For Angelica Andrade, or Angee for short, creating strategies to intimidate Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is part of the everyday routine. “If there’s one thing ICE hates, it’s attention.” The 26-year-old Texan is the community outreach coordinator for North Texas Dream Team, a community-led nonprofit organization in Dallas that uplifts campaigns that affect the immigrant community. Their work ranges from running awareness campaigns around relevant news like the recent public-charge ruling, providing the local community free Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) application services, and launching deportation-defense strategies in emergency situations. For a seasoned activist like Andrade, who works closely with members in the community who’ve been detained, few things create shockwaves anymore under the constant pillage of anti-immigrant rhetoric in the Deep South. But in May 2018, when it was revealed that the Dallas Independent School District (DISD) Police Department’s policy allowed campus officers to cooperate with or even assist federal immigration enforcement agencies like ICE and CBP, Andrade was taken aback.
Only a year before, in February 2017, DISD had announced a resolution in support of the local undocumented community, designating all DISD campuses “as welcoming and protective to the fullest extent of the law” for undocumented students. Although not a legally binding measure or a “safe haven” declaration, activists considered the announcement a small triumph—that is, until a tip revealed DISD police officers could go as far as asking students about their immigration status and even exchanging information with ICE. There was no language in the policy that expressly prevented DISD officers from doing the work of federal immigration officers.
“It was like, ‘What? ICE should not be in our schools, period,” said Andrade. “So we immediately started doing our research.”
According to the ACLU’s “FAQ for Educators on Immigrant Students in Public Schools,” ICE and CBP maintain a policy that states that they will not engage in immigration enforcement in sensitive locations like schools. They “generally will not arrest, interview, search, or surveil a person for immigration enforcement purposes while at a school, a known school bus stop, or an educational activity.”
In Texas, however, where the political climate under the Trump administration has led to increased raids, the system isn’t perfect. The ACLU of Texas sent out letters as recently as June 2019 to county commissioners, urging them not to renew expiring 287(g) agreements with ICE—agreements that “dedicate resources, training and officers to enforce immigration law on behalf of the federal government.” Though common, the ACLU argues that these agreements lead to racial profiling and civil rights abuses and erode trust in immigrant communities. And on the HIV front, organizers who work directly with undocumented clients note that ICE’s heavy presence in community hotspots like schools, clinics, or even local grocery stores leads to isolation and care gaps.
Oscar Lopez, M.P.H., is an HIV-prevention advocate with over 20 years of experience in public health. He has worked for NMAC and the Office of Minority Health Resource Center. He currently serves as the director of health policy for the Latino Commission on AIDS and CEO of Poderosos, one of only two AIDS service organizations in South Texas on the U.S.-Mexico border. According to Lopez, the spread of anti-immigrant, racist, and homophobic rhetoric under the Trump administration has led to a “humanitarian crisis” on the Texas border.
“Many people believe the nonstop rhetoric they see everywhere, to the point where they don’t access care for themselves, for fear of running the risk of their deportation, or the deportation of their family members,” said Lopez. “Individuals are isolated, stuck in their homes, instead of leading a normal life.”
Building the Dream Team to Fight Back
It’s the type of crisis that drove Andrade and the North Texas Dream Team to collaborate with other organizations in North Texas under one banner: the North Texas Immigration Coalition. The timing couldn’t have been more politically heated. Just that March, a federal appeals court upheld portions of Texas’ SB4 law, effectively allowing the anti-immigrant law to go into effect. Challenging DISD’s policy became urgent and necessary. The coalition created a tactical plan that would drive increased awareness of DISD’s collaboration with ICE on immigrant enforcement polices, and hopefully inspire outrage and action from the local community.
“Through our North Texas Immigration Coalition, we were able to request meetings and move forward not as just one group, but as a defense project—a Texas organizing project,” said Andrade. “It was a lot of orgs coming through and signing on, saying, ‘These are the things that we need to do, and this is why this shouldn’t be right.’”
