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 off.
“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.
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 Record 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.”