to do about them.

Let’s put all this into proper perspective
Photo by Andrew Davey

Just over a week ago, U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (D-California) visited UNLV Boyd Law School to speak with immigrant rights activists who have been on the front line in defending Nevadans from Trump’s anti-immigrant regime. While here, she declared, “These are human rights abuses being committed by the United States government, and this must end,” then proceeded to describe how she will approach immigration reform very differently.

Flash forward a week later, and recent headlines serve as a painful reminder of what’s still happening under the current administration. Despite initial assessments that Trump could be bluffing, ICE officials had since confirmed they are targeting up to 2,000 immigrant families in ten metropolitan regions across the nation, including the Los Angeles Basin and the San Francisco Bay Area out west. Then yesterday, Trump did an about-face (on Twitter, again) and claimed he’s ordering a two-week delay on these raids “to see if the Democrats and Republicans can get together and work out a solution to the Asylum and Loophole problems at the Southern Border,” problems that have been exacerbated by Trump’s own anti-immigrant regime that’s resulted in indefinite refugee family detention, even more family separations, neglect and abuse of children, and manufactured outrage over Members of Congress calling out human rights abuses in our immigration system rather than concrete action to end the human rights abuses.

Considering our own experience with Nevadans being targeted by Trump’s anti-immigrant regime (with assistance from local law enforcement), Trump’s threatening tweets hit home regardless of what exactly he claims he’s ordering ICE to do in which cities. Against this latest outbreak of fear and loathing on Pennsylvania Avenue, activists gathered at First African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in North Las Vegas to look past Trump’s spin and prepare for the next steps ahead.

“This is not a black thing or a brown thing. This is a human rights issue. It pertains to all individuals.”
– Rev. Leonard B. Jackson, Faith Organizing Alliance
Photo by Andrew Davey

First AME Church Pastor Ralph Williamson welcomed the group into this house of worship and offered some words of comfort and wisdom. “While the reality of what has taken place in our nation is real, we have the power of God on our side. Fear is not the only response we need to have,” Williamson declared. He continued, “You are in a community that loves you. You are in a sacred space,” and soon added, “You are welcome in this house. Just remember that when two or three of us are gathered together, God is in the midst of us.”

Rev. Leonard B. Jackson from Faith Organizing Alliance then added more words of encouragement. “Together, we will make positive change in this nation for ourselves and for our children’s future,” he declared. Jackson continued, “We stand with you. We stand together. We will continue to march on until all people have a positive future and a better tomorrow.” He then implored upon the audience, “March on, my children. March on, because we have overcome together.”

Just before the program began, Rev. Jackson spoke with us about why First AME Church and Faith Organizing Alliance agreed to host this community forum. According to Jackson, “We need to realize that as a faith community, we’re all one body. Whatever happens to our brothers and sisters happens to each of us.”

And in dispelling the oft-repeated rumors and claims about relations among various communities of color and how they approach immigration reform, Jackson said, “This is not a black thing or a brown thing. This is a human rights issue. It pertains to all individuals.”

So what are your rights, and why should you know them?
Photo by Andrew Davey

Representatives from U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto’s and Jacky Rosen’s respective offices, as well as the offices of Reps. Dina Titus (D-Las Vegas), Susie Lee (D-Las Vegas), and Steven Horsford (D-North Las Vegas), along with the office of Governor Steve Sisolak (D), were on hand to provide assistance and promise action to protect Nevadans’ civil rights. So were people from organizations that are part of the larger Nevada Immigrant Coalition that has developed in recent years to unite local progressive groups in defense of local immigrant communities.

Two individuals from the coalition then led the next part of the discussion, as Erika Castro from PLAN and Lalo Montoya from Make the Road Nevada dove into the weeds of our immigration system as they offered what activists call a “Know Your Rights” training. Despite the White House’s claims, and despite the worst fears of some in the community, people have constitutional rights regardless of their immigration status.

Once they finished, the program turned to audience Q&A with immigration attorneys on hand. One asked if Las Vegas is a “sanctuary city”. The attorneys had to explain that even though Las Vegas Metro Police claim they do not perform federal immigration enforcement functions and are changing their protocol on immigration enforcement, they and other Nevada law enforcement agencies continue to cooperate with ICE via the 287(g) program and/or hold agreements.

As UNLV Immigration Law Clinic’s Mayra Salinas-Menjivar succinctly explained, “If you have a criminal warrant, you can still be arrested. That hasn’t changed.” She later clarified that police typically don’t pursue people suspected of minor offenses like traffic tickets. But considering how Nevadans like Jorge Franco and Alicia Moya have been arrested and turned over to ICE for minor traffic offenses, the lawyers advised the audience to seek proper legal counsel and be proactive in handling such legal matters if they find themselves in this kind of a situation.

“I think that’s something we’re missing, the humanizing of immigrants. We need to protect them, as that’s exactly right, but they also need a voice.”
– Raquel Cruz-Juarez, Nevada Advocates for Planned Parenthood Affiliates

When we spoke with Make the Road Nevada‘s Lalo Montoya about the purpose of this and other “Know Your Rights” events, he explained, “It’s important that we explain to the community the reasons behind the President’s mass deportation agenda. And it’s important that our community remain calm, so we hope to bring a sense of calm to the chaos that the administration is trying to unleash onto our community.” Yet while he’s doing his best to remain calm, Montoya also wants to prepare the community for the fights ahead, such as Congress’ current debate on next year’s budget and funding for ICE and CBP (as in, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol).

So does Raquel Cruz-Juarez from Nevada Advocates for Planned Parenthood Affiliates (NAPPA). Though Planned Parenthood typically isn’t labeled as an immigrant rights organization, Cruz-Juarez noted that Planned Parenthood is committed to providing reproductive health care to Nevadans regardless of their immigration status. While we spoke, she perhaps provided the perfect summary for this past week’s emotional roller coaster: “Unfortunately today, we realized we’re at the mercy of President Trump’s tweets. That’s pretty ridiculous.”

So how exactly should people respond to Trump’s tweets, and to his larger campaign against immigrant communities? According to Cruz-Juarez, “It would be nice to have an education campaign to tell everyone who immigrants truly are.” She then added, “I think that’s something we’re missing, the humanizing of immigrants. We need to protect them, as that’s exactly right, but they also need a voice.”

Yesterday, the people who came to First AME had a chance to see and hear that this voice may be larger and more powerful than they thought, and that perhaps their voice may be resonating all the way to Washington, D.C.

If you suspect ICE is targeting you and/or someone you know for arrest and deportation, ACLU of Nevada and the UNLV Immigration Law Clinic have compiled resource pages to keep on hand and utilize if the moment comes.

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