In a church in the middle of Homestead, a group of undocumented students started hosting forums and role-played scenarios to show others like them how to exercise their rights.
“The main purpose is to target the adults in our community — make them understand and empower folks,” said Margarito Cruz, a member of Homestead’s Equal Rights for All, a youth-led activist group.
The group members, most of whom are protected from deportation by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program, worry about the collaboration between local police and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which has created a culture of fear and distrust.
“They can get very insistent on asking immigration status. But they are not an immigration authority,” Cruz said. “This adds to the stress between community and local police.”
So while their parents, still at risk of deportation, take precautions to avoid ICE and local police, the young activists have taken matters into their own hands.
The equal rights group held its first “know your rights” training workshop at the end of April in the Homestead Apostolic Church with about 40 participants. With future workshops, they hope to educate all members of the undocumented community on how to react if they have an encounter with law enforcement or ICE.
Just this March, ICE agents held raids for five days as part of a national operation, resulting in 117 arrests in South Florida.
“Don’t give them your information and document details,” Cruz said. “Know that you have a right to remain silent, because you’re helping them build a case against you.”
The group also manages a hotline to report and document raids or other incidents.
While the group’s aim is to raise awareness in the community, it has also started to confront city government.
Saul Aleman, a student at Florida International University, addressed Homestead city officials from the dais while sporting his undocumented status on his T-shirt.
“We are very concerned young advocates, and our families are very afraid,” said Aleman, who attended a recent public meeting with other young activists to start a dialogue with the city.
Homestead’s undocumented youth have taken up the task of giving a voice to their community — which is often vulnerable and isolated despite their large presence in the area.
Another ERA member, Mayra Rubio, asked the council to make Homestead police take a stand for their undocumented residents who do not fall under the priority for deportation — those with criminal records.
“What we want to see out of this is how we can work together to make sure that Homestead police takes care of those undocumented people in this community, like myself and my parents, who have a clean record and put money into this community,” Rubio said.
“We understand that this is a federal matter, but we also understand that the Homestead police does have a say and a stance on how they work with ICE or border patrol.”
Follow Rebeca Piccardo on Twitter: @rpicc002.