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Isabel Castillo, center, an organizer with Virginia Organizing, talks to over 50 area residents who attended the FUEGO Melts ICE event at Asbury United Methodist Church in Harrisonburg on Saturday. Castillo, along with Boris Ozuna, left, lead coordinator of FUEGO in Harrisonburg, and Luis Oyola, a community organizer with the Legal Aid Justice Center in Charlottesville, discussed methods for keeping ICE agents away from undocumented immigrants.

HARRISONBURG — Local residents met to learn how to reduce deportations at an event called FUEGO Melts ICE, held at Asbury United Methodist Church on Saturday.

FUEGO stands for Friends United for Equity and Grassroots Organizing and is a group focused on decreasing the presence of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, in the Valley.

“Our purpose was multiple, but one was to help bring awareness to recognition of racism in immigration policies,” said Boris Ozuna, an event organizer and lead coordinator for FUEGO Coalition in Harrisonburg.

The day included group discussions on immigration history, videos and a panel of Virginia pro-immigration activists, including Ozuna.

The group discussions centered around the history of immigration to North America and what would become the United States.

Over 50 guests were invited to take sticky notes and write their family’s reason for coming to America and place it on a timeline on a section of the wall in the meeting room.

One of the guests in the audience was Harrisonburg City Councilman Sal Romero.

“I decided to come to hear what’s going on and be in solidarity with this group and to see how I, from a citizen perspective and City Council perspective, to see how I can be more helpful to this cause,” said Romero.

Asylum and a better future are major reasons families have come to the United States, Ozuna said.

“It was important for us to have people walk through multiple laws that have discriminated against immigrants over the years,” he said. “That’s what the timeline is about.”

The videos detailed how undocumented immigrants should respond to immigration officers and examples of community organizations distancing ICE personnel from undocumented immigrants.

“The other aspect is starting to build up our community power to create infrastructure to respond when there is an emergency for ICE harassing or detaining a family,” Ozuna said of the meeting. “And also build up a community that is not collaborating with ICE.”

During the panel that followed, the speakers talked about how to best protect undocumented immigrants from deportation and how to encourage local law enforcement to cease working with ICE.

“It’s important to understand there are three sectors we are inviting to not cooperate with ICE — law enforcement, public officials and businesses,” said Ozuna.

“They need to know that ICE is an agency that breaks and violates the law, the Constitution and that does not have respect for human dignity,” he said.

In Harrisonburg, activists have already been informally checking on rumors of ICE activity, said Isabel Castillo, an organizer with Virginia Organizing, a multi-issue grassroots organization.

And some people say these suspicions of ICE activity should be put on Facebook quickly, she said.

“That just creates unnecessary chaos and fear,” Castillo said.

But an established “rapid response team” could verify rumors to increase protections for undocumented immigrants in the area, the panel said.

Castillo claims Harrisonburg police have asked people about their citizenship status.

“Harrisonburg Police Department is not Immigration and Customs Enforcement and should not be asking for immigration status — period,” she said, to applause from the crowd.

Teaching undocumented immigrants their rights in dealing with law enforcement is also vital, Castillo said.

In Charlottesville, there is an emergency line for undocumented immigrants to get legal advice when interacting with immigration officers, said said Luis Oyola, a community organizer from Charlottesville and staff member of the Legal Aid Justice Center, a legal group with offices across Virginia.

He also described how immigrants, in Charlottesville, for example, are not just from Latin American countries.

“There are a lot of Cameroonian, Ghanian, Angolan refugees at the border right now seeking asylum,” Oyola said.

Rockingham County Jail will hold inmates for ICE after an inmate has already been booked.

“We in the county or in the city have all the power to say ‘you need to stop this collaboration — this is harming your community,'” Ozuna said.

Daily News-Record inquiries to Rockingham County Sheriff Bryan Hutcheson were not answered by press time.

Hutcheson has indicated that he will continue to cooperate with ICE and federal law enforcement agencies, according to previous Daily News-Record reports.

Contact Ian Munro at 574-6278 or imunro@dnronline.com. Follow Ian on Twitter @IanMunroDNR

(8) comments

lizalittledo

Thankful for this program and these humanitarians from the FUEGO coaliton and for the efforts not to have local law enforcement agencies become involved with enforcement of federal immigration law - not the job of local law enforcment that is already underfunded. The federal government is responsible for enforcing our broken immigration system, not local police and sheriffs. The vast majority of undocumented immigrants are hard-working members of our communities who have incredible obstacles toward obtaining legal status. What should certainly be illegal is the way that ICE and border patrol are separating children from their parents and caging children. Local police departments need to focus on continuing community policing policies to help insure immigrants turn to police when they need help or when acts are committed against them. Having local police and sheriffs collaborate with ICE (which is NOT required by federal law) increases immigrants' fear of contacting local police when they need them. Growing up in my Christian faith, I have tried to follow the teachings of Jesus and to treat others as I want to be treated. It is not against the laws of the United States to seek asylum.

kenhuntley1

Why is a forum about breaking immigration laws NOT itself illegal. Like teaching people how to break into homes. Looks to me like it is aiding and abetting.

BoDuke319

Next we should have forums on how to avoid the IRS, and other law enforcement agencies.

weld

How about a forum on how to rob a bank and get away with it?

Donald

Ms. Castillo, would you agree that Virginia Organizing, like so many other similar organizations, is an organization that is strongly influenced by the Marxian worldview of the oppressor/oppressed which, in its current form, is being used to gather multiple groups together to effectuate the destruction of the historic American nation with the intent of replacing it with the hidden fascism of socialist governance? And no, that is not contradictory.

Donald

Mr. Ozuna, though you claim foreign nationals who entered or remained in America illegally did so “seeking asylum and a better future”, I must point out to you that motive for actions taken does not of and in itself legitimize said action. It is both a legal and moral tenet. And, based on what is in this article, your cause (to use Mr. Romero’s term for your political agenda) is to find ways to interfere with federal officers performing their lawful duties, encourage local police to hamper federal officers performing their duties, encourage local politicians to assist in undermining the legal efforts of federal police officers, and encourage businesses to do the same (which to an extent, could be in theory construed as the harboring of illegal aliens). I am not sure why Mr. Romero, as a member of the city council, would be so eager to find a way to “be more helpful to this cause”.

J Bitting

The best thing Romero can do to "help" these people is to show them how to become legal or show them how to get out of here! Nothing like encouraging folks to break the law. Next we'll have a group protecting druggies.

weld

Next step, become a sanctuary city.

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