You’ve probably heard something on the news about the growing refugee and migrant caravan of Central Americans – mainly Hondurans and Guatemalans – making their way to the US-Mexico border. And if you haven’t, you soon will as it’s Republicans’ newest poster child for the looming midterm elections. Here’s what you need to know.

In the upcoming weeks, we’re going to update you on the caravan, breakdown the onslaught of conspiracy theories, and unpack the subtle – and not-so-subtle – racism that has been dominating our social media feeds and news cycles. Sign up for our newsletter to stay in the know.

What is a refugee and migrant caravan?

Over the past decade, there has been a significant increase in the number of unaccompanied children and families crossing the US-Mexico border. These people are from the Northern part of Central America, mainly Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. They’re fleeing drug-related violence, persecution and death threats, and extreme economic distress.

All of these families are seeking asylum.

Traditionally, asylum-seekers travel as a family unit. But the crisis in Central America has forced thousands of people into tough situations. For the safety of their children, many families became organized and made the decision to travel together in the hopes of protecting one another.What started off as less than 200 asylum-seekers has grown to more than 7,000 in just a few weeks. Check out a map of their journey so far. 

The journey to the US-Mexico border is no cake walk. It’s weeks of walking through dense jungles and barren deserts with limited food and water. But the elements are only one obstacle on their journey. People seeking asylum often encounter coyotes and traffickers who are quick to take the family’s possessions and money. If there are young girls or women, there a high chance they could be taken and sold into sex trafficking.

Families risk everything when they make the journey to the United States. This is not a decision people make lightly. And it’s exactly why thousands of people have chosen to migrate together – to survive.

Refugee vs. Migrant

The news coverage of the caravan has used a variety of terms when referring to the people within it. We’re not sure these journalists understand the difference between the labels of refugee or migrant. It’s important to note that there are distinguishable differences as they relate to the law and asylum.

According to the United Nations Human Rights Council, a refugee is a person fleeing armed conflict while a migrant is a person who has chosen to move not because of a direct threat but due to indirect threats such as food insecurity, economic distress, or the pursuit of more opportunity.

This 7,000+ caravan is made up of both refugees and migrants. Each person has their own story and motivations for fleeing their home countries. But they all share a common goal – they want to live.

How do you seek asylum?

Seeking asylum is very difficult. The US system for asylum has intentional barriers in place that make the process nearly impossible to complete – and under the Trump administration, it’s become even worse.

First, a person must present themselves as an asylum-seeker. They must be either at the US-Mexico border, the US-Canadian border or within the United States in order to proceed. Then, the person must establish what is known as credible fear of persecution. The person must provide evidence that they have been persecuted or will be persecuted due to the following five criteria:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Nationality
  • Membership in a particular social group
  • Political opinion

In recent years, asylum seekers have been met with the political animosity towards immigrants. Border patrol agents are required by law to refer any asylum-seeker to an asylum agent who will conduct the credible fear interview. A Human Rights First report (May 2017) stated that hundreds of border agents were turning people away at the border and refusing to allow them the opportunity to plead their case.

If the person is lucky enough to get the approval of the asylum officer, they must then present their case to an immigration judge and prepare to argue in court against an experienced prosecutor. With a backlog of nearly 700,000 cases and only 350 immigration judges available to hear these cases, an asylum seeker will likely wait years for their day in court. Once they appear in court and plead their case, the likelihood of a judge approving their case is slim.

Now – set all of that aside – and remember that asylum-seekers must go through this entire process in English. While there may be some bilingual assistance along the way, most people have to fight for themselves without any help or knowledge of the language and immigration law. Only 14% of these cases actually obtain legal representation. 

If the grant for asylum is denied, the person is deported to their home country. Many asylum-seekers will make the journey to the border several times in their lifetime.

These asylum-seekers are organized.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing to come out of the refugee and migrant caravan situation is the blatant racism and disregard for people of color. We’ve seen some subtle and then some not-so-subtle public displays of racism and xenophobia in the past two weeks. Unfortunately, we’ll probably continue to see more of that as we inch closer to the midterm elections.

But we want to dismantle these attacks and misinformation because enough is enough.

