A group that tracks immigration enforcement is holding a volunteer training in Jackson today on the heels of threats from President Trump to ramp up ICE raids throughout the country.
The Rapid Response Network was founded last year by Juntos, a Wyoming-based immigrant advocacy group. It offers support to people approached or detained by federal immigration officials. When the Rapid Response Network launched in Cheyenne last year, Junto’s Antonio Serrano said it quickly became clear that there was a statewide need.
“When we first started the network, it was just for Laramie County and it was just Juntos and Immigration Justice Coalition.” But, Serrano said, “it didn’t take long before people were calling from all over the state and we realized we’re not just going to be able to do this in the county.”
The network joined Colorado’s Immigrant Rights Coalition to share resources. Now, Serrano said, Rapid Response Networks are all over Wyoming. “It spread to Jackson. We have a pretty good set of volunteers there. We have people in Laramie, we have people in Cheyenne. In Torrington, we have some folks and we’re doing a training in Casper.”
Serrano said one reason Juntos launched the network is because of the murkiness that shrouds federal immigration enforcement. “When families are picked up by ICE, they just disappear. No one knows anything until they are in a detention center. Sometimes that can be a few days, sometimes that can be a week. So it’s a really scary period of time for people.”
Jackson’s Rapid Response Network held its first training last December. The network offers a 24-hour hotline for people dealing with immigration officials and dispatches trained volunteers to the scene to document what’s happening and follow-up with families.
In February, it began tracking ICE activity in the area. Alyson Spery, a coordinator in Jackson for the Rapid Response Network, said people are being detained for a number of reasons. Some have committed violent crimes. Others, however, are detained for “public intox, or prior arrests of being pulled over without a driver’s license,” Spery said.
Since they started tracking ICE activity, Spery said it’s hard to say whether ICE is detaining more people for misdemeanors.
But nationally, the numbers indicate that is what ICE is doing. TRAC is a project through Syracuse University that monitors ICE activity. According to TRAC, from September 2016 to December of 2018, the number of ICE detainees rose 22 percent nationally. But, during that time period there were other notable findings: the number of immigrants in ICE custody who committed serious felonies dropped by more than 1,200 people. Meanwhile, immigrants detained by ICE who had not committed even a minor violation rose by 39 percent.
Serrano said those numbers don’t surprise him. The families who contact him say their detained relatives don’t have criminal records beyond misdemeanors if at all, he said. Serrano pointed to a recent incident in Cheyenne. “We had a gentleman who had a misdemeanor in his past, he was here on a work visa when it happened. He did everything he was supposed to do … it was a minor thing. And [ICE] came and got him and put him in a detention center in Aurora [Colorado],” Serrano said.
Back in Jackson, “we have not seen people without criminal history being targeted in this community that I am aware of,” said Teton County Sheriff Matt Carr.
When he ran for sheriff in 2018, Carr highlighted the need to keep community members in the know about shifts in ICE policies. “So if we see those drastic changes, if we start to see ICE behaving in our community that way, then I would feel very obligated about communicating that to the public.”
When it comes to housing immigrants in Teton County jail, Carr said it is the county’s intent “to only house folks that have a criminal background.”
Regardless of who ICE is targeting, Spery said there is a larger issue at hand. “Everyone in the U.S., regardless of how they got here, is entitled to rights by the constitution,” she said. “And we have seen reports over and over again that ICE is violating those constitutional rights. So we are here to support and shed light on what’s happening.”
Meanwhile, in the state of Wyoming there is a new federal immigration development. ICE last month said it will be accepting contractor proposals for a 500- to 600-person immigration detention center in Uinta County. Plans for that facility were announced in 2017 and that spurred some public outcry. For example, Serrano launched the campaign WyoSayNo. He says there’s little public support for such a facility in Wyoming.
“I’ve been to every community in Wyoming almost and I haven’t come across one group of people that says, ‘we’re excited for this to come to Wyoming.’”
Until ICE’s announcement last month, whether the potential facility would move forward remained unclear. Now, Serrano said WyoSayNo will be increasing its message of opposition throughout the state.