More than 80 immigrant and refugee youth and allies turned out on a sunny Saturday for an event aimed at empowering young people and equipping them with the confidence, skills, tools and resources necessary to navigate encounters with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and other law enforcement.
The five-hour “Know Your Rights” event was an opportunity for the youth to hear from law enforcement officials, attorneys, community leaders and immigration experts on the topics of immigration and human rights and to participate in role playing activities, small group sessions and other exercises.
“This event was created by youth and for youth because of the current and horrendous political climate regarding immigrants and refugees,” said Multnomah County Youth Commissioner Ahlam Osman, who served as a co-host for the event. “It is important to take care of ourselves… This is a safe space for us to have a voice.”
The training was sponsored by the Multnomah Youth Commission, IRCO Africa House and Africa House Youth Council. The Multnomah Youth Commission works to change policies affecting young people and improve the perception of youth in the community.
The event, the second of its kind, also was presented in partnership with Commissioner Lori Stegmann’s office. Stegmann has made the issues of immigration and human rights, as well as protecting the sanctuary status of the county, city and state, priorities of her office.
“This issue is extremely personal, complex, and disturbing,” Stegmann said. “The impact on our communities has been devastating in ways we could never have imagined. Now is the time for us to work together to arm ourselves with the knowledge needed to defend our rights.”
The youth learned what to do if stopped by police, if asked about immigration status, and if taken into immigration custody, among other things. They also had an opportunity to share how the swell in anti-immigrant sentiment has affected them. Allies had an opportunity to learn how to battle stereotypes about immigrants and refugees.
Oregon law prohibits public agencies from spending money, using equipment or enlisting personnel to enforce federal immigration law. The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners has reaffirmed the county’s commitment to that law and to the County’s policy of being a place where people can visit clinics, libraries and other services without fear.
The Multnomah County Sheriff’s office has issued a declaration reminding residents of the local firewall.
Sgt. John Pemberton of the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office and Gresham Police Chief Robin Sells reiterated their commitment to Oregon law on Saturday.
“I recognize that there is a true fear in our community, especially with the youth,” Sells said. "I want you to know that the Gresham Police Department will not enforce immigration laws. ...My officers will not be coming to your house and taking any of your family members and deporting them. It’s not what we do.”
“And I want you to know that from the bottom of my heart,” Sells continued. “Because you need to know that you can still come to us if you are the victim of a crime.”
Stegmann thanked the youth for organizing the event and urged them to share the information they learned at their schools, churches, workplaces and anywhere else they might be able to make a difference.
“You are our present and our future,” Stegmann said. “And I am depending on your leadership, your compassion, and your stamina to make, not just Multnomah County, but the world, a better place. We value and need your voices now, more than ever.”