Learning to respond
Faith in Action Bay Area's Lorena Melgarejo speaks with Coastsiders on Wednesday night about how they can respond to any Immigration and Customs Enforcement actions in their neighborhood. Kyle Ludowitz / Review

About two-dozen Coastsiders gathered at Community United Methodist Church on Wednesday night to learn how to protect neighbors from what many see as illegal and immoral detention by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

It was not the first time local residents have come together to discuss the formation of so-called Rapid Response Teams on the San Mateo County coast. The idea is to create a cadre of trained Coastsiders who can respond to a text at a moment’s notice whenever someone fears ICE may be at work in the community. Organizers seek about 40 people in each zip code. There were already about that many on the Coastisde, organizers say, and more people who had signed up to keep an eye on the South Coast.

Anyone who fears ICE may be working improperly can call the hotline, (203) 666-4472. Cards with the phone number and other information about immigrant rights have been distributed widely throughout the Bay Area’s Latino community.

When someone calls the number, a dispatcher will send texts to all Rapid Response Team members in the area. Team members are trained merely to observe and take notes or video of what they see when they arrive at any such scene. They are not to interfere with federal agents. Their observations would be relayed to Faith in Action Bay Area, a decades-old network of religious congregations and community leaders, which could use the information to fight deportation.

Coastsider Joanne Rokosky was at Wednesday’s meeting She says she decided to get involved shortly after the election of President Donald J. Trump in November 2016. She remembers seeing her phone light up with a text earlier this year.

“I was at Shakespeare in the Park and it was intermission,” she recalled. “I turned my phone back on and here is this text.” She says she didn’t respond that afternoon, but others with the team did and it turned out to be a false alarm. She said she is aware of at least one other such call in recent months and it too turned out not to be an immigration action.

That isn’t to say Californians aren’t concerned about improper immigration enforcement. Faith in Action Bay Area accompaniment coordinator Sara Mills said her colleagues were working a case involving an East Palo Alto detention on Thursday. She said that, while there haven’t been large-scale workplace raids in the area lately, there are individual detentions regularly. Some fear a November vote to allow limited cannabis cultivation in Half Moon Bay — legal in the state, but not according to federal law — puts the Coastside in the sights of federal enforcement officials.

Rokosky said she thinks the country needs “rational immigration decisions,” and she doesn’t consider the work of Rapid Response Teams to be civil disobedience.

“That said, what is happening is that people are being threatened and picked up and deported who may have a long, long history of being here and absolutely no history of ever having done anything illegal that should be putting them at risk,” she said.

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