Mission Housing Development Corporation, a nonprofit housing developer, has put its building managers on notice that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are not welcome on Mission Housing property.
Moreover, the agency, which operates some 35 buildings housing 3000 tenants, has started a series of workshops to help undocumented immigrants know their rights.
One of the precautions is to prohibit building managers from verifying warrants to admit agents onto the property. Instead, the officers should be told to go to the corporate office.
“You’re saying someone will verifying, someone just has to go to [the office],” said Sam Moss, Mission Housing’s executive director. “It won’t just be for ICE. It’ll be for any law enforcement of any legal document. We are revoking your authority to approve it.”
It’s all part of a process that Vicky Castro, executive director of the La Raza Centro Legal, described a sort of minimal cooperation that is well within the law but keeps residents and managers from unwittingly assisting ICE agents.
“We’re not asking you to step outside the law,” she said. “Just because someone might be undocumented doesn’t mean the constitution doesn’t protect them.”
During the training, the first of many sessions planned throughout the city in the coming weeks, Castro warned that immigration enforcement agents can be tricky.
“ICE… can come as cops, they can come as civilians, they can lie,” she told those attending the workshop. “That’s part of…how to mislead and somewhat make you feel like they’re not coming after you.”
“ICE will come and they do this a lot,” she said, waving a crumpled piece of paper over her head and mimicking an agent, “‘I have an arrest warrant!’”
Castro said often the warrant is not a real warrant or doesn’t meet the criteria to force a tenant to open the door. She also said she has often heard the agents claim to be searching for a sex offender – the same reason given in a statement after an ICE visit to a Mission District community center.
“Every time I’ve heard ICE come to places, it’s that same excuse. So my question is, you still haven’t found that guy? Like, ten years I’ve heard it,” Castro joked.
The main piece of advice for tenants is to keep silent as much as possible and not give anyone unexpected an opportunity to come inside. Castro suggested building managers pass on the advice to residents in building meetings.
Doors and gates should remain shut at all times – with particular attention to housing complex gates that might not shut automatically. She added that tenants should be extra vigilant about strangers who might want to slip in behind a resident.
Though one should never lie or try to show forged documents, an undocumented person should not give their name, date of birth, or country of origin to an ICE agent if possible, nor should they sign anything. Confirming any of these details could help the agent gather enough information to begin deportation proceedings.
“By saying these things, you are giving the government, you’re giving ICE, Department of Homeland Security the information they can use to accuse you of unlawful presence here, and to find you deportable,” she said.
Instead, she said, anyone who finds someone who might be an ICE agent or law enforcement at their door should not open it, and instead ask the agents to slide any warrant they claim to have under the door. Castro also handed out red cards that she recommended residents keep copies of wherever they might go, with a formal statement of intent to remain silent printed on it.
“This is power. This lets them know that our community has been educated on what to do,” she said, noting that agents might stay at the door for hours at a time trying to convince a target to open the door.
These guidelines, Castro said, might seem paranoid – but they can make all the difference. She stressed the importance of making that clear to everyone in a household, including children, the best course of action if immigration agents come knocking.
Encounters with ICE agents could also take place at work – there, too, undocumented immigrants have rights, including a right to stay silent and to speak to a lawyer. They can also ask if they can leave and do so, though Castro said it is imperative that they not run.
“Don’t give the impression you are fleeing,” she advised. “Walk away, or be on your cell phone.”
There are a few scenarios in which agents may enter, generally involving warrants. Here too however, tenants, have rights, Castro said. Only arrest warrants with the correct name of the target are valid. Search warrants require the address, date, and search parameters to be valid. Either must be signed by a judge, not an ICE or homeland security staffer, to grant entry.
No matter the situation, Castro said, maintaining calm is imperative. Activists and immigration lawyers are building up a rapid-response network that will determine what kind of ICE actions are taking place and what intervention is needed to ensure no one’s rights are violated.
Anyone who finds themselves the target of an operation or who sees ICE activity can call 1-844-878-7801 during the day, though that number will soon be replaced by a round-the-clock hotline to reach the rapid response network. More detailed information is available here and here. Información sobre derechos de los inmigrantes en español está disponible aquí y aquí.