Opinion

Looking Up: Resistance through civil obedience

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Looking Up: Resistance through civil obedience

Sam Moss, executive director of the Mission Housing Development Corporation in San Francisco, expected increased immigration raids at MHDC’s affordable housing developments after the election of Donald Trump. But he figured he probably had a few months to get ready.

Instead, a mere two weeks after the inauguration, ICE showed up at one of MHDC’s properties attempting to serve a deportation warrant. They first went to the neighboring community center, and then to the apartment building, where they were not let in due to coincidence of no one working the door at the time.

But Moss knew right then MHDC had to step it up. They placed signs on the doors of their buildings directing agents to him and his lawyers for verification of warrants before entry will be allowed.

“I’ll throw my body in front of ICE for my tenants,” says Moss. “You are legally required to shelter and protect your tenants.”

It may sound like Moss is encouraging noncooperation with the law. Many of us—primed by reminders that slavery, Jim Crow, even the Holocaust, were in fact at the time “legal”—have been searching our souls much of the past year for the answer to when and where we would commit civil disobedience (or just flat out break the law) to protect our neighbors.

That is absolutely necessary, and likely will become more so. But Moss’s story reminded me that at least while we still have civil and constitutional rights theoretically in place, sometimes merely not acquiescing to people who want to intimidate you into letting them violate those rights is quite meaningful resistance.

“ICE operates on fear and ignorance,” says Moss. In other words, they often will tell you they have a right to come in somewhere when they don’t.

Accordingly, MHDC, Episcopal Community Services, and many other San Francisco affordable housing managers have gone into overdrive educating their employees and tenants about when ICE can demand entrance to someone’s building or home. Their policies are to let them in when they have a properly executed civil search warrant, not expired, signed by a federal judge, specifying exactly what they can look for, and verified by an attorney.

Missing any of those items? Nope. Merely a warrant for deportation? Nope. Detainer? Nope. ICE search warrant not signed by federal judge? Nope. (NB: This is not legal advice. You should get your own.)

Episcopal Community Services of San Francisco says that without a validly executed search warrant, staff are not to let ICE officers into any non-public space, and are to follow the following steps: Tell the officer they won’t disclose any information, they do not consent to their presence, and they should now leave. Call supervisors who can bring in a legal team. Call the city’s Rapid Response Network that tracks ICE activity. MHDC and ECS front line staff are also not allowed to determine whether a civil search warrant is valid, and are directed to call in their director and a legal team to verify. MHDC has posted signs to this effect on the external doors of all their buildings.

MHDC has also ramped up its know-your-rights trainings for residents, neighbors, and colleagues.

All of this is perfectly within the bounds of the law. In fact, it is supporting the law. And it’s fairly meaningful in terms of protecting people. “We’re extremely well versed when it comes to the rules on illegal entry, seizure,” in San Francisco, says Moss. “ICE knows that we know that. Once we publically let it be known that we’ve doubled down on this, they haven’t been back.”

Moss points out that in places that do not have the Bay Area’s history of pro-immigrant activism, that being prepared and learning your legal rights is even more important, as ICE agents will assume they can get away with more through intimidation and misrepresentation.

It’s plenty challenging to stand up to people in authority, even when you are in the right. Just ask anyone who has filmed police officers doing something illegal or questioned their own false arrest. But it’s much easier for a property manager behind a desk with an attorney on speed dial than it is for a family alone with someone banging on their front door.

You don’t have to be a fan of disruptive protest or willing to break the law to join with San Francisco’s housing organizations in holding the line against unreasonable search and seizure. You just have to believe in property rights and the Fourth Amendment. Insisting on not collaborating with ICE officers to break the law is something every property and building manager and every employer should be able to agree upon.

You can see MHDC’s notice to authorities and know your rights brochures at http://missionhousing.org/know-your-rights-handout-training-empowers-mission-residents/. They have offered to speak to colleagues about what they need to know.

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