The most common myth we are seeing in the news is that this caravan is not organized. This assumption sheds some harsh light on how many people in the United States view poor people, especially poor brown or black people. White people cannot fathom a group of poor Central Americans having the intellectual capacity to organize the caravan, protect the members within the caravan, and make their way to the United States.

And so some news outlets have chosen to belittle what is arguably one of the most important visual displays of civil unrest and economic distress caused by US and international imperialism in their home countries. Check out this tweet from the Associated Press that has since been deleted due to its tone-deaf assessment of the caravan:

This callous analysis of the purpose of the caravan and the power of persecuted people has been a common theme among news outlets. Referring to a mass movement of people due to decades of corrupt politics and severe economic turmoil as a “ragtag army of the poor” perpetuates all the problems that prevent us from making progress on immigration reform and international relations.

This assumption could not be further from the truth.

This caravan is an example of collective action. It has a structure. It has leaders. It has rules. It’s a group of motivated and impacted people who are tired of being abused by the powers that be.

What’s more interesting to watch is the decision-making within the caravan. Along the way, the caravan has encountered several obstacles – mainly as they cross borders from one country to the next. At each obstacle the caravan has provided members with their options and allowed people to decide for themselves what they would like to do.

For example, Guatemalan and Mexican officials attempted to prevent the caravan from moving across the SW Mexico-Guatemala border on Saturday, October 21st. By show of hands, the caravan took a vote on whether or not they should continue onward to the United States. The majority voted to move on while 1,500 members chose to stay behind and presented themselves to Mexican authorities for asylum.

What will happen once the caravan reaches the US-Mexico border?

The reality is we’re not sure.

But we can speculate based on what we already know about the current situation at the border and from what Trump has alluded during his rallies this past week.

The current situation at the US-Mexico border has not improved since May when Trump issued a zero-tolerance policy and separated thousands of children from their parents. While US officials and border organizations are still working to reunite those separated families, many remain in limbo – living in tent camps with limited resources. The process for admitting asylum-seekers has been excruciatingly slow, with border officials only inspecting and interviewing a few families each day.

The lines to meet with an asylum officer are backed up in the thousands. When the caravan arrives, this problem will rapidly increase.

That is the best case scenario at this point.

Trump has alluded to using military force against the caravan while speaking with a news outlet this past Monday. He claimed that the caravan was “an assault on our country” and that he would send as many troops as possible to the border to stop the caravan. Given what we’ve seen from law enforcement when policing non-violent rallies and understanding that the military has a lot more weaponry in their arsenal, it’s concerning to us that the President would create that kind of environment where many, many innocent people could be hurt.

What’s next?

We’re going to continue monitoring the on-going events and update you all with our analysis. As the caravan approaches the US-Mexico border, we expect organizations on the ground will need support. We’ll let you know what are the best action steps you can take to help during this difficult situation.

In the meantime, sign up for our newsletter so you can stay in-the-know and get the latest updates from us!

We believe families belong together – not in cages or jails.

You asked for it – and we delivered! Today we officially launched a statewide toolkit designed to provide content, resources, materials, and strategy that will help local communities keep ICE out of Iowa.

Read the full toolkit here. 

Why a toolkit?

In June, we held a series of ‘Keep ICE Out of Iowa’ meetings across the state. Hundreds of you gathered together for in-depth discussions with national immigrant rights organizers about how everyday people could create safer communities for all while blocking ICE operations in our own neighborhoods.

We covered a lot of material during those discussions. Folks had a lot of great ideas – and many wanted to do more in their own towns. We created this toolkit to give you a starting point to organize in your own communities.

How was this toolkit created?

Iowa CCI and American Friends Service Committee spent the next two months reviewing feedback from these events and surveyed immigrant families in Central Iowa. We asked families to identify fears and concerns they had with living and working in Iowa. We also reviewed the anti-immigrant law Senate File 481 and projected potential issues that law would cause for immigrant families and people of color.

We took ALL of this information a began crafting local solutions that would address these problems, create safer and more welcoming communities, and most importantly – get ICE out of Iowa.

How do I use this toolkit?

