Roughly 100 community members gathered in Brickeltown on Spring Street by the eagle in Truckee Friday evening July 12, tears streaming down faces, arms supporting loved ones, and electric candles held aloft. They listened to updates from community leaders on the migrant detention camps on the border and the federal administration-announced ICE raids set to begin today, July 14. After words from religious and community leaders and immigration lawyers, the crowd broke into John Lennon’s “Imagine.”

According to Julia Hallee, local mom, pediatrician, and one of the main organizers of the event, Truckee’s gathering was part of a worldwide wave of 788 other Lights for Liberty gatherings, with 80-plus in California alone and solidarity events on five continents.

“The idea for Lights for Liberty began last month when activist and former law professor Elizabeth Cronise McLaughlin shared the news on social media about what her friend and fellow attorney Toby Gialluca had just seen inside the detention camps,” Hallee explained in her speech. She listed the names of seven children and one father known to have died in U.S. custody, followed by a moment of silence for each.

KNOW YOUR RIGHTS: Sierra Community House director of mediation and legal assistance Elizabeth Balmin has “for the last 13 years helped thousands of community members to understand and assert their rights and to navigate our complicated legal system,” said SCH deputy executive director Teresa Crimmens. Photo by Becca Loux/ Moonshine Ink

Community members read aloud testimonials from children in some of the detention camps, compiled by the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law. One of those testimonials read aloud was from a 17-year-old female asylum seeker, who reported: “I was given a blanket and a mattress, but then, at 3 a.m., the guards took the blanket and mattress. My baby was left sleeping on the floor. In fact, almost every night, the guards wake us at 3 a.m. and take away our sleeping mattresses and blankets. They leave babies, even little babies of 2 or 3 months, sleeping on the cold floor. For me, because I am so pregnant, sleeping on the floor is very painful for my back and hips. I think the guards act this way to punish us.”

The vigils allow communities the opportunity “around the world to stand on the right side of history and shine a light on the corruption of our historic democratic and humanitarian values and the plight of detained immigrants,” Hallee said. Lights for Liberty as a group are also in opposition to the policy of family separation.

A local resident spoke from her personal immigration experience about the long-lasting effects of childhood trauma. Maria Tran, of Truckee, was born in Vietnam to an ethnically Chinese family months after the end of the Vietnam War, a time when Chinese people in Vietnam were scapegoated for hardships after the conflict. At 3 years old, she had to escape secretly with her parents on a boat in exchange for their life savings.

“They had no idea where they were going to end up, but one thing they did know was that wherever they would end up it would be safer than staying in the communities that they had been living in. I can’t imagine what that’s like to make that decision,” she said at the vigil. Her family was held in a refugee camp in Hong Kong and the trauma from that time when Tran was just a toddler lives on in her 43-year-old psyche.

“I can’t tell you the kind of trauma [the kids in the detention centers now] will carry for the rest of their lives,” Tran said. “I have become frightened of the country that we have become, of the policies that would tear children away from their parents, and to think about what that would have been like if my family would have landed to these shores and that’s what would have happened to us.”

Though thousands of miles from a Mexican border, local communities feel the effects of related policies. For Elizabeth Balmin, director of mediation and legal assistance for the Sierra Community House (formerly the Family Resource Center of Truckee), who also spoke at the event, upcoming ICE raids are connected to the plight of families separated and detained at the border. All the issues are connected, Balmin told Moonshine Ink, and one major thing this community can do to support its own immigrant communities is to help spread information about what is actually likely to happen during the announced law enforcement action beginning Sunday, and what an individual’s rights are in the event of contact with federal immigration agents.

“Kings Beach is a ghost town when one of these actions is announced,” Balmin said, because people at different stages on a path towards citizenship are afraid to appear in public when ICE agents are reported to be seeking undocumented folks. “What happens is, every time there is this kind of disturbing news, people of course find it very stressful, very disheartening, very upsetting, and it creates the impression that this administration and our federal government is seeking to change what they’re doing with enforcement across the board in the interior. It causes a panic.”

Yet this panic is widely exaggerated if not in many cases unfounded, Balmin said. In Kings Beach, for example, Balmin’s team keeps close tabs on all enforcement activity, and she said that ICE interaction with community members since 2013 has been narrow and targeted. They come two or three times a year, seeking a specific individual for whom they have a warrant either because that person failed to show up to court as an asylum seeker and has been given a removal notice or because they committed a serious crime in the past. Tomorrow’s immigration enforcement actions are also meant to be in 10 major U.S. cities only, not including any in this area.

