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These Undocumented Youth Are Creating Safe Havens From ICE Raids

‘If you chanted “Immigrants are welcome here” at a protest, it’s time to show up,’ urges the action network #HeretoStay

The future of undocumented immigrants in Donald Trump’s America may be dire, but one youth-led immigrant rights group is fighting against the president’s deportation machine with an ambitious “rapid response network” that alerts activists whenever an ICE van rolls up to their neighborhood.

Sheridan Aguirre, communications coordinator for the immigrant rights group, United We Dream, says the group’s #Heretostay action network was designed to protect as many immigrant lives as possible.

“We have lived in this country for a long time, and we are not going to go anywhere,” said Aguirre, who was brought to the U.S from Mexico when he was 2.

Aguirre says the network will coordinate with local leaders to organize protests and human blockades, like the one in Phoenix, Arizona that appeared around an ICE van carrying Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos, believed to be the first “low-priority” immigrant taken into custody after Trump’s election. Last weekend, for example, the network alerted members to protests in Seattle organized by the Dream Coalition in response to the arrest of a DACA recipient.

For Aguirre, the work is personal. As one of an estimated 1.5 million undocumented immigrants in Texas, he’s currently caught in the crosshairs of a new bill by Governor Greg Abbott which would shut down sanctuary cities and require collaboration between police and ICE. But a resistance is growing, Aguirre says. “I’ve seen a lot of faith institutions, allies and friends reaching out to me and asking, ‘How can I help?’”

The sign-up page for the network asks allies to put their money where their mouths are. “If you chanted ‘Immigrants are welcome here,’ at a protest — it’s time to show up,” it reads. “If you flooded the airport to fight for refugees — it’s time to show up.”

“We’re calling on our allies to use their own power as U.S. citizens to say that these actions by ICE are wrong and these immigrants are integral to our neighborhoods,” Aguirre explained.

United We Dream may not be a household name, but it’s the largest immigrant youth-led organization in the nation, made up of 100,000 immigrants and allies and 55 affiliate organizations. It offers resources for transforming churches, which ICE agents are barred from raiding, into sanctuaries for the undocumented, and has created Migra Watch, a hotline people can call with evidence of nearby raids.

“[The hotline is] run by immigrants, for immigrants and allows us to share that information with people on Twitter,” Aguirre said, adding that the organization has been receiving around 50 calls a day from people across the country, either seeking help or reporting ICE activity. “Under Bush and Obama, the forces of the deportation machine were perfected,” Aguirre said. “What’s different about the Trump presidency is that his campaign was run, primarily, on xenophobia, racism and hate towards muslims and migrants. We see that Trump is now moving full-force in attacking our communities.”

Last week, 680 undocumented immigrants were arrested nationwide — a similar number to the 675 immigrants deported per week during Obama’s presidency. The difference, according to reports, is that ICE made many more “collateral arrests” — targeting unauthorized immigrants who happened to be in the place they were raiding, even if they didn’t have a warrant for their arrest. The sweep also came less than week after Trump’s executive order, “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements,” was put into place, broadening the definition of deportable offenses.

Yesterday, the Trump administration announced plans to deport millions more by granting immigration agents, customs officers and border patrol agents the power to remove anyone convicted of any criminal offense, including fraud. The policy also extends ICE’s “expedited removal” program to include anyone who has been in the U.S. for up to two years, living anywhere in the country. (Obama’s expedited removal program had been limited to people who lived 100 miles from the border who had been in the country no longer than 14 days.)

There have been a few desperate attempts to stem the tide of deportations; last week, an immigrant mother in Denver took refuge at a church after the stay on her deportation expired, and a Seattle judge recently demanded an explanation from the government after federal immigration agents arrested a DACA-eligible dreamer who was brought to the U.S. illegally as a 7-year-old.

Trump has been especially unpredictable on the DACA issue. At a news conference last Thursday, he said he wanted to find a way to deal with DACA recipients “with heart.”

“You have these incredible kids—in many cases not in all cases. In some of the cases they’re having DACA and they’re gang members and they’re drug dealers too,” he said. “But you have some absolutely incredible kids… they were brought here in such a way, it’s a very, very tough subject,” he said.

Aguirre said he knows his life could change in an instant if he was detained. “I feel like I’m an American being persecuted by my own country,” he said. “I went to American schools; I gave the Pledge of Allegiance every day.”

“I’m not afraid. I know my rights, I feel empowered. I am holding both anger and passion together, but I’m not letting it get to me.”