This toolkit is intended to meet people where they are at in their communities. Some folks have strong connections with immigrant families and are ready to push elected officials for bold solutions while others may be just beginning to organize around immigrant rights. Either way, the information in this toolkit will guide you in the right direction.

In order to make the most of this guide, it’s up to you to take action and get the ball rolling. We’re here to help you along the way.

What information is in the toolkit?

This toolkit covers a wide range of topics from educational efforts like ‘Know Your Rights’ information and trainings to rapid response planning in preparation for potential ICE raids to organizing campaigns that call on elected officials to implement progressive policies and practices that benefit immigrant families.

Read the full toolkit here.

Want to get more involved?

Trump’s executive order from June jails entire families indefinitely and does nothing to reunite families that have already been torn apart. Children are still being kept in cages. They are being traumatized, plain and simple.

On both Saturday August 4th and Sunday August 5th, 2018, Iowa CCI and People’s Action are inviting activists to hold Families Belong Together Community Cookouts .

Trump was moved to change his family separation policy because public pressure caused him lose support from his base. There is an important and untold story about the resistance to Trump’s agenda in small towns and cities across the country. A lot of people who live in communities where Trump performed well in the election stand with migrant families. And they are turning their back on Trump on moral grounds.

We’re trying to get 100 Community Cookouts organized in small towns across the country. You can help. We are asking you to bring together friends, family and neighbors to raise money and help migrant families get out of detention and reunited with their children. Community Cookouts will be chance to connect with each other, reflect about why family is so important, learn about what we can do collectively to keep families together and free, and take concrete action.

We are building community and liberating families at the same time. Some people are gathering in their own backyards. Others are cooking out for justice in parks or congregation parking lots. Some will be big, others more intimate. All are important.

The money raised at Community Cookouts will be used to reunite families. Funds will help families post bond for their release from detention and to pay for travel that will bring families back together.

How to sign up as a host

If you want to host a cookout, please sign up on the People’s Action website at

https://www.peoplesaction.org/families-belong-together-community-cookouts

Once you register your event, you’ll be able to invite people through email, Facebook and Twitter. Neighbors will be able to find your event on the event website.

Iowa CCI assistance

Iowa CCI staff will help you along the way. It is the host’s responsibility to handle logistical matters like location, time, and food. But CCI will happily help you with the following:

  • Community Outreach – Once you have established a cookout date (Aug 4th or 5th), time, and location, CCI will send out an invitation to other CCI members in your area.
  • Social Media – CCI will create a Facebook event with all your cookout details, including a registration link so we can track how many folks plan to attend. We’ll share the Facebook event with you so you can share on your personal account.
  • Materials – CCI will send you all the materials you will need to host a successful cookout including sign-in sheets, a large envelope to collect donations, and any other materials you think your guests would need like an action sheet.
  • Reimbursement – CCI does not expect a host to cover all the costs of these cookouts. Feeding folks can get pricey! CCI will reimburse up to $300 of cookout costs. Please be sure to save your receipts and send them back to CCI in the envelope.
  • Preparation – CCI staff will prep you via phone to walk through the program, cookout logistics, and answer any questions you may have.

Donation Information

The funds raised at Community Cookouts across should go directly to organizations that will use the money to reunite families. People’s Action & Iowa CCI recommend that funds raised go to support paying detention bonds and travel funds so that parents can be released and reunited with their children.

The tireless advocates and attorneys working with families who have been ripped apart tell us that the fastest way to reunite parents with their children is to ensure that the parents are not in immigration detention. Typically, bond costs about $1,500 but it can vary from case to case. Thousands of people are stuck in immigration detention simply because they don’t have enough money to pay their bonds. Not only are parents stuck in detention and separated from their children, 84% of people in immigration detention do not have an attorney and have to represent themselves in court. Having an attorney to help them with their case is often life or death for people fleeing for their lives.

Iowa CCI is asking all cookout hosts to donate all proceeds to the Eastern Iowa Community Bond Project , a local organization in Iowa that has been supporting immigrant families right here at home.

On July 1st, 2018 the anti-immigrant law Senate File 481 (SF481) officially went into effect. SF481 forces local law enforcement agencies to work closer with Immigration Customs & Enforcement (ICE) and other federal immigration agencies and ultimately, makes our communities less safe.

