San Francisco: Nativist storm brings disparate communities closer together

Sharing a post about an Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid on social media may seem like an efficient way of helping immigrants in the community. In reality, it spreads fear among the community due to misinformation proliferating into cyberspace.

A 24/7 local rapid response network hotline was established in San Francisco by a group of 21 local nonprofits on Feb. 10. The goal is to help verify ICE raid rumors that can cause panic and unrest in the immigrant community. This hotline is not the first of its kind in San Francisco, but the need for it re-emerged due to the fear over the stated goals of the new presidential administration.

San Francisco

Executive Director of Arab Resource and Organizing Center, Lara Kiswani. AROC organized the protest and is one of the four nonprofits handling the dispatch of calls to the hotline.
Photo by Norjmoo Battulga •

Marisela E. Esparza is the program manager at San Francisco Immigrant Legal & Education Network and Dolores Street Community Services. She acts as the media coordinator for the hotline. The hotline is mainly run by four main nonprofits who are handling the dispatching of the calls. Even sightings of transit police on the San Francisco Municipal Railway can cause misinformation to spread.

“People are afraid and rumors are spread and misinformation. We’ve seen instances, where people say that ICE was on the Muni buses here in San Francisco and it turned out to be Muni police checking fares,” Esparza said.

The San Francisco Rapid Response Network is a collaboration between the San Francisco Immigrant Legal & Education Network and the San Francisco Immigrant Legal Defense Collaborative. According to SFILEN’s website, the network was created in response to the heightened enforcement actions of ICE.

“We created this hotline, really, to let the community know that we are here for them and that San Francisco is going to continue being a sanctuary city and that we are here to resist,” Esparza said.

The hotline has received over 800 calls, though it cannot be verified how many of those calls were solely to report ICE raids and activity. The system consists of three components with the first being the 24/7 hotline. The hotline’s number is 415-200-1548 and has language capacity for Spanish, Arabic, English and both Mandarin and Cantonese dialects of chinese.

At present, there is only one dispatcher manning the hotline at all times. The second component is raid verification, where a trained employee or volunteer will physically verify rumors about ICE raids. The third component is attorney activation, in which individuals detained during ICE activity will receive an
attorney for representation in immigration court.

According to Esparza, the second and third component has only been activated once since the hotline was established.

Sergio C. Garcia, a lawyer who was formerly undocumented, expressed his admiration for the hotline and the collaboration. Garcia was also the first lawyer allowed to practice law as an undocumented immigrant. He understands the need for verification of ICE raids and activity in metropolitan areas. He has received calls from community members to verify ICE activity in Chico, CA where his law firm’s headquarters are located.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea to make sure that what information does get out there is accurate information,” Garcia said.

Demonstraters hold Anti-fascism signs high during a protest against the Muslim Ban held in front of the San Fransisco State Capitol on March 17. The Arab Resource and Organizing Center is a grassroots organization in the Bay Area dedicated to empowering and creating opportunities for ethnic communities. Photo by Teresa Diaz Soriano •

Lara Kiswani, The Executive Director of Arab Resource and Organizing Center, one of the four nonprofits manning the hotline, said it was important to build trust within the community as the hotline develops.

“We are trying to make sure that everyone who is targeted by the Trump administration and any potential ICE raids has access to the support and legal defense that they need,” Kiswani said.

Inside a conference room in Dolores Street Community Services, Esparza expressed her frustration with the unexpected negative attention that the hotline has received. While many in the community are appreciative of the hotline, there have been harassers. Some of the harassing calls have been intense. According to Esparza, the harassers will call back and take over the line. The harassment varies widely,
some are prank calls while others are serious inquisitions about the morality of reporting ICE.

“We weren’t necessarily prepared for it, and we’ve had to readjust the system to account for that,” Esparza said.

Media coverage of the hotline is essential for increasing awareness of the service and to get community members to report ICE activity. However, as media coverage of the hotline increase, the harassment also increases in frequency. Esparza hopes that as more hotlines emerge the negative attention will diffuse.

Esparza and Kiswani stressed that the hotline only be used for reporting ICE activity.

“There’s a lot of fear in the community, we’ve gotten several calls just wanting information. The hotline is intended to be for ICE raids,” Kiswani said.

Since there is only one dispatcher, calling the hotline for information can lead to ICE raids and
activity not being reported in a timely manner. Information or legal resources for undocumented immigrants can be found on the SFILEN website.

The intended goal of the hotline is to help undocumented immigrants by verifying ICE activity. Misinformation about ICE activity can cause panic and they may not continue with daily activities like work and school for fear of deportation.

While there are no concrete plans to increase the number of dispatchers, Esparza acknowledges that it is a possibility in the future. Since this is the first hotline of its kind, adjustments will be made as the success of the hotline is reassessed.

Esparza recognizes the value of sharing how they implemented this hotline. Since Esparza cannot personally reply to each inquiry, she is working on a solution to this issue.

“I am working with the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, ILRC, and they are going to be creating a webinar on this. So that people can refer to that for any questions,” said Esparza.

The hotline has received calls from other counties and cities that want to establish their own hotlines.

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