New Hotline Aims to Defend People from Immigration Raids

A newly formed coalition has a simple strategy to keep families from being torn apart by deportation. When U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducts a raid, the grassroots group Migra Watch will send people to show up and document what occurs. Those observations could serve as evidence to bolster the detainee’s defense in court.

Migra Watch, which began training people in the South Bay this past month, is about to launch a 24-hour hotline for families targeted by ICE to request a legal observer. Scores of volunteers on Saturday filed into the sanctuary of Alum Rock United Methodist Church in East Side San Jose to learn what to do if they’re summoned to help.

“The immigration system has been working in the dark,” Luis Angel, an attorney for Pangea Legal Services, told the audience. “But I believe that if the American people knew what was happening on the ground in their name, they would be outraged.”

Screen Shot 2017-04-10 at 2.30.51 PMOnce the hotline is up and running later this month, families targeted by ICE will be able to call the number and report their address to a dispatcher, who sends text messages to registered observers within a few-mile range. Those who are available will text that they’re on the way, and then head to the listed address to video, photograph and otherwise document the raid.

The first order of business is to verify the raid, Angel said. If the report is a false alarm, the observers tell the dispatcher, who relays the message to the community. If there is indeed a raid, however, the observers collect as much information as possible.

“This is unprecedented—no one has recorded ICE before,” said Angel, who grew up undocumented and was granted temporary legal status under President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) reform.

But he cautioned against engaging with officers on the scene.

“ICE does not know the law,” he said. “You’re not going to win a legal argument with ICE. In the streets, you use common sense. You use street smarts. But you’re going to enforce your rights in court.”

Screen Shot 2017-04-10 at 2.31.04 PMDocumentation and eyewitness accounts can greatly affect the outcome of the ensuing deportation case, Angel explained. If he can convince a judge that ICE acquired evidence unlawfully, he said, the case could get thrown out.

It also helps when the people targeted by ICE know their rights in the first place, Angel said. Thus, in addition to training legal observers, Migra Watch educates families of undocumented immigrants.

All people in the United States, citizen or otherwise, are entitled to certain Constitutional rights, Angel told the audience. They’re protected from unreasonable search and seizure. They have a right to remain silent. They have a right to legal representation. But the immigration system has violated those rights for decades, Angel said.

Although deportation tears apart families and strips away “all that makes life worth living,” the government considers it an administrative action. Immigration laws are primarily enforced through civil proceedings, not criminal prosecutions. Detainees are called respondents, not defendants. Yet in practice, according to human rights advocates, civil immigration detention has become as punitive as criminal confinement.

“It’s a Constitutional anomaly,” Angel said, calling it a “broken system.”

Though law enforcement is legally barred from entering someone’s home or parts of their workplace without a judicial warrant, immigration officers find ways to sidestep this requirement. Almost invariably—99.9 percent of the time, Angel said—ICE serves an administrative warrant, which holds no legal weight, as opposed to one signed by a judge. With physical force or displays of weaponry, they coerce people into letting them inside their homes or businesses and claim in court that the detainees consented to the search.

Sometimes ICE officials pose as local police. In so-called sanctuary jurisdictions like Santa Clara County, where local law enforcement limits cooperation with federal immigration agencies, that misrepresentation is especially insidious, Angel said. It takes advantage of people’s trust in their own community’s law enforcement.

Using these kinds of dubious tactics, federal immigration agents detained a record high of about 400,000 people a year under Obama. Roughly 35,000 of these people lived in the Bay Area. Since President Donald Trump took office, deportations have intensified and expanded to people without criminal records.

“This is not something new,” Angel said. “This was happening under the Obama administration. … But if there’s one silver lining in the Trump administration, it’s that it pulled the mask off these injustices.”

The legal training is part of a broader initiative called the “solidarity network,” which aims to protect targeted community members. More than 70 South Bay churches and other religious congregations have joined the network by pledging to provide shelter and basic services for families impacted by immigration enforcement.

“We’re building a moral movement,” Angel said. “We’re changing hearts and minds.”

When Trump’s failed travel ban created chaos at the nation’s airports, spontaneous protests preceded legal victories, he said. Angel suggested Migra Watch and the solidarity network could inspire similar action in response to immigration raids.

Throughout the training, Angel talked about his personal story and invited others to share theirs. He asked what brought people to the workshop that day.