“The flip side of that, though, is that even when one person gets removed … it leaves a scar on the community,” Balmin said. For example, if “a dad of three kids with a partner gets removed for some 15-year-old drug violation that he thought that he had paid off,” that family is missing a provider and a father and the community at large may lose an active member or a leader. She said it causes a feeling among other undocumented neighbors that they may be next, especially because many times most people don’t know what caused ICE to seek that person.

Balmin stressed that today’s action will likely remain specifically targeted at those 10 cities and be confined to individuals and families who already received removal notices like the raids two weeks ago.

“The kind of raids that exist in the popular imagination, going door to door, going business to business, that hasn’t happened, and we don’t think it’s going to happen. But, legally it could,” Balmin said.

Although Balmin and her team want the community to be informed and know their rights and deescalate impacts of oft-sensationalized public discourse and fear-mongering about what’s to come, “sometimes people are too complacent” as well, she said. She stressed that even in California, a proclaimed sanctuary state, ICE can question and detain unannounced with a warrant. They are highly unlikely to question anyone beyond the warranted target, unless there is probable cause to investigate, which Balmin said is almost always triggered by someone being honest with immigration enforcement about their legal status, thinking they’ll get leniency for cooperation. This couldn’t be further from the truth, as once an ICE agent knows an individual is unauthorized, they legally must detain that person, no matter how cooperative. The other major reason someone gives them probable cause is if they run.

“That’s where the ‘know your rights’ is crucial because they need probable cause to detain someone so the fact that someone lives in a household with a person with a warrant, that’s not probable cause. That they speak Spanish is not probable cause. That it ‘looks like they’re immigrants,’ that’s not probable cause,” Balmin said.

THE MINISTER SPEAKS: Donna Farrell, ordained minister of the Church of the Mountain in Truckee, spoke to a solemn crowd about the moral imperative to fix the situation at the border. “We welcome the stranger,” she said. Photo by Becca Loux/ Moonshine Ink

Ultimately, the increase of federal immigration enforcement under the Trump administration in conjunction with the increase in detention and family separation has been largely symbolic, and from Balmin’s perspective aimed mainly at stoking worry among undocumented communities. For example, the federal government has expanded what’s called the public charge rule that states that if an undocumented individual is fully dependent on the state, such as if they’re in a mental health institution full time, they could be denied a green card. Trump’s administration has defined certain social services, like HUD housing benefits or social security or MediCal, as counting under ‘public charge.’

Yet undocumented individuals are eligible for none of those services until they get a green card. So the move is symbolic, “bogus … just to show his base he’s doing something,” according to Balmin. But the effect she sees through her clients at Sierra Community House is that residents with green cards are becoming afraid to access social services for fear of negatively affecting their application for citizenship down the road.

All in all, Balmin sees this as the main connection between detention and family separation at the border and the tense conversations going around the Kings Beach and other local communities about upcoming immigration enforcement actions: It’s all to spread unease.

“The fear is the point,” Balmin said.

Anyone wanting to learn more about what they can do to take action against border policies or spread awareness about the upcoming immigration enforcement actions can visit for a list of resources.


WE CAN DO BETTER: The pain was palpable on the faces of about 100 gathered Tahoe/Truckee residents as they listened to migrant child testimonials from the camps and experts discussing what can be done in light of today’s scheduled ICE raids across the country. And a more long-term solution is free legal assistance provided by the SCH legal team. Photo courtesy Lights for Liberty


(Lights for Liberty and SCH have this info on cards and recommend community members that are in danger of being questioned keep a card on them at all times to aid in asserting the right to remain silent, not answer questions until a legal advocate is present, etc.)

IN ENGLISH: I’ve been stopped by police or ICE

How to reduce risk to yourself

  • Stay calm and do not resist or obstruct the agents or officers.
  • Do not lie or give false documents.
  • Prepare yourself and your family in case you are arrested. Memorize the phone numbers of your family and your lawyer. Make emergency plans if you have children or take medication.

Your rights

  • You have the right to remain silent. If you wish to exercise that right, say so out loud. (In some states, you may be required to provide your name if asked to identify yourself.)
  • You do not have to consent to a search of yourself or your belongings, but police may pat down your clothing if they suspect a weapon.
  • If you are arrested by police, you have the right to a government-appointed lawyer.
  • If you are detained by ICE, you have the right to consult with a lawyer, but the government is not required to provide one for you. You can ask for a list of free or low-cost alternatives.
  • You do not have to answer questions about where you were born, whether you are a U.S. citizen, or how you entered the country. (Separate rules apply at international borders and airports, and for individuals on certain nonimmigrant visas, including tourists and business travelers.)

