by Mariah Thompson, CV NLG President
The California Central Valley chapter of the National Lawyers Guild (CV NLG) is located in California’s politically conservative San Joaquin Valley (SJV). The area is home to hundreds of thousands of the agricultural workers who feed the U.S. and the world. These communities are especially vulnerable to state violence, discrimination, and marginalization due to language barriers, poverty, and immigration status.
SJV immigrant communities include families that have lived in the United States for generations and newly immigrated individuals. Many households are composed of mixed-status families, a term used to describe families that have relatives who have citizenship, those who hold green cards, and those who are undocumented.
The Fresno County Sheriff office is aggressively anti-immigrant and has historically worked closely with ICE to conduct deportation sweeps, ICE holds, and warm handoffs to ICE officials. The current Sheriff, Margaret Mims, has visited the White House to meet with Donald Trump to discuss methods to improve “border security.” In multiple public venues, she has condemned a new California law prohibiting law enforcement agencies from working with ICE. Sheriff Mims also has implemented procedural workarounds to subvert these laws.
The region where CV NLG operates has no immigration attorneys providing pro-bono or low-bono deportation defense services. While CV NLG cannot provide direct representation, we do conduct know-your-rights (KYR) trainings on immigration rights and ICE Watch to help build community resistance to ICE enforcement. Yet the need has been greater than the chapter’s capacity, especially in hard-to-reach rural areas. Many low-income families do not have access to the internet where they could find KYR information online, as entire communities do not have internet service.
CV NLG sought and was awarded a Guild Grant in 2019 to produce a series of radio spots to provide basic KYR information for resisting ICE enforcement. These spots were aired on Spanish-speaking radio stations. Producing and airing radio spots allowed CV NLG to significantly magnify the reach of KYR information. Many people in rural communities and many farmworkers listen to the radio during their daily commute and while working.
CV NLG contracted with iHeartMedia to design and produce the spots. iHeartMedia wrote the scripts, provided the voice actors, and recorded the spots based on information that CV NLG asked them to include. Two spots were produced. These provided basic KYR for when ICE comes to your door, or when you interact with ICE or law enforcement on the street or in public. The format used was a conversation between two friends, one advising the other on how to protect themselves and their families. The work product was fantastic. The spots ran for 10 weeks on various Spanish radio stations in the area owned by iHeartMedia. The total reach of the spots was more than thirty-thousand (30,000) individual people over that time.
Many rural and agricultural areas include high numbers of individuals whose first language isn’t English. Using radio spots to spread information about a community’s legal rights and identify additional resources available is an effective method that CV NLG hopes other rural chapters will consider.