(Photo via twitter.com/GibbonTim)
Immigrants in the U.S. today face plenty of challenges, from the risk of deportation for seeking healthcare while undocumented to finding targeted support when it comes to mental health services.
But immigrant communities and their allies are coming together to build up support systems that help provide relief. It’s the kind of system that Juntos, the community-based immigrants rights nonprofit based in South Philly, formed this past weekend in its effort to create Philadelphia’s first “Community Resistance Zone.”
Here’s how Community Resistance Zones work:
- Residents in a neighborhood — in Juntos’ case, a 4.5-square-mile section running from Washington to Oregon avenues and 3rd to 9th streets — register themselves to be part of the zone.
- As part of that commitment, they’re voicing their support for their immigrant neighbors.
- But it’s also about accountability, as these residents act as a sort of network to inform and aid one another in the case of unlawful abuse or raids from ICE and police, the latter of which have been on the uptick nationally especially in sanctuary cities like Philly.
Miguel Andrade, communications manager for Juntos, said the group took inspiration from what partner organizations were doing in other places around the country, including Arizona and Georgia. It’s important now more than ever that immigrants fully understand not just their immigration rights but their rights when interacting with police, he said.
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“It just seemed like the prime moment to have our people and neighbors hit the street to train each other on what our rights are and how to defend each other,” Andrade said.
At the end of two days of organizing, Juntos, with help from orgs such as Reclaim Philadelphia, which was founded by former Bernie Sanders staffers and volunteers, as well as VietLead and Asian Americans United, was able to train almost 150 volunteers who then knocked on over 2,500 doors and registered over 500 people to the Community Resistance Zone.
Those who registered to be part of the Community Resistance Zone were given know-your-rights handouts and posters, designed by local artist Erika Guadalupe Núñez, to put up in front of their homes.
— erika guadalupe (@monequiltia) November 9, 2017
We’ve seen this kind of fast-paced community organizing from Juntos before. Andrade said a key element this time was the intense training of around 35 lead volunteers four weeks prior to the event. Those volunteers were able to spread the word of what the zone was going to be about, in addition to hosting know-your-rights trainings in their own homes.
And South Philly was the obvious choice for the group’s first Community Resistance Zone because, one, it’s where Juntos has grown its roots, and two, the area is known for its high concentration of immigrant populations. Andrade said it’s not uncommon to see immigration agents gathered at the local gun range — an “intimidation tactic,” Andrade said, which is exactly what the zone is meant to counteract.
“Our communities know their rights, we know that you’re watching us but actually, we’re going to be watching you to make sure that you don’t abuse the rights that we all have as human beings,” he said about ICE agents.
Juntos also plans to start new Community Resistance Zones in other parts of the city, and interest in the effort has been communicated by communities in Pittsburgh and Norristown.
“This may be the first time that we’re doing it here but it definitely won’t be the last,” Andrade said.