Immigration Rapid Response

On Thursday, February 16, 2017, an organization called "We the People of Ypsilanti/Ann Arbor" hosted a potluck and panel discussion about immigrant rights, and what can be done to help safeguard them. Some 20 people were in attendance, at a community events space in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

The panel consisted of:

Wall spoke about the rapid response team, which was formed just a month ago, in response to the "unique problems and dangers a Trump presidency poses" -- specifically, "Trump's interest in deporting eight million people." The rapid response team created a telephone number that families, neighbors, and friends can call in the case of an urgent immigration issue. Wall described the purpose of the team and the phone number: "What if, when someone was taken, the whole community came out as one?"

The founders of the rapid response team -- Wall and Jessica Prozinski -- thought that people would call when community members spotted an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), so the team could turn out to prevent ICE from taking anybody. However, the way the community has been using the number has been a little different. So far, it has been used by families of people that ICE has apprehended, after they have already been apprehended. For example, the rapid response team is organizing people to be a presence in the courtroom for Yousef Ajin's immigration court hearing on February 28, 2017.

The phone number for the rapid response team is 734-224-4632. Currently, Wall and Prozinski are the only two operators, and neither speaks a language other than English. They are trying to find operators that speak Spanish, Arabic, and Chinese.

Furthermore, the rapid response team and the associated group, Stop Trump Ann Arbor, are organizing people to speak at the upcoming Ann Arbor City Council meeting on February 21, 2017, where the council will be considering a sanctuary city ordinance.

Melanie Harner spoke about the Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights (WICIR). WICIR was formed eight years ago, and seems to have followed the same evolutionary path that the rapid response team is going through now - they started with an urgent response phone number, and found that the community needed other services, so they expanded to provide those services. Among other things, WICIR now provides:

  • The urgent response phone number, 734-355-2707. Unlike the rapid response team, this number is not staffed 24 hours a day. However, the operators do speak Spanish.
  • Education and communication - speaking about immigrant rights with community organizations and faith communities.
  • Political action to stop deportations.
  • Community organizing.

WICIR is staffed by volunteers, except for one paid staff member, who facilitates a group for teens (aged 12-22) who have had family members deported.

Harner also discussed the Washtenaw ID Card program. The county ID is available to all Washtenaw county residents, and was designed to be a government ID for those who may have a difficult time getting a state ID card -- people such as immigrants, the homeless, and other underrepresented folks. However, Harner pointed out that everybody should get the Washtenaw ID card, to increase its legitimacy and acceptance in the community, and so that the card doesn't become known as something only possessed by these underrepresented people. Currently, Harner was aware that Lucky's Market in Ann Arbor is accepting the Washtenaw ID when customers want to buy cigarettes or alcohol.

On the topic of sanctuary, Harner said that WICIR has been talking with faith communities in the area who might be willing to be a sanctuary for people targeted by ICE. There is no law preventing ICE from coming into a church to arrest people, but they tend not to, since it is bad PR.

Pete Murdock of Ypsilanti's City Council talked about efforts to make the city of Ypsilanti a sanctuary. A recent ordinance added immigration status and gender identity to the city's nondiscrimination policy, and also prevented police from asking people their immigration status.

This event was organized by "We The People". Organizer Charles Smalls said they wanted to have "TED talks for activists," adding that they want to provide a "relaxed vibe," and plenty of time to mingle and meet someone new. This was the organization's third event and first panel discussion -- previous events have each had only one speaker.