An interview with Pedro Sosa, director of AFSC’s Project Voice Immigrant Rights Program in Oregon and Washington state
Q: Soon after President Trump took office, he signed an executive order to ramp up immigration enforcement around the country. What impact have you seen?
A: There is a lot of fear in the communities we work in. Agriculture is a big part of the economy in this region, and we work with many farmworkers. People are afraid to go to work or to take their children to school.
The number of raids is hard to track, but I believe we’re seeing more than in the past. We do know that just a few weekends ago, for example, 84 people were arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) [in the Pacific Northwest], and we had heard about only a few of them.
Q: How has AFSC worked with communities to respond to immigration raids?
A: We’re doing more Know Your Rights trainings for immigrants in the community. Since January, I’ve trained over 2,000 people, and sometimes I’m doing up to five trainings per week. I recently did a training with 25 organizers across the state, who are going to start doing Know Your Rights in their communities.
These trainings are very intensive—they take three hours or more, they’re highly participative, and they’re a time for reflection. We use a participatory technique based on popular education metholodogy. People laugh, cry, get mad. We do a collective analysis of the anti-immigrant policies under Trump and the administrations before him. It helps people to understand why all of this is happening to us.
Q: AFSC is also helping communities establish rapid response teams. How do those teams work?
A: Rapid response teams are made up of community organizations, churches, and other allies that are trained and ready to respond in case of ICE presence in a community.
In Portland, we’ve had a rapid response team since 2006 [when ICE carried out highly publicized raids of U.S. workplaces]. After the recent election, we're helping to put in place six more rapid response teams in Salem, Woodburn, Folks County, and Lebanon, Oregon; and in Walla Walla and Forks, Washington.
Each team is made up of five smaller teams:
- The legal team works with lawyers and does intake with people who are victims of raids. They are trained as legal observers, and they document any violations of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments.
- The service team includes schools, social service agencies, faith groups, and others who help victims after raids. They provide food, accompany families to courts, help find care for the children if their parent or guardian is taken.
- The media team alerts the news media when a raid happens, organizes press conferences, and distributes information about the rapid response team in the community.
- The government team includes people who have connections with city officials or the governor or representatives. They lift up the stories of people affected to advocate for policies to prevent raids.
- The political action team mobilizes people if we need to plan a march or rally to pressure elected officials.
Q: You also manage a 24-hour hotline (1-888-622-1510) for people to report raids or ICE presence in their communities. Tell us more about that.
A: We put that in place about a year ago. We distributed the hotline number all over the Portland area, and soon we started getting calls from all over the state.
We have a group of 15 volunteers who take turns answering hotline phone calls, which are forwarded to their cell phones. We have two people at a time taking calls. If one person can’t get to the phone, the call goes to the backup person.
The idea is to record ICE activity in the community, and then we can mobilize the rapid response team if needed. Sometimes we get a call, and somebody needs help; other times, it’s just a rumor of ICE activity being reported.
We can get up to 15 calls a day. We spend a lot of time verifying rumors about ICE activities—we don’t want to put out bad information.
Q: Can you give us an example of how the rapid response team has successfully handled a raid?
A: In February, I got a call from Woodburn. The caller reported that they saw la migra (ICE) on the highway, and I called someone to verify that was true. I drove out to the scene and saw two vans had been stopped by ICE—workers who were [headed to pick ornamental shrubs in a nearby forest]. Nineteen workers were detained, and eight were arrested and sent to Tacoma detention facility.
We mobilized our rapid response team in Salem, which we had just developed a couple of months earlier. Within hours, we had a group of lawyers—including the ACLU and professors from Lewis and Clark University—come to talk with workers after they were released to document what happened and provide support. Most of the workers were released, although two were held, and lawyers began to help them and their families with their cases. We also alerted the media, and the story was covered on local TV and in newspapers.
We originally developed the rapid response team model in 2006. Today, we have more technology. We use the SMS Seal app for messaging. We’re also in conversation with the ACLU, which has a phone app that lets you record and upload videos that get automatically sent to their system, just in case your phone is taken away from you.
Q: You’ve been advocating for immigrant rights for many years. What keeps you energized to continue to do this difficult work?
A: I am an immigrant, and I have many friends who are immigrants. I have also been arrested by Immigration, and I know how it feels.
I see a lot of people who aren’t immigrants—allies, including some Quakers—who want to help. It’s a very important, historic time we’re living in now to stand with immigrants and mobilize others to join us.