In December, the Obama Administration announced a plan for nationwide immigration raids targeting Central American children and families who came to this country fleeing violence in their homelands. This announcement sent a wave of fear through immigrant communities across the nation.
In Richmond, community leaders responded quickly with flyers, text messages, e-mails and radio announcements calling people together. Directly affected community members started meeting in mid-January, inviting high school leaders, VCU students and other community activists to join them in the apartment complex where they have organized together for several years now. They shared stories of the impacts of raids and the current situation facing the immigrant community, built trust, shared skills and knowledge with each other and brainstormed ways to stand up to the fear that ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) generates in the Richmond community.
The group moved quickly into action, creating a hotline for community members to report the presence of ICE at homes, workplaces, neighborhood streets or police checkpoints. The hotline was named Mira la Migra by one of the immigrant youth leaders and is staffed by a rotating group of allies who respond to the scene where they serve as legal observers, documenting the actions of ICE and/or police officers in order to challenge violations as well as support the people being targeted, reminding community members of their rights and identifying their support needs.
The weekly meetings continue with Know Your Rights trainings, campaign strategy sessions and ongoing discussions where participants build a shared political analysis of their current situation, including the criminalization of black and brown people and LGBTQ communities, who profits from the incarceration of people of color, US interventions in Latin America and around the world . . . and most of all, the importance of recognizing where the real solutions are – in directly affected communities coming together, connecting, becoming more autonomous and leading the organizing for their own liberation.
Most people would never suspect that one of ICE’s main Richmond offices is located in Midlothian’s swanky Arboretum Office Park. But hundreds of immigrant women and children are seen coming out of that office each month, many of them wearing ankle bracelets for electronic monitoring of their movements. In addition to required visits to this office, ICE agents regularly intrude into homes, furthering the pervasive fear. A mother wearing the ankle bracelet told those at one of the weekly meetings, “you feel like the worst criminal, dehumanized, treated as a dog, but the only thing I did was to escape from my children and I getting killed in my country, and they are doing this to us here”.
The group has come to call itself ICE Out of RVA and it’s current campaign goal is to get Immigration and Customs Enforcement OUT of Richmond, of our barrios and demand that local police and sheriff departments stop collaborating with ICE, and stop implementing ICE holds. The group has started meetings with members of City Council, County Board of Supervisors and local law enforcement officials to force those in power to hear the effects of the fear that ICE causes the immigrant community to face every day and to demand an end to local cooperation with ICE. They even joined other southern immigrant justice organizations at the White House in Washington, DC to demand that deportations and separation of families come to a stop.
ICE Out of RVA will continue working at a local grassroots level, at a City and County government level, and at a National level until all communities can live free from fear of state violence.