Fifty people gathered in a conference room at the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition headquarters in South Nashville — Latinos from 15 different cities in Tennessee taking a course in how to prepare for a new state immigration law.
The measure will cut state funding to cities that refuse to collaborate with ICE. Organizers still intend to resist the law, but they also want to reduce fear among Latinos affected by the measure by showing them how to respond.
Working at tables, they learn how to prepare an emergency plan in case of a raid by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. Their checklists include birth certificates — and powers of attorney to keep those children from being forced into foster care if their parents were detained.
Contact information for lawyers, both those who specialize in immigration and in criminal law, are also in the list of instructions.
To lighten the mood a facilitator plays the famous Mexican song "La Bamba" with the lyrics changed. The words have been altered to protest what they see as anti-immigrant laws passed recently by the Tennessee legislature.
"One of the reasons why we're hosting this training is for people in the next six months can at least prepare themselves," says Camila Herrera, a director at TIRRC. "So when January comes, and we start seeing how it is implemented, we can learn about it through them directly."
The measure they're particularly concerned about is HB 2315, passed by the state legislature this spring. TIRRC representatives say the measure gives ICE a green light to use local government agencies and public employees to arrest and deport.
But the course is not just meant to teach immigrants how to protect themselves from deportation. Instructors also show them how to mount a response within 48 hours if someone in their community is arrested, including publicizing the event and contacting outside organizations for help.
One of the participants knows the importance of doing that. Olguin — she asked that only her middle name to used because of her immigration status — lives in Morristown. ICE arrested her husband at the Bean Station meatpacking raid in April. He’s fighting his case in the courts. Meanwhile, he cannot work and provide for his family.
"If they deport my husband, they will send him to his country," Olguin says in Spanish, sobbing. "But my daughters, they are from here. This is their country. They want to root them out of here, too."
She says she wants to prevent other children from suffering as their daughters have.