“Colorado Raid Hotline. Are you witnessing an immigration raid?”
That is how the bilingual volunteer dispatchers for the Colorado Rapid Response Network—a 24-hour hotline (which you can call at 1-844-864-8341) that tracks, verifies, and observes reported Immigrations and Customs Enforcement activity across the state—has answered every one of the 68 phone calls it has received since launching last month.
The network, put together by a coalition of local immigrants rights groups, follows an approach that’s been implemented around the country, in places like San Francisco, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, Massachusetts, and Philadelphia.
Since the federal government is actively threatening undocumented immigrants, these volunteers are creating their own tools to try to prevent more deportations and help undocumented people navigate the current climate. The CRRN accomplishes this by attempting to confirm what is genuine ICE activity and what is just a rumor, so the undocumented community can be informed about where it might not be safe.
Colorado has been as affected as any other state by the anti-immigrant environment in America. In May, for instance, the city of Aurora passed a resolution declaring itself not to be a sanctuary city. Last month, a man armed with a knife was shot by ICE in Denver. Multiple people have sought sanctuary in churches, though they were later granted temporary reprieves from deportation.
Denver City Attorney Kristin Bronson said earlier this year that the fear of deportation has caused undocumented victims and witnesses to forego providing testimony in cases, including domestic violence cases, thus resulting in more dropped cases and accused abusers walking free.
Immigrant rights advocates like Carla Castedo, state director of Mi Familia Vota, say that they’ve noticed a change in how ICE operates in the state. Instead of big raids at peoples’ jobs, ICE activity has ramped up at the courthouses and at people’s homes, she told Fusion. (Fusion reached out to ICE for comment on these observations, and on the hotline in general. We will update if we hear back.)
As a result, the undocumented community in Colorado has been on edge. Organizations like Castedo’s have seen an uptick of calls, texts, and emails from panicked community members asking if the activity they saw on the street was ICE.
“People started being afraid to go to the store or avoiding certain areas when really there was no need to do so at the time, because they were false reports,” Castedo explained.
That’s where the hotline comes in. Multiple organizations like Castedo’s were facing a huge volume of calls, emails, and texts reporting suspected ICE activity, so they decided to pool their resources.
“I think I was very nervous at the very beginning because these could potentially be high-stress level conversations that you’re having with someone who’s calling,” said Castedo, who has served as a dispatcher for the hotline in two different shifts. “I think my expectations were that the line was going to be ringing off the hook, and I was happy to note that it wasn’t ringing off the hook.”
Castedo—who has also called the hotline herself to report someone being detained at an airport—said that one call in particular stuck with her. A woman who was a U.S. citizen said her husband (an undocumented man who she said had been followed by ICE when picking up their kids from school) was being pursued by ICE agents.
Castedo said she was “so sad to have someone being chased by ICE,” but that the fact she was calling the hotline meant that it was doing what it was supposed to do.
How the hotline works is pretty straightforward: If someone witnesses ICE activity in progress, they dial the number and are connected with a volunteer dispatcher. If necessary, a volunteer is sent to the scene to confirm the report. The hotline can then tell people to avoid the area and mobilize help if needed.
A legal observer might go to the scene as well. Afterwards, they are supposed to fill out a report, keeping a timeline of events, noting which law enforcement agencies were there, and how they were or weren’t working together, among other things, volunteer Kristin Hersh explained.
Lawyers haven’t been deployed in Colorado yet, though a similar network in San Francisco has called in attorneys four times since February, according to San Francisco Immigrant Legal & Education Network program manager Marisela Esparza.
The hotline can also connect individuals with a separate network of volunteer immigration lawyers from the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s Colorado chapter who can help them navigate the legal system, explained Katharine Speer, a Boulder County-based and AILA-affiliated attorney and owner of Access Immigration.
So far, seven of the 68 calls to the hotline have been false alarms. Two were confirmed raids, called in after the fact. Sometimes callers—not knowing exactly what the hotline is intended for—call for advice for people they know who have already been detained or general information, Castedo explained. And sometimes, they truly think something is ICE activity when it actually isn’t, like routine law enforcement activity after a car accident or an assault.
Anyone can volunteer to help staff the hotline, regardless of immigration status. Colorado People’s Alliance’s immigrant justice organizer Ana Rodriguez, who is undocumented, says the dispatcher role is perfect for undocumented people like herself, who want to help other undocumented people without putting themselves in danger by being in close physical proximity with ICE.
Hersh says she tries to use her privilege as a white, natural born citizen to help the undocumented community by going to the scene and asking law enforcement direct questions.
So far, over 140 volunteers have signed up and completed training for the hotline.
That may seem like a lot, but it’s hardly enough to cover the whole state, and it’s still not the permanent solution that the undocumented community needs.
“We still have to do a lot of work to ensure that our elected officials are putting forth actual policy,” Rodriguez said. “There’s a lot of discussions and comments by mayors and the governor and representatives and congressmen about how we need to be a welcoming space and how we need to keep families together, but at the end of the day we’re still struggling to put actual policies on the books.”
Advocates like Castedo and Rodriguez say they hope they won’t always have to have a hotline like this.
“Under this administration we’re going to need to be really creative and have new and different tools to protect each other,” Rodriguez added. “This is unfortunately a tool that we are having to utilize now, but we’re working to make it so we won’t even need this tool because ICE will be disentangled from our cities and from our law enforcement.”