How to Support Asylum Seekers – Locally

We’ve heard much about the pressing needs of asylum seekers in places where they cross the border into the U.S. But there are less known needs that exist elsewhere – including in our own communities.

Indivisible East Bay recently heard from Theresa Gonzales, Executive Director of Centro Legal de la Raza, and Carolina Martin Ramos, Director of Programs and Advocacy, about the organization’s work and the immigration crisis that rarely makes the headlines. According to Carolina, the situation (like all politics) is local. Many detained children separated from their parents and asylum seekers traveling with caravans may present themselves to immigration officials at the border, and are initially processed at or near the border, but they don’t stay there. After they’re released to sponsors, bond out, or are paroled into the US, they’re most likely to travel to other parts of the country to reunite with family members or sponsors. 

And Oakland – and the San Francisco Bay Area generally – are destinations for many unaccompanied children and asylum seekers. In fact, according to Carolina, they’re more likely to have family members and sponsors here than in border cities like San Diego or El Paso. 

The heavy lifting in many migrants’ immigration cases or deportation proceedings thus happens not at the border but where they settle. They need long-term legal representation and resources there – and the burden of helping them falls on local organizations in those locations. Unfortunately, these local groups have limited resources to respond to the recent arrivals’ needs – they’ve already stretched their scant budgets working with long-time resident immigrant populations facing deportation. 

As Centro Legal de la Raza also points out: Because immigration proceedings are administrative and not criminal proceedings, asylum seekers are not guaranteed legal representation or other due process safeguards. Most, in fact, don’t have legal representation; in 2017, only about 30% were represented. Being without legal representation drastically lowers an asylum seeker’s chances of success: for example, 5% of those who won relief between 2007-2012 were without an attorney. Studies find that asylum seekers are anywhere from 24% more likely to 10.5 times more likely to be successful if they have legal representation. Very few organizations are prepared to offer legal representation to asylum seekers once they arrive at their destinations.

What you can do:

Local organizations helping asylum seekers need your support!

  • Centro Legal de la Raza is the leader in removal defense in California and is in the heart of the Fruitvale District of Oakland, where many asylum seekers and unaccompanied children are arriving. 
  • ACILEP, the Alameda County Rapid Response partnership, is a partnership of Centro Legal, Alameda County Public Defender’s Office, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance, Causa Justa/Just Cause, Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, Street Level Health Project, Mujeres Unidas y Activas, Oakland Community Organizations (OCO), and Vietnamese Community Center of the East Bay. All ACILEP organizational partners are doing critical work and responding to immigration emergencies. 
  • Stand Together Contra Costa is a rapid response, legal services, and community education project supporting CoCo County immigrant families. It offers free legal clinics to provide immigrants with individualized legal consultations, advice on legal rights, and arranging referrals for pro-bono or low-cost legal services. Individuals who have been detained may be eligible to receive free legal representation to pursue bond or release, and more. Find out how to get involved.
  • In San Francisco, organizations like CARECEN, Catholic Charities, ICWC and Dolores Street Community Services are also responding to the needs of noncitizens.
  • Another way to help is to support local bond funds.
  • Cookies Not Cages! El Cerrito Progressives is raising funds to support the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant (EBSC), which provides legal support for local immigrant minors here without their families. Thousands of unaccompanied minors are living in California, and hundreds attend local area schools. ECP is holding monthly bake sales at El Cerrito Plaza (near Trader Joe’s) during August, September, and October, on the third Saturday of the month; and at Kensington Farmers Market on the third Sunday of the month. If you’re interested in baking or staffing the table please contact Ada Fung at as.fung@gmail.com  Can’t make it? You can also donate at this gofundme fundraiser.
  • See more in our recent article, Show UP for Immigrant Justice.

Team IEB at the Port of Oakland

On July 25, a group of Indivisible East Bay members attended the Port of Oakland Board of Commissioners meeting to present concerns about Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deportations at Oakland Airport. IEB attended in support of Mujeres Unidas y Activas (MUA) and Centro Legal de la Raza, and were joined by East Bay Alliance for Sustainable Economy (EBASE). Before the proceedings began, IEB Governance Committee member Ted Lam was interviewed by KTVU’s Alyana Gomez, and Lourdes Martinez from MUA and Amelia Cass from IEB shared their questions about how Oakland as a sanctuary city could support deportations. 