What to do if you are arrested or detained

  • Say you wish to remain silent and ask for a lawyer immediately. Don’t give any explanations or excuses. Don’t say anything, sign anything, or make any decisions without a lawyer.
  • If you have been arrested by police, you have the right to make a local phone call. The police cannot listen if you call a lawyer.
  • If you have been detained by ICE, you have the right to contact your consulate or have an officer inform the consulate of your detention.
  • Remember your immigration number (“A” number) and give it to your family. It will help family members locate you.
  • Keep a copy of your immigration documents with someone you trust.
  • If you are a non-citizen:Ask your lawyer about the effect of a criminal conviction or plea on your immigration status. Don’t discuss your immigration status with anyone but your lawyer. While you are in jail, an immigration agent may visit you. Do not answer questions or sign anything before talking to a lawyer. Read all papers fully. If you do not understand or cannot read the papers, tell the officer you need an interpreter.

If you believe your rights were violated

  • Write down everything you remember, including officers’ badges and patrol car numbers, which agency the officers were from, and any other details. Get contact information for witnesses.
  • If you’re injured, seek medical attention immediately and take photographs of your injuries.
  • File a written complaint with the agency’s internal affairs division or civilian complaint board. In most cases, you can file a complaint anonymously if you wish.

EN ESPAÑOL: Fui detenido por a policía, ICE, o la Oficina de Aduanas y Protección Fronteriza (CBP) en tránsito

Cómo reducir el riesgo para usted mismo

  • Mantenga la calma. No corra, arguya ni obstruya al oficial o agente. Mantenga las manos alzadas donde pueden verse.
  • Si está un un auto, estaciónese en un lugar seguro tan rápido posible. Apague el motor, prenda la luz interna, abra la ventana parcialmente y ponga las manos en el volante. De ser pedido, muéstrele a la policía su licencia de manejar, registración y prueba de seguro.
  • Si usted no es un ciudadano estadounidense y un agente de inmigración pide sus documentos, usted debe mostrárselos si los tiene. Si usted es mayor de 18 años de edad, lleve sus documentos migratorios consigo en todo momento. Si no tiene sus documentos migratorios, diga que desea derecho a permanecer en silencio.

Sus derechos

En un auto:

  • Conductores y pasajeros tienen el derecho a permanecer en silencio. Si usted es un pasajero, puede preguntar si está permitido a irse. Si el agente dice que sí, márchese con calma.
  • Si un policía o agente de inmigración pide revisar el interior de su auto, puede negarse a consentir a la revisión. Pero si la policía generalmente cree que su auto contiene evidencia de un crimen, se puede registrar su auto sin su consentimiento.
  • Además de la policía, la Oficina de Aduanas y Protección Fronteriza (CBP) lleva a cabo “patrullas ambulantes” por el interior de los EE.UU., deteniendo a motoristas. CBP debe tener una sospecha razonable que el conductor o los pasajeros en un carro hayan cometido una violación migratoria o un crimen federal.
  • Cualquier arresto o detención prolongada de parte de CBP require causa probable. Puede preguntarles a los agentes la base de la causa probable y deben decírsela. En esta situación, tanto el conductor como los pasajeros tienen el derecho a permanecer en silencio y no contestar preguntas sobre sus estatus de inmigración.

En un avión:

  • Un piloto puede negarse a transportar a un pasajero si él o ella razonablemente cree que el pasajero es una amenaza para la seguridad del vuelo. Un piloto no puede, sin embargo, interrogarlo/la ni negarse a permitirlo/la a bordo del vuelo por prejuicios basados en su religión, raza, origen nacional, género, etnicidad, o creencias políticas.
  • Si usted cree que está por error en una lista de exclusión aérea, debe comunicarse con la TSA y presentar una petición usando el Traveler Redress Inquiry Process.

En autobuses y trenes:

  • Agentes de CBP pueden abordar autobuses y trenes en la región dentro de 100 millas de la frontera, o en la estación o durante el viaje del autobús. Más de un agente típicamente aborda el autobús y les harán preguntas a los pasajeros sobre su estatus migratorio, pedirles documentos migratorios, o los dos.
  • Estas preguntas deben ser breves y relacionadas a verificar su presencia legal en los EE.UU. Usted no está obligado a responder y puede decir simplemente que no desea hacerlo. Como siempre, tiene el derecho de guardar silencio.

Si cree sus sus derecho han sido violados

  • Apunte todo lo que pueda recordar, incluyendo los números de las placas de los agentes y de su carro patrulla, de qué agencia son, y cualquier otro detalle. