Stories from the Road! Rural Actions for Immigrant Fairness

Rural Oregonians have been responding to the attacks on our immigrant neighbors and family members by taking action, organizing our communities, and opening challenging and necessary conversations about what our communities need for every person to truly feel safe. There seems to be constant news about anti-immigrant rants from the White House and new punitive laws being passed that target those who are not from the “right” country. Here, at ROP we hear every day about the brilliant ways rural communities are getting together and organizing for the safety of all of our neighbors.

In August and September, ROP has been traveling across the state to talk to immigrants and nonimmigrants about how the deportation business hurts our communities and profits off of the suffering of people of color. Although constitutional rights apply to every single person on US soil, we continue to see how Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and rogue local police officers continue to tear our families apart. We gathered in living rooms, churches, libraries, movie theaters, and community centers to discuss the different ways that each one of us can make a difference in this time where both vigilante and state violence are bluntly directed at immigrants and refugees.

We have visited Yamhill, Union, Josephine, Tillamook, Jefferson, Crook, and Clatsop Counties (so far!) to share the different ways that all of us can play an important role in building and protecting our communities. Every community we visited was hungry to dig in together and offered new ideas, community-based strategies, and lessons from the ways they’ve been contributing to the work for human dignity! Here are three powerful stories of local organizing that inspire us:

Union County
Participants at La Grande’s “Know Your Roles” and “Know Your Rights” workshops learned about the different ways immigrant students and students of color attending Eastern Oregon University can be supported. One eye-opening conversation focused on who is being targeted by ICE right now — it’s not just the Latinx community being targeted, but also the Asian Pacific Islander community. A participant shared her story about how the second Muslim Ban was preventing a family member from going back to their country of origin to sort out paperwork, but they’re afraid they won’t be able to come back to the US and be with their family. Family members are pitching in to make sure his basic needs are met until he is able to travel freely.  Another participant shared how she was racially profiled by the police even though she works at EOU, and how that experience took an emotional toll on her. Now, the local human dignity group, Racial Justice Eastern Oregon, is planning an event in the near future to bring back both workshops to more community members and strengthen their rapid response team.

Josephine County
In Grants Pass, over a dozen local organizers, activists, and people of faith gathered for the “Know Your Roles” workshop to learn more about the threats to immigrants across the country and locally in Josephine County. Folks were surprised and disturbed to hear that their local jail rents beds to ICE, and that local immigrants have experienced profiling by local law enforcement and harassment from other community members. Participants left the gathering with a commitment to meet again to create an action plan.

Before the next meeting, the community got wind that a white supremacist group was posting flyers in local businesses. As the racist flyering hit statewide news, people reached out to each other and gathered their neighbors to find ways to respond. The follow up meeting to the “Know Your Roles” workshop had twice as many participants than the original workshop! Several community organizers who joined the meeting had organized a huge rally in 1995 when the Aryan Nation was trying to establish a home base in Josephine County; they are showing up again now and connecting with new organizers to figure out how to take on the threat of organized white supremacy now!

Clatsop County
During the Know Your Roles workshop in Astoria, almost every hand in the room went up as people shared a stream of ideas around relationship building and mutual support, from having events to assist undocumented families in filling out their Family Preparedness Packet (available here in Spanish and in English) to meeting with agricultural employers to share resources about protecting their undocumented workers and building a coalition of employers who are allies. We learned that in Astoria, when local police officers pull over someone without a license, they wait with that person until someone can come pick them up; no arrest, no ticket, no tow truck — the result of community conversations between local law enforcement and community members. Others in the room spoke about their enthusiasm to start building relationships with their local law enforcement, while others wanted to strengthen their local rapid response team or create a new one.

We also met members of the Willapa Bay Resistance across the river in Washington who shared their powerful work around immigrant justice and supporting families that have been affected by deportations. Over the past few months, ICE has detained about 36 members of their community. In fact, ICE continues to detain people almost weekly, arresting people getting out of their car right before getting to work, showing up at people’s houses early in the morning, and tricking people by ordering items and setting up fake deliveries for business owners through Facebook and then having ICE on the scene to detain them instead.

When Willapa Bay Resistance filed to receive information about the detaining of their neighbors, they were told they would have to wait a year to receive information. Willapa Bay Resistance met with their local police repeatedly and were told each time that local law enforcement do not and would not collaborate with ICE. However, on September 19th, Pacific County Sheriff Scott Johnson met with Attorney General Jeff Sessions to talk about federal immigration enforcement and federal marijuana policy. On September 20th, the area was hit with another ICE detention where the person was followed to work and then detained as soon as he got out of this car.

Willapa Bay Resistance is supporting families torn apart by ICE by fundraising to help with rent and other living expenses. Each member has been reaching into their own pockets and asking close friends to pitch in as well. They are planning a community fundraising event in the near future to make their work more sustainable in the long run.

The work that each one of you does each day to build safe and whole communities inspires us to keep moving forward on the road toward social justice in small town and rural Oregon. What is your community doing to show up for your immigrant neighbors right now? How can ROP support your work in your rural community or small town? Would you like to bring “Know Your Roles” and/or “Know Your Rights” to your town? Please email us at!

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