Dozens of allies to undocumented immigrants showed up to an ICE-watch training on Monday evening.

Nearly 75 people filled the multipurpose auditorium at the Congregational United Church of Christ in Greensboro on Monday evening to attend a training on how to spot and report Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, vehicles.

“We are going to ask you to do things that you’ve probably
never done before,” said Shana Richards, a Guilford County Schools counselor
and volunteer on Siembra NC’s solidarity committee. “But you’ve shown that
you’ve done things like that before, that you’ve been outside your comfort
zone. We want you to push yourself outside of that comfort zone; that’s really
important, especially for what we’re doing today.”

A small group of women, including Richards, led an open
training for the mostly-white crowd to learn how to verify suspicious vehicles
that are spotted by immigrants or allies in their neighborhoods. The solidarity
group, which began with just a handful of volunteers, now boasts dozens of
participants and works with Siembra NC, an immigrant-led activist group, to
provide help such as childcare, data entry and fundraising as well as ICE
vehicle verification. The ICE verifiers training was created by members of
Siembra and took place just weeks after Trump threatened massive raids across
the country.

“It makes people want to step up and want to do something,”
said Isabell Moore, one of the solidarity committee members.

“A lot of us are really tired of just looking at social
media and absorbing everything horrible that’s going on,” continued the Rev. Sadie
Lansdale, another committee member and pastor of the Unitarian Universalist
Church in Greensboro. “So to have an explicit way to help out is good. There’s
something for everybody to do.”

At the beginning of the evening, organizers asked the participants
to think about a time when they did something outside of their comfort zone and
how it felt. Then they were asked why they went through with the action despite
being uncomfortable.

“Connect it to your why,” Richards said to those at the
training. “I’m a school counselor. My babies are impacted by this. You have to
figure out what is your why and connect it.”

Using a projected slideshow, the group explained the main
goals as well as the details of the work that verifiers do.

“We want to give them peace of mind,” said Richards about
the undocumented immigrant community. “We don’t want them to live in fear.”

According to the presentation, the steps that a verifier
would go through are simple.

Once a dispatcher volunteer receives a call from a community
member — whether they are an immigrant or not, about a suspicious car — they
text a verifier and ask them to go to the location to scout out any ICE
activity. Once they arrive, the verifier will either report back to the
dispatcher that there is no such vehicle or will approach the vehicle to talk
to the driver. The organizers said that verifiers should let drivers know that
they are a part of Siembra’s ICE watch and take photos of the car or stream the
interactions on Facebook Live when possible. Verifiers should then ask the
drivers whether they live in the area and if they work for a law enforcement
agency. They can also ask for identification. The dispatcher will then take the
report from the verifier and circle back to the caller with an update.

“These cars are always American-made cars and usually SUVs,”
Lansdale said. “They also usually have tinted windows and are unmarked.”

Short clips of actual verifiers approaching vehicles played
on the projector as audience members watched.

After the verifiers ask their questions and state that they
will be staying as long as the ICE officer remains, the vehicle typically drives

“ICE doesn’t like to do anything when they know they’re
being watched,” Moore said.

Over the course of three hours, members of the solidarity
group led the attendees through exercises in which they role-played as ICE
officers as well as verifiers who confront the officers’ cars.

During the training, attendees were asked to role play as ICE officers and verifiers to practice what to say when approaching a potential ICE vehicle. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

The solidarity committee members said they understood that
confronting a random vehicle may be awkward and even intimidating at first.
Still, they urged the potential volunteers to remain calm and confident.

“You have to think about discomfort versus risk,” Richards
said. “Everything we are telling you tonight is legal. It shouldn’t get you in
trouble with the law or at work. Think about morality.”

And as a black woman, Richards knows firsthand the kind of
discomfort this work can produce.

“It does make me nervous because of the interactions police
officers have had with people of color and that discomfort and risk is
different for each and every one of us,” she said. “But there are people who
can’t leave their house to take their kids to school. They can’t live their
lives in peace. As a verifier, you are the peacemaker.”

She also reassured the attendees that as far as they know,
nothing bad has happened to verifiers or volunteers that do this kind of work
across the country.

“If anything, it’s made them more empowered,” she said.

One attendee, Ron Osborne, who lives in Alamance County,
said that his county is a hotbed of ICE activity due mostly to the
anti-immigrant views of Sheriff Terry Johnson, who was quoted in January by the
News and Observer and the News and
as saying that “criminal illegal immigrants” were “raping the
citizens” of his county.

Osborne, who is Quaker, said that he saw how ICE agents
operate when a friend of his was affected several years ago.

“I saw the tactics and the dishonesty, and I thought it was
unjust,” he said. “God made us all and we should all be treated with respect.
It’s about justice.”

When asked how often a volunteer might be sent to verify a
vehicle, the solidarity group members said that it depends on the political
climate, but that they can expect between one to six texts per month.

And while they may receive texts late at night or early in
the morning, it’s important work, said Richards.

“We are here to help our neighbor who are undocumented,” she said. “For them, the fear is real.”

To learn more about Siembra or the ICE verifiers training, visit Siembra’s Facebook page or the American Friends Service Committee NC Facebook page.

Join the First Amendment Society, a membership that goes directly to funding TCB‘s newsroom.

We believe that reporting can save the world.

The TCB First Amendment Society recognizes the vital role of a free, unfettered press with a bundling of local experiences designed to build community, and unique engagements with our newsroom that will help you understand, and shape, local journalism’s critical role in uplifting the people in our cities.

All revenue goes directly into the newsroom as reporters’ salaries and freelance commissions.

⚡ Join The Society ⚡