Building a Rapid-Response Network to Defend Immigrant Workers

As the Trump administration cracks down on undocumented immigrants, it’s urgent for worker centers and unions to organize to defend immigrant members.

In Western Massachusetts, the Pioneer Valley Workers Center has created a rapid-response network it calls “Sanctuary in the Streets” (SiS). The worker center, founded in 2014, organizes restaurant workers and farmworkers in the area. Worker committees set the network’s priorities.

The rapid-response network consists of a 24-hour emergency hotline, 2,000 members, and 20 religious congregations. Forty bilingual responders are trained to manage the hotline, where they instruct callers in their constitutional rights, connect them to services, and activate the response team if necessary.

Since November 2016, members of the network have supported 35 families and individuals facing deportation and workplace abuse, including wage theft and sexual harassment.

The network has trained 800 Rapid Responders to document and peacefully denounce a deportation or raid as it is taking place, and is currently training to accompany immigrants to court hearings. It’s also defending two immigrants who have taken sanctuary in local churches after facing threats of deportation.

Here’s some advice from Pioneer Valley Workers Center organizers on setting up a rapid-response network:

1. Make sure it’s led by immigrant workers.

The volunteers in the network include many non-immigrant supporters from all walks of life. But “what makes our model strong is that we have an existing worker committee, and the Sanctuary in the Streets network is accountable to the worker committee,” says Diana Sierra, an organizer with the Center.

In a series of forums, members of the worker center identified the most urgent issues affecting their community: workplace abuse; detentions, raids, and…

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