Whether ICE agents are at the door or someone just needs information about where they can find immigration services, the North Bay Rapid Response Network is there to help.
The 24-hour hotline was created in Sonoma County last year in response to growing fear among undocumented immigrants and their families, and a training for those who want to support immigrants as "legal observers" was held in Calistoga on Feb. 11.
Karla Márquez, community organizer, Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA)-recipient and member of the Napa Valley Dream Team, said that when Napa County residents expressed interest in helping their immigrant neighbors, the best option seemed to be to team up with Sonoma County.
“It just made more sense,” Márquez said. The two communities have similar demographics, some shared government representatives and ties to the wine industry, she said. And, she said, Sonoma County already had coalitions focused on protecting immigrants’ rights.
“I feel like it’s been a really good collaboration between communities,” she said. Individuals, even non-immigrants, have been really open to learning about the immigration process and what they can do to help, she said. “People are surprised at what they can do.”
One of the services the North Bay Rapid Response Network provides is “legal observation.” That means that if someone calls reporting a suspected encounter with Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in their neighborhood, house or business that the network will send someone out to observe it. The legal observer won’t interfere, but they will film the encounter.
The recordings might help with the detained individual’s legal defense later and it should deter violence and any other violation of rights, Márquez said.
The legal observer might also respond as a way to confirm whether or not the reported incident actually involves ICE. Many of the calls the network receives about ICE raids are actually just rumors, Márquez said.
Just a few weeks ago, the network received a call from a woman in Napa who was afraid to go back home to Calistoga because she heard that ICE was stationed along Highway 29, but it turned out that it was just local law enforcement officers, Márquez said.
There are more than 500 registered legal observers in Sonoma County and about 45 so far in Napa County, she said.
The hotline doesn’t just respond to threats, it provides people with information and resources. When someone, especially someone who is undocumented and/or a monolingual Spanish speaker, doesn’t know where to go to get help, Márquez said, they can call the hotline and find out.
Undocumented immigrants might not reach out to agencies or organizations for help with housing and other serves for fear that they could get in trouble or deported, she said. The network can help dispel those fears and connect people to those services.
“We’re trying to create a united front across communities,” Márquez said.
The North Bay Rapid Response Network also provides accompaniment services to those affected by ICE activity and advocacy. The accompaniment teams work to support these individuals by providing things like rides, childcare, and help making appointments while advocates do things like phone banking and outreach.
Márquez said that the network is in talks with Napa County organizations in order to expand the network and welcomes anyone interested getting involved.