For the past two years, CCI Action has been partnering with immigrant ally groups across Iowa to create welcoming communities. We’ll continue to fight to keep families together and keep people out of jail. And most importantly, work to repeal SF481.

We’ve nailed down two campaign strategies to keep ICE out of Iowa:

  1. We want to keep people out of jail by working at the city level to ensure that police departments accept various forms of identification, eliminate racial profiling and pretextual stops, and issue more citations rather than arresting community members. We’ll also work with elected officials to promote ‘Know Your Rights’ trainings and create better city service accessibility through language expansion.
  2. We want to keep families together by working at the county level to ensure that sheriff departments offer ‘Know Your Rights’ information in a person’s preferred language, provide unbiased third party interpretation services, and eliminate contracts or agreements with ICE. We’ll also work with elected officials to establish a community ID program and create a detainer request review protocol to ensure that requests from ICE are valid.

It’s going to take all of us – working in our own communities – to move our campaigns forward. Immigrants are Iowans, too. And we won’t allow a rogue federal agency to tear Iowa families apart.

Take the first step by contacting your local police chief and county sheriff.

Where does your police chief and county sheriff stand on SF481?

Contact your local police chief and sheriff to find out what’s their position on this law and let them know that we want to keep ICE out of Iowa and keep families together. Here’s a brief script to guide you:

Hello! My name is ________ and I’m a resident of _________. I’m calling in regards to a recent law that was passed in Iowa – SF481. It requires law enforcement to work closer with ICE and other immigration agencies. This law is bad policy; it makes communities less safe by creating distrust between law enforcement and communities.

I’d like Chief ______ or Sheriff _______ to stand with his/her community in rejecting SF481 and work to keep families together by publicly denouncing SF481. Can I count on him/her to do that?

(Wait for response)

IF YES – Great! It’s important to stand with communities and lead by example. I look forward to Chief ______ or Sheriff ______ making a public statement about SF481. Thank you!

IF NO – It’s important, now more than ever, to do what’s right. This law is unjust. It hurts all of us and creates unsafe communities. Local law enforcement should work to keep families together and keep ICE out of Iowa.

 

**We want to hear how your calls went. Report back to Madeline Cano by emailing madeline@iowacci.org or call the office at (515)282-0484**

On Sunday, July 1, a day after thousands of Iowans stood in solidarity with immigrant families at the border for a national day of action to #KeepFamiliesTogether, Senate File 481 (SF481) officially became Iowa law. The law requires local entities – specifically police – to work more closely with federal immigration agencies like ICE.

The bill was denounced by immigrants and allies during the past two legislative sessions, stating it promoted racial profiling and made Iowa less safe for all people.

“In the past year, ICE activity in Iowa has increased by 67%. While all eyes are on the disastrous situation at the border, ICE continues to disrupt our communities and destroy Iowa families,” said Isabel Conn, an Iowa CCI member and domestic violence advocate. “It’s dangerous to force Iowa police and sheriffs to comply with a federal agency that acts without rules, regulations, or repercussions. Iowans will lose trust in their police, creating an even more dangerous situation for victims of crime.”

Iowa has already seen a glimpse of the dangers of this law in Mt. Pleasant, where three levels of Iowa law enforcement – city police, county sheriffs, and state patrol – aided in a workplace raid without detailed information from ICE regarding the operation. First-hand reports stated police were dressed in full riot gear while a helicopter circled the concrete facility.

Here’s What SF481 Will Do

The law increases Immigration & Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) power in Iowa, including:

  • Increasing local/state law enforcement collaboration with ICE
  • Preventing local entities from restricting cooperation with ICE
  • Requiring local/state law enforcement to honor ICE detainer requests, a less formal version of a judicial warrant

By January 1st, all law enforcement agencies in Iowa will be forced to provide written policy regarding enforcement of immigration law as required by Senate File 481. 

Advocates say SF481 will be disastrous not only for undocumented Iowans, but also those with various status privileges like permanent residents, refugees, visa-holders, and recipients of programs like DACA and TPS. According to the administration, ICE is supposed to target criminals and violent offenders. However, the majority of detainees from Iowa’s only crime is re-entering the United States to reunite with their families.

