Groups listed places where they could distribute Rapid Response Network information. Photo by Chris Stone

By Chris Stone

With a local rabbi calling their efforts “sacred and holy work,” local church and rights groups are vowing to monitor immigration enforcement while defending people with a new initiative.

Norma Chavez Peterson, executive director of the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, speaks to potential volunteers at the public launching of the San Diego Rapid Response Network. Photo by Chris Stone

Faith leaders, legal experts and about 100 volunteers gathered Tuesday night at Saint Jude’s Shrine of the West, a Catholic Church in Southcrest, to formally launch the San Diego Rapid Response Network.

(A Facebook page has been active since August.)

“People tonight who are living in fear of persecution or deportation are no different than Abraham and Sarah, who were homeless wanderers … constantly seeking safety and shelter,” said Rabbi Devorah Marcus of Temple Emanu-El in Del Cerro.

The effort aims to monitor ICE and other agency activities and offer a variety of legal and social services to immigrants in San Diego County.

“The spirit of tonight is to show our immigrant community that we are here for them and that truly no one stands alone in our community,” said immigration attorney Kate Clark of Jewish Family Service of San Diego.

The network is made of more than 40 groups —including the San Diego Organizing Project, Employee Rights Center and local ACLU.

The network is committed to ensuring that the “unity of family, especially during this holiday time, is a sacred thing to preserve,” Clark said.

“The purpose of the network,” she said, “is to observe the increased enforcement activities that are happening in our community and connect individual families of anyone who is detained with supportive service, legal, emergency preparedness, safety planning, mental health and counseling.”

Volunteers gather in groups according to their neighborhoods to plan canvassing. Photo by Chris Stone

Norma Chavez Peterson, executive director of the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, said the network would inform community members of their constitutional rights, including the “right to videotape and document any type of law enforcement activity as long as we aren’t interfering in their activities.”

“So we’re basically fulfilling our constitutional obligation.”

People who notice immigration activity are urged to call the network’s 24-hour hotline at 619-536-0823. A dispatcher will send a trained volunteer.

“We are going to be able to monitor and track what the agencies are doing,” Chavez Peterson said. “They may be doing someone unlawful like pulling people over just because they are brown…. We are going to be able to document trends and be able to really see what’s actually happening.”

The most important aspect of the network, she said, is the diverse cross section of legal, social service, clinics, mental health providers and civil rights personnel to assess the situation and connect people with appropriate services, such as counseling, food and housing assistance and religious aid.

“That’s the power of this,” she said.

More than 150 volunteers have been trained, Chavez Peterson said. The goal is about 500.

Nonprofit immigration lawyers will assess people at detention centers and in the community to see if undocumented immigrants have legal claims to fight their deportation.

If they do, they will have access to legal resources.

People gave testimonials to the volunteers about immigration detentions. Photo by Chris Stone

Detained immigrants who have an attorney are five times more likely to fight their deportation case and win in front of a judge than those without a lawyer, Chavez Peterson said.

She said people contacting her network will have access to attorneys and due process.

Organizers began building the network in February and have learned from rapid response networks elsewhere. Networks also exist in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, Indianapolis and Colorado.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reports arrests of 143,470 people in fiscal 2017 — a 30 percent increase over 2016.

Chavez Peterson said her office is receiving reports of arrests based on infractions, including traffic violations.

During the gathering, three people gave testimonials about immigration problems of family members.

Faith leaders spoke at the beginning of the gathering.

The Rev. Tania Marquez of the First Unitarian Universalist Church, speaks to volunteers for the San Diego Rapid Response Network. Photo by Chris Stone

Rabbi Marcus said: “May God inspire … those who come, so that they can use discernment and wisdom and good judgment to know the difference between protecting our borders and protecting God’s people, that they can know the difference between security and sanctuary.”

The government, she said, shouldn’t be participants in “driving out those who deserve safety, who deserve shelter, who deserve love and compassion, decency, human dignity and kindness.”

The Rev. Tania Marquez of First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego told volunteers: “The existence of this network sends a strong message of compassion to the world — and when we join forces, when we come together, we can do more.

“You have well-understood the meaning of Christmas to welcome strangers to hold on to hope and faith. We are not isolated beings, but belong to each other.”

Sister RayMonda Duvall, former executive director of Catholic Charities, said the network is in tune with Pope Francis’ campaign “Share the Journey.”

“You are intended to do exactly what is being done — reach out,” Duvall said. “This is what the pope has called us to do: ‘Open hearts, open arms, open doors and welcome.’”

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