It worked. On May 24, 2018, activists, community members, and allies packed the DISD board room. Speakers urged board members to change the DISD Police Department policy so that it explicitly prevents DISD officers from assisting in immigration enforcement operations. “The policy that DISD Police has in collaboration with ICE makes me feel unsafe, and this is coming from a U.S. citizen,” said one mother of two DISD students. “If we want our communities to feel protected, and to not fear law enforcement, this is a very poor way in trying to fix these relationships, especially in this political climate.” The next day, the DISD Police Department revised its policy. Board members agreed that the policy was not in line with the school district’s values.
“It was just amazing to see our community come forward and speak up, whether it was students, parents, organizers, teachers coming forward,” said Andrade. “The way we went about it was centering our community.”
To mobilize other organizations working with immigrant communities, including HIV service agencies, into combatting ICE surveillance, here’s the strategy that led to victory for Andrade and their collaborators:
1. Meet With Partners and Allies to Strategize
When news of ICE’s contract with DISD first hit, the coalition went into strategy mode. These strategic meetings focused on scheduling actions in time for DISD board meetings and “power mapping,” a tactic used to identify possible allies and sources of power in the community. “Let’s go ahead and figure out, who has attended the school? Who are their current students, past students? We were utilizing what we already had access to, which was our community,” said Andrade.
2. Request Meetings With the Powers That Be
The coalition was in constant contact with DISD to make sure the focus and attention was always on the board. Letters with demands and testimonials from those affected were sent directly to the board, along with requests to appear at board meetings to discuss the issue.
3. Reach Out to the Affected Community—and Listen
Outreach to parents and students in the school district was essential to building awareness and, more importantly, creating an action plan that centered the community. “The answer is always in the community, and more organizations need to reach out to impacted folks and provide that space—and honestly, open their heart to the community that’s already existing,” said Andrade. “All while letting them know that they have the skills. I’m not teaching them something, they’re teaching me something.”
For Lopez, immigrant service organizations and HIV service organizations need to better understand the nuances of working with undocumented folks living with HIV in communities, especially when it comes to outreach. “Signage welcoming undocumented folks and reassuring them that their health care info or any private info will not be shared with the government can make a huge difference.”
4. Stand in Solidarity and Unity
When the coalition found the right people to provide testimonials at the DISD board meetings, activists made sure to physically stand in solidarity with speakers.
“We all showed up in red to show how we all hurt for each other,” said Andrade. “Every time someone stood up to speak, we all stood up to show the board we’re going to keep putting pressure on them and make sure they knew we weren’t going to take silence.”
5. Train, Practice, and Speak Out
After the board meetings, the coalition made sure volunteers and speakers were getting in direct contact with board representatives. Having phone-call scripts and email templates prepared ahead of time made phone-banking easier.
Press releases, media advisories, and social media messages were also essential pieces to getting the word out. “We fight fear with information and resources,” said Andrade.
6. Show Up and Show Out
Preparing demonstrations isn’t an easy task, but for organizations like the North Texas Dream Team, it happens organically. “When you hear someone like our lead organizers speak, it just makes you want to do something,” said Andrade. “If we can’t be a part of the table, we’re creating our own table. We don’t need anybody’s permission to organize our community.”
Even after big wins, the threat of detainment and deportation still looms heavy over the Dallas community. Just this past November, border patrol officers were tabling at a campus job fair at W.H. Adamson High School. Though the officers left once concerns arose, their presence no doubt left students and families in fear, two years after the district pledged their support to the undocumented community. “I got three messages from parents, one from a student, [saying] they were scared,” said Andrade. “Because word travels really fast.”
And on the border, Lopez laments that the situation grows dire every day. “We have a great number, but not an exact number, of people who have been deported nationwide,” said Lopez. “People are going back to homelands they are unfamiliar with, in countries where HIV meds are inaccessible. We are causing a larger health crisis across Latin America.”
Still, activists like Andrade and the North Texas Dream Team work round the clock to ensure community members continue to feel empowered and safeguarded from ICE and CBP. “We have people ready to show up, and allies bringing the show.”