“Every individual has rights in the United States, including immigrants in our communities,” said CCI immigrant rights organizer Madeline Cano. “But what we’ve been seeing in Iowa and across the country for years is a complete violation of an individual’s constitutional rights and denial of due process simply because an individual was born in Mexico or Central America.”

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement members and immigrant rights allies across the state say they will continue fighting to repeal this unconstitutional law. In three community meetings held in late June attended by over 500 Iowans, Iowa CCI members and immigrant allies committed to provide ‘Know  Your Rights’ trainings, support families in need, and push local/state officials to make Iowa a welcoming place for all.

Here’s How We’re Fighting Back

  1. Repeal SF481

Bottom line – SF481 is bad public policy. It violates our constitutional rights, subjects law enforcement to profile communities, and holds public officials hostage by threatening funding. That’s why our main goal is to not only reject SF481 – but repeal it.

Meet with your local legislators. They represent us 365 days out of the year, not just during legislative session. Now is the time to sit down – face to face – with elected officials and demand that they publicly reject SF481 and commit to repealing it in 2019.

2. Keep families together

This law is destructive to its core. We’re not seeing violent criminals being removed from our communities. We’re seeing mothers, fathers, and families being targeted, detained, and deported. Many of whom have no previous criminal record other than a charge for trying to reunite with their families.

The long-term trauma caused by family separation is immeasurable.

Join a community response team. Iowa CCI, American Friends Service Committe, and other immigrant rights organizations have collaborated to form local response teams to help track ICE activity in their neighborhoods, work closely with impacted families, and prepare communities for potential raids.

Contact Berenice Nava-Romero at (515)274-4851 if you are interested in volunteering on a team.

3. Keep people out of jail

ICE has no power without the assistance of local law enforcement. ICE works to trap individuals when they have been arrested for misdemeanors or minor infractions through a detainer request. SF481 now requires all local law enforcement to honor these requests and to hold individuals in jail while ICE investigates them.

Meet with your local police and sheriff. It’s important to know where your local law enforcement departments stand on this issue. All departments will be required to have written policy stating how they plan to enforce immigration law by January 2019. Gather a group of your friends and set up a meeting with your police chief and county sheriff.

Contact Maddie Cano at (515)282-0484 if you are interested in setting up a meeting.

4. Report ICE

If you see something, say something. ICE operates in secret. They don’t want the public to know about their activity in Iowa. That’s why we must work to expose them.

Call our 24-7 bilingual hotline at (515)996-0003 to report any ICE activity in your neighborhood or if someone you know has been detained by ICE.

Through this hotline, we’ve been able to help dozens of families, utilize the data to track ICE patterns in Iowa, and keep people informed.

Stay tuned! A toolkit is on the way!

Photo of our standing-room-only Iowa City meeting by Eli Shepard

As we explained at this week’s packed Deportation Defense meetings in Marshalltown, Iowa City, and Des Moines, we’re organizing to:

  • create community response teams to prevent deportations,
  • develop new strategies to reduce the harm of SF 481,
  • build grassroots resistance to anti-immigrant agenda,
  • and get ICE out of Iowa.

A few action items came out of the meetings: 

  • You have been calling Chuck Grassley, Joni Ernst, and David Young – keep calling! Tell them to keep families together, hold ICE accountable, and reform immigration so that our country can be a shining beacon of hope to all. Use this line from our national allies: 1-877-291-2172 – it will patch you directly to your Representative.
  • If you’re interested in getting more involved by connecting your church with a sanctuary network or accompanying people to ICE check-ins, contact Erica Johnson at AFSC of Iowa: 515-209-2733 or afscdesm@afsc.org
  • If you would like to get involved with the Iowa ICE Rapid Response team, call Madeline at 515-282-0484, or email madeline@iowacci.org.

You can watch the entirety of the Des Moines meeting on our Facebook page, and read about it on WHOtv.com and in Little Village.

And, stay tuned to our emails as we roll out more work on this issue.

Further reading:

For people who know something is very wrong but aren’t sure what to do