“I need to know that I’m on the right side of history,” one person replied.

“People I love are scared,” another said. “I know how to be there for them emotionally, but I want to be there for them in a meaningful way.”

About a dozen people chimed in.

“I’m an old white guy and my values are closer to immigrant values than to the guys that are supposedly running this country.”

“Because no human being is illegal.”

“As a Vietnamese refugee, I was given a chance to come to this country. I want to make sure that other people have the same opportunity I did.”

“As a person with white privilege ... I want to use my privilege to help.”

“I believe that ICE makes our communities less safe. Because when people are scared, they’re less likely to report actual crimes that happen.”

“To prevent families from being divided.”

Jaime Zesati keeps a photo of his dad's alien ID card on his cellphone.

Jaime Zesati keeps a photo of his dad's alien ID card on his cellphone.

Jaime Zesati, the son of unauthorized immigrants who received amnesty in the 1970s and became citizens in the 1990s, said he wanted to translate his solidarity to action in honor of his family history.

After the training session, Zesati recounted how his father initially entered the U.S. legally as part of the Bracero Program, which imported millions of Mexican guest workers for seasonal work between 1942 to 1964. In 1961, at the age of 23, he received his alien identification card and worked three to four seasons before the federal program ended for good.

Many braceros stayed after their guest visas expired, running the risk that La Migra would show up at worker camps and round them up. Others, like Zesati’s dad, would go back and forth between their families in Mexico and better-paying jobs in the U.S.

“In 1963, my dad crossed the border illegally for the first time,” Zesati told San Jose Inside. “He crossed the desert ... and found work in restaurants and the fields, but was deported at least three times. In 1968, he paid for passage for my mom, who crossed through a drainage tunnel that ended in San Ysidro. She doesn’t like to recount that trip.”

The couple lived and worked in Los Angeles before putting down roots in the Bay Area, where they eventually had 10 children. Zesati keeps a photo of his dad’s alien ID on his cellphone. The card issued by the Immigration and Naturalization Service shows the young bracero scowling, his eyebrows knit and mop of curls askew from government health inspectors checking for lice.

“Although I’m the son of undocumented immigrants who strove to obtain legal status, I sometimes feel far removed from their struggle,” Zesati said. “I feel like posting and sharing online isn’t enough for me anymore. I needed to take tangible action.”

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. “The immigration system has been working in the dark,” Luis Angel, an attorney for Pangea Legal Services, told the audience. “But I believe that if the American people knew what was happening on the ground in their name, they would be outraged.”

    I’m an American person. I’m not outraged by the deportation of criminals who are here illegally.

    • I am a foreign born United States Citizen and my wife is a immigrant from Colombia and now a United States Citizen. Illegal immigrants who COMMIT CRIMES should not be allowed to stay among us. Concealing a criminal from deportation only empowers them and allows them to continue to victimize the community at large who do not commit crimes. We stand with you Pete Malloy, let our voices be heard, WE ARE NOT OUTRAGED BY THE DEPORTATION OF CRIMINALS WHO ARE HERE ILLEGALLY.

    • I am the descendent of LEGAL immigrants from Switzerland and Mexico. I, too, am not outraged by the deportation of any person who is in this country illegally. On the contrary, I am appalled at the actions of those at every level of our society – from politicians, to law enforcement, to average citizens – who, by action or passive resistance – shield illegal immigrants from deportation. I don’t care if they have committed any other crimes beyond illegal entry or if they are called ‘otherwise law-abiding’ (a euphemism here for “criminal, but not such a bad criminal”). More than being a ‘nation of immigrants’ – a simplistic and inaccurate rhetorical tool used to minimize the adverse impact that illegal immigration has on every level of our society – we are a nation of laws. Fair and just laws -together with their impartial application – are the only things that stand between rational civil society and either anarchy or tyrrany.

      • > we are a nation of laws

        Likely, a divisive and inflammatory statement. I’m certain that people up and down the landscape are “offended”.

        Republican America is “a nation of laws”.
        Democrat America is “a nation of voters”.

  2. I am a foreign born United States Citizen. My wife is a naturalized United States Citizen. We stand with Pete Malloy to have our voices heard that we are not outraged by the deportation of undocumented aliens who come yo our country and commit crimes. It is the hiding of these criminals within our communities that make us unsafe.