Six of the speakers present addressed the Port of Oakland’s relationship with ICE: Ted requested a response from the Port about how deportation flights could have been authorized and who signed the contract, and Amelia followed up with a recommendation to bring in community groups who could advise on how to move forward. Ms. Martinez and Rosario Cruz from MUA described how ICE has terrorized the community they serve and asked the Port to renegotiate contracts to ensure they align with Oakland’s sanctuary city values. Divya Sundar from EBASE also reiterated the need for the Port to honor the sanctuary commitment. 

In response to the public comments, the Port’s Director Danny Wan stated that as an immigrant himself, he understands the concerns of the community. The Port had begun investigating the situation three days prior, when they were first made aware of the deportations. Wan said that “Port employees have not participated in or actively aided deportations” and that the Port is looking into “how and why the flights are taking place.” At the close, another Port commissioner stated that the item might be placed on the agenda for open discussion at a future meeting. IEB was able to submit both our formal statement and that of Centro Legal to be entered into the record.

The next Port of Oakland meeting is scheduled for September 12, 2019. As new developments arise, we will keep you informed of possible actions as we continue to support our partners who are experts in the field.

Photo by Ted Lam

Ted Lam, Paula Schmidlen and Fiona Woods contributed to this article.

 

 

There’s no ICE in SANCTUARY

Like most people in the East Bay, we in Indivisible East Bay were shocked to learn that Oakland Airport has been the site of thousands of deportations. Hidden in Plain Sight: ICE Air and the Machinery of Mass Deportation,” the extraordinary report by the University of Washington’s Center for Human Rights, reveals that almost 27,000 people were deported through Oakland Airport between 2010 and 2018. IEB spoke to the report’s authors in consultation with Centro Legal de la Raza and the Asian Law Caucus, and we learned that it gets even worse: 6,080 of those removals were potentially problematic. 313 of those deported still had pending immigration proceedings, 13 were removed despite having deferred action or some other benefit that should have blocked their deportation, and 5,754 of them underwent forms of deportation such as expedited removal, with no chance to appear before an immigration judge. And on July 22 2019, the White House expanded fast-track deportation regulations, meaning even more people nationwide will be deported without due process protections.

Both Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and the Port of Oakland, under whose jurisdiction the airport falls, have said that they had no prior knowledge that these flights were occurring. Mike Zampa, spokesperson for the Port of Oakland, issued the following statement:

The Port of Oakland and Oakland International Airport understand community concerns over this issue. We have been, and will remain in compliance with sanctuary city laws. No Port or Airport employees were part of any immigration investigation, detention or arrest procedures in connection with possible immigration law violations.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement claims that the deportation flights out of Oakland stopped in October 2018, but there is no guarantee that they will not resume in the future. And while the Port states that they are in compliance with Oakland’s sanctuary city laws, it is unclear what that means – or what changes they will make in the future to “strengthen (their) commitment to the sanctuary city policy,” as Mayor Schaaf reported. To further complicate matters, while the members of the Port of Oakland Board of Commissioners are appointed by the mayor of Oakland, and the Port maintains it’s a public agency and steward of public assets, it is not clear how the Board holds itself accountable.

We have some ideas.

If you’re a resident of Oakland, call Mayor Libby Schaaf’s office at 510-238-3141 or email officeofthemayor@oaklandnet.com:

My name is ________, I’m a resident of Oakland and a member of Indivisible East Bay. I’m asking Mayor Schaaf to hold the Port of Oakland accountable in their response to the deportations that occurred at the Oakland Airport.  If the Port is truly committed to the sanctuary city policy, they should be transparent in how that is upheld and maintained.

In addition, IEB members are planning a presentation to the Port of Oakland itself, complete with a series of asks concerning public transparency, detailed information about the Port’s current and past relationship with ICE, and a request for an investigation into how the airport has handled past deportation flights, including any rights violations that may have occurred. We’ll keep you up to date!

Photo credit: Entrance to Oakland Airport BART Station, by Weegee010