Fast Help for Immigrants

By ARVIN TEMKAR, USF NEWS Posted Mon, 10/01/2018 - 10:45

ICE arrests increased 42 percent in the first nine months of President Donald Trump’s administration, sparking fear among many San Francisco immigrants that they could be separated from loved ones or sent back to nations where their lives may be in danger.

That’s why more than 1,300 people this year have called on San Francisco’s Rapid Response Network (RRN), a fast-acting support system for immigrants who are arrested by ICE. Marisela Esparza ’14, oversees the network through Dolores Street Community Services, a San Francisco nonprofit serving low-income and immigrant communities.

San Francisco’s RRN, which began in 2008, was the first of its kind in the country — and today there are 12 in California, as well as a handful of fledging networks nationwide.

USF News spoke to Esparza to learn more about how she and Dolores Street are helping immigrants. 

What’s the SF Rapid Response Network?

The SF Rapid Response Network provides immediate support and direct advocacy during the initial hours when someone is apprehended and being processed by ICE. Family members or neighbors can call our 24-hour emergency hotline. Operators explain their rights and the law, and connect clients to attorneys, if necessary.

Immigration is different from criminal proceedings in that an attorney is not provided for you. In cases where people do have an attorney, the likelihood of obtaining immigration relief — such as getting refugee status — is increased by about 65 percent. 

In addition, we hold regular community meetings that teach immigrants their rights, what to do if ICE shows up, and how to make family plans in case of emergencies.

How did you get involved with Dolores Street? 

I graduated from USF in 2014 as an international studies major. After commencement I reached out to several local leaders, activists, and organizers for informational interviews. I met my predecessor at Dolores Street Community Services, who told me that the nonprofit was hiring. I decided to apply and have been here ever since. 

What do you like about your job?

I am most proud of being able to do work that has a deep impact on the lives of individuals in our community. Our RRN is a literal lifeline, because for some people being deported can mean death. 

Some of my accomplishments include re-designing the San Francisco RRN in 2016, helping to spread it regionally to cities including Fresno, and to update local policies to increase rights and protections for the immigrant community in San Francisco.

Why did acting Mayor Mark Ferrell award you a certificate of honor? 

I was honored as part of Women’s History Month. Primarily, the award was for my work in making the RRN a bigger effort than just San Francisco.

However, I like to think it was for the fact that I will never compromise the integrity of the work I do nor settle for less than what our community deserves — which is to live free and dignified lives. I enjoy working collaboratively with many communities, organizations, and city departments and making sure to include and uplift the voices of those who are most marginalized. 

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