  3. Lovely, our tax payer money (without any input or voting) is spent to protect and defend illegal criminals. The irony in it all. No wonder Trump got elected. I believe in America first and everyone else third.

  4. Jennifer,
    Please stop trying to mis-identify immigrant and refugees who came here legally with known criminals and their accomplices that should be removed from the country after serving time and negligently being released into the public.

    It’s bad enough that so many people have come illegally or overstayed their welcome and in doing so committed a crime but it really gives that community a black eye when you lump them in with Murderers, Drug Trafficker’s, Slavers, Rapist, Childmolesters and Kidnapers. Stop defending these people and get them out of here and the country will look at the good ones in a better light.

  5. Just so we’re clear — CA Penal Code § 32:

    Every person who, after a felony has been committed, harbors, conceals or aids a principal in such felony, with the intent that said principal may avoid or escape from arrest, trial, conviction or punishment, having knowledge that said principal has committed such felony or has been charged with such felony or convicted thereof, is an accessory to such felony.

  6. It’s heartwarming to learn that the illegal aliens* who benefitted from past acts of governmental compassion (such as the various amnesty programs that were sold to the public as solutions to illegal entries) are now working against that very government so as to aid the tens of millions of illegal aliens* who continued to arrive after them (and who, unless things change, will themselves someday work to aid additional waves of illegal aliens*). My, what loyal Americans they’ve turned out to be!

    *pejorative term (which accurately reflected my contempt) replaced with legal terminology due to SJI censoring

    • Finfan, your insensitivity astounds me! Stop using pejorative terms! The proper, more politically correct term for the sort of individual you are describing, is not the word you used. The proper term is “patient with posterior spinal area over-hydration”

      • It doesn’t take much to confuse me these days… I’m still trying to figure out how it’s politically correct to disrespect people like me (native born) by insisting I’m an immigrant (as in, “We are a nation of immigrants”). By definition, an immigrant is a foreign-born person, which I clearly am not. Yet, in their relentless quest to legitimize the illegitimate, progressives twist the language, insult, and anoint rights in a manner the Soviets perfected under Stalin.

        And they’ve deluded themselves into thinking they are freedom fighters.

        • My life-long rage is often brought back up to its usual simmering boil whenever I hear the sickening phrase “we are a country of immigrants”. The U.S. is NOT a country of “gate crashing” immigrants. The U.S. is a country of settlers and “assimilants”.

          Americans come to this country to become Americans, not to bring their home country here, often with their native third world practices, traditions and diseases and to be disproportionately represented in our prisons and public assistance programs.

          I don’t need the “gate-crashers”. I can do my own yard-work, pick my own fruits and vegetables and when I go to a hotel, I give my room a good once-over myself with Clorox wipes anyway!

  7. I can only assume that those who excuse the aliens who reside here in violation of our laws would themselves have no hesitation about breaking the laws of a country they were visiting. Why, even with my white privilege I could never imagine myself residing in a foreign country illegally let alone acting all self righteous and butt hurt when somebody calls me on it. But I guess many of my fellow citizens, including most young journalists like Jennifer here, take their white privilege a little more seriously.

  8. Training mushy headed, bleeding heart liberals/progressives to break laws they don’t like–what a concept! Libs espouse “the rule of law” only when they agree with the law, and espouse free speech only when they agree with its content. What would happen if we all chose to disobey laws we didn’t like? The fault, if any, for the breaking up of families, some members who are here legally and some who are not, is not ICE enforcing laws on the books. The fault lies directly with those parents who came here illegally and had children here to serve as anchor children who appeal to the lawbreakers who formed MigraWatch. You reap what you sow. If you don’t like a law, work to change it; don’t just break it in a fit of righteous moral indignation. The members of MigraWatch should be charged with aiding and abetting criminals and interference with officers in the performance of their duties.

    • I’d have three beautiful young wives, a Lamborghini, some machine guns, and a house on 17 mile drive!

      • Empty,

        …and you used to have 4 young wives but you had to “honor kill” one after her hijab accidentally flopped opened and her hair was exposed while she tried to walk unescorted to get groceries. (She had to walk to the store because she”s not allowed to drive)

        • Oh that was her father did that, I’d let them drive the Preise, It’s only in Saudi Arabia they’re not aloud to drive!
          I’m very progressive you know.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *