In the latest move to protect residents afraid of a federal immigration crackdown in the Bay Area, Santa Clara County officials announced the launch of a new network that provides legal services, information and support for undocumented families at the mercy of federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Elected officials and immigrant advocate groups gathered in Mountain View's Performing Arts Center on Wednesday to launch the new Santa Clara County Rapid Response Network, which introduces a 24/7 emergency hotline and support services for families who have a run-in with ICE, including information on constitutional rights, immigration and family law attorneys, and "emotional and practical support in a time of crisis," according to a statement by the county.
The Rapid Response Network goes far beyond an information hotline. Several hundred volunteer county residents have been trained to be "rapid responders" and act as the eyes and ears of the community when ICE officials are spotted carrying out enforcement activities. These volunteers are trained to mobilize via text message alerts and get to the scene as soon as possible, find out who -- if anyone -- was detained, and keep an accurate record of what transpired in the event that ICE officials overstep.
Mountain View Mayor Ken Rosenberg called the Rapid Response Network a "necessary and vital" program that will assist people facing deportation, and an important tool in protecting residents from the federal government. He pointed out that the city of Mountain View's designation as a "human rights city" extends to everyone regardless of immigration status, and that the City Council has made it a priority to protect immigrant rights.
"The city of Mountain View prides itself on being welcoming to all residents," he said.
The countywide Rapid Response Network is an expansion of San Jose's version of the program, which started earlier this year in response to a rapid increase in the number of families broken up by "indiscriminate immigration enforcement action," according to a county press release. In Santa Clara County alone, 4,852 people are in deportation proceedings, 32 percent of whom lack legal representation.
The press release goes on to describe those affected by immigration enforcement as integral parts of the community -- mothers, fathers, aunts and uncles -- and a significant part of the local economy. Mimi Hernandez, an advisor at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Silicon Valley, said the reports of fear "sweeping across the land" has had a negative effect on business owners and their employees, with the restaurant industry taking the hardest hit. She said it's tough to assess just how much damage has been done to the regional economy due to the immigration crackdown.
Mountain View residents trained to take part in the Rapid Response Network got to test drive the countywide system in the early morning hours on Aug. 3, when residents received a text message indicating ICE officials were present at the Park Vista apartment complex on Escuela Avenue. The group quickly mobilized, sending representatives to the apartments to find out who was taken and provide assistance the affected families.
Within a few hours, the network was able to confirm that a young man had been detained and taken to an immigration processing center. At the time, a representative from the Rapid Response Network told the Voice that legal assistance was en route by the afternoon to provide help to the man who was detained.
County Supervisor Joe Simitian said the network's membership plays an important role in being in the right place at the right time in order to hold ICE accountable, and witnessing any overreach committed by federal officials. Having a broad network of residents looking out for one another in the community, he said, amounts to lifting the weight off of the shoulders of neighbors who are anxious over their immigration status and what might happen if they are taken away from their families.
"Each of us needs to ask ourselves what it means to be a member of the community, what it means to be a neighbor," he said.
The network also received a blessing from local law enforcement. Mountain View Police Chief Max Bosel reiterated the department's pledge not to take part in enforcing federal immigration laws, and said local law enforcement has a vested interest in keeping a trusting, open relationship with the city's immigrant population. If someone is witness to a crime, he said, that person should be willing to talk to police without fear.
"We look forward to working with the Rapid Response Network to make sure that everyone's rights are protected and the public is kept safe."
Dave Cortese, president of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, said the Rapid Response Network is part of the county's larger commitment to protecting residents from immigration policies under President Donald Trump's administration. Santa Clara County qualifies as a "sanctuary" community because it does not cooperate with ICE, Cortese said, and it's been a top priority, through litigation and the courts, to protect the constitutional rights of county residents by resisting edicts and policies in Washington.
"Trump has his own agenda, we have our agenda," Cortese said.
The hotline for the Rapid Response Network, which can be used to both report ICE activity and receive immediate assistance, is 408-290-1144. Anyone who wants to get involved as a volunteer may register at bit.ly/2wmQFrR for the next training session, which will be at the South Peninsula Hebrew Day School in Sunnyvale on Wednesday, Sept. 13, from 7 to 9 p.m.