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Advocacy groups teach immigrants to protect selves

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  • peaceandjustice2005
    The following appeared on Boston.com: Headline: Customs raids spur training on rights Date: September 6, 2007 In living rooms, laundromats, and community
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 7, 2007
      The following appeared on Boston.com:

      Headline: Customs raids spur training on rights

      Date: September 6, 2007



      "In living rooms, laundromats, and community centers across

      Massachusetts, immigrant-rights groups are running an underground

      campaign to teach illegal immigrants to protect themselves from federal

      agents. Their instructions to the immigrants: Keep their lips sealed

      and doors shut unless authorities have a warrant."

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      http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2007/09/06/customs_raids_spur_training_on_rights?p1=email_to_a_friend



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      The Boston Globe
      Customs raids spur training on rights
      Advocacy groups teach immigrants to protect selves



      By Maria Sacchetti, Globe Staff | September 6, 2007


      In living rooms, laundromats, and community centers across
      Massachusetts, immigrant-rights groups are running an underground
      campaign to teach illegal immigrants to protect themselves from
      federal agents. Their instructions to the immigrants: Keep their lips
      sealed and doors shut unless authorities have a warrant.



      The grass-roots training sessions, coming in response to recent
      federal raids through immigrant enclaves from Nantucket to Boston to
      Springfield, have ignited controversy on all sides.

      Federal customs officials criticize the nonprofit groups for aiding
      anyone in this country illegally and say that agents generally target
      criminals. But the advocacy groups, worried that the raids are more
      widespread, say that even illegal immigrants have rights under the
      Constitution.

      "We understand trying to remove violent people," said Maria Elena
      Letona, executive director of Centro Presente, a Cambridge-based
      nonprofit that aids immigrants. "But in doing so, you end up
      terrorizing entire communities."

      One steamy night last week in Springfield, a handful of immigrants
      here illegally from Mexico and Honduras gathered in the sparse kitchen
      of a tiny apartment. They sat on nylon folding chairs facing a laptop
      computer that Joel Rodriguez, a trainer for the Alliance to Develop
      Power, had placed at the edge of the sink.

      Their faces tense, they watched a DVD in Spanish that simulated
      encounters between immigrants and federal officials and police. In one
      scene, two men wearing jackets emblazoned with "police" and "ICE"
      pounded on the door, shattering a couple's morning coffee.

      The couple froze. Through the closed door, the father asked to see the
      warrant, which the agent slipped underneath the door. After reading
      the warrant, the father returned it, saying it did not list his name.
      Rebuffed, the agents left.

      After the video, Rodriguez told the immigrants that they should not
      lie or carry false documents, or run away.

      "The best thing you can do is stay silent," or ask for a lawyer, he said.

      Federal immigration officials and others say such training undermines
      federal immigration law, and worry that the advice could leak to
      criminals, as well. Mark Krikorian, executive director of the
      Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies, which favors stricter
      controls on immigration, called the training "immoral."

      "It troubles us tremendously," said Kelly Nantel, press secretary for
      US Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Washington, maintaining that
      the agency does not conduct random sweeps for illegal immigrants. "We
      would encourage organizations that are engaging in that kind of
      information distribution to stop."

      Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, said the
      training sessions are a form of constitutionally protected free speech
      designed to help families who are unaware of their legal options. Many
      unauthorized immigrants have applied for legal residency or asylum and
      are awaiting hearings, she said.

      "Having those people know their rights isn't in any way going to give
      them any safety or comfort," said Rose, whose group has been doing the
      training for years.


      National grass-roots immigrant groups called for increased training
      for immigrants at a conference in July, but many groups cannot afford
      it, said Lee Siu Hin, national coordinator of the National Immigrant
      Solidarity Network.


      In Massachusetts, many nonprofits redoubled their efforts to train
      immigrants after last week's antigang raids in several Greater Boston
      cities led to conflicting reports about the detainees. Immigrant
      advocates said authorities picked up some immigrants without criminal
      records. Federal officials said they arrested 36 gang members and
      associates.

      Ali Noorani, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and
      Refugee Advocacy Coalition, or MIRA, said the groups support
      crackdowns on crime, but he was concerned that federal agents were
      using the raids to question anyone in sight. MIRA has been doing the
      training for years, but recently saw requests increase dramatically.

      "What's happening right now is federal agents are banging on doors and
      barging into homes and saying I have a warrant for this person but I'm
      going to ask everybody everything," Noorani said. "So we're telling
      people, 'listen, you've not committed a criminal offense, so unless
      there is a warrant for you, the government has no reason to enter your
      home.' "

      In coming weeks, groups including Centro Presente, the Chelsea
      Collaborative, Agencia Alpha, and MIRA are increasing training in
      Chelsea, Boston, Somerville, and other cities. Last week, dozens of
      advocates and immigrants flooded a church in East Boston and a
      gymnasium in Chelsea for PowerPoint presentations on immigrants'
      rights. On Saturday, Chelsea Collaborative handed packets to people as
      they lunched in restaurants and washed clothes in East Boston's
      Maverick Square.

      The Alliance to Develop Power, a wide-ranging nonprofit in Springfield
      involved in affordable housing, union organization, and services for
      US citizens and immigrants, began training in June after a raid jarred
      the community.

      According to the alliance, federal agents arrived to deport one
      illegal immigrant but also detained four others, including a couple
      from Mexico who were driving to pick up their son, who was with baby
      sitter.

      In Springfield, the training sessions are intimate, invitation-only
      affairs held in immigrants' apartments, because people are afraid to
      gather in larger groups outside, said alliance director Caroline Murray.

      At the end of each session, each trainee receives a packet of fliers
      outlining their rights and business-size cards to give to federal
      agents that explain why they decline to speak. The packets include an
      "emergency plan" that immigrants can use to arrange child care in case
      they are arrested.

      Edith, a 26-year-old single mother from Mexico, invited the alliance
      to her Springfield apartment last week because she feared for her
      3-month old daughter. The only person she trusts to care for her is
      3,000 miles away in Los Angeles, which would be difficult to arrange
      if she is detained.

      "Really, you think it's not going to happen to you," said Edith, who
      works for a laundry service and who did not want her full name used.

      Jorge, 26, a construction worker from Honduras, said he would like to
      help police, but doubted that he would open the door for them today
      because he has too much to lose.

      Eight years ago, he clung to the sides of trains to get to the Mexican
      border, paid $1,500 for a boat ride across the Rio Grande, and then
      walked four nights to Houston. Eventually he made his way to
      Massachusetts and later paid $6,000 to smuggle his mother here.

      Now he has a wife, two children, and one on the way. He earns $2,000 a
      month, 10 times what he made in Honduras.

      "It's not that I don't trust [the police]," said Jorge. "If we didn't
      have the police here, this country would be like our countries. But
      sometimes the fear of what could happen to me takes over."

      © Copyright 2007 Globe Newspaper Company.
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