‘Watching With Them’ 

Volunteers mobilize to monitor ICE raids.

Maria spent six hours on Saturday training a few dozen volunteers who will soon be the eyes and ears monitoring U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) activity in the community.

Maria (who wished to keep her last name confidential) is one of the organizers of Vecindarios901, a local group that mobilizes volunteers to monitor, respond to, and record ICE activity in the county. The group began its work in the fall after Maria moved back to Memphis from Colorado where she volunteered with a statewide ICE rapid response team. Using what she learned there, Maria set up Shelby County's own response team, structuring it similar to Colorado's.

If people in the community believe they've seen ICE agents, Maria said they can call the group's emergency hotline. Volunteer dispatchers take those calls and contact confirmers or legal observers who then go to the scene, take pictures, and confirm whether or not ICE was actually present.

click to enlarge “We let people know that they don’t have to be afraid, they have power, and they do have rights.” - U.S. IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT
  • U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
  • “We let people know that they don’t have to be afraid, they have power, and they do have rights.”

"It's really important for us to verify if it is or isn't ICE because if it's not ICE, we can automatically dispel fear," Maria said. "Often people see an unmarked vehicle with tinted windows and immediately assume it's ICE, meaning they'll stay indoors, won't go to work, won't send their kids to school, won't go to the grocery store."

If volunteers do verify that ICE agents are at a location, Maria said the group shares that information on social media to warn the community and remind them of their rights. They also connect those who've interacted with ICE to legal resources.

"We let people know that they don't have to be afraid, they have power, and they do have rights," Maria said. "We let them know that there are people who stand with them and are watching with them."

Maria believes it is especially important to protect her community now, as "white nationalist rhetoric regularly comes straight from the president."

"That has an impact on our community," Maria said. "It impacts policies, the way agencies treat us, and the way the public treats us. People of color have historically been underdogs and have always had to fight to protect our communities. And the fact that we're still having to do this in 2020 shows we still have a lot to work on."

Selena (who also wished to keep her last name confidential) attended Saturday's training. She hopes to volunteer as a dispatcher since she is bilingual.

"The community that they are targeting here is my community," said Selena, who lives in Nutbush. "I live in an area where there's a lot of fear and confusion. So I'm going to do whatever I can to help those people live happier and safer lives while holding ICE accountable. They can't just come into our communities and terrorize families."

Vecindarios901 is always looking for more volunteers, Maria said. Those interested can email the group at vecindarios901@gmail.com. Maria also urges the community to call the hotline at (901) 329-7979 to report ICE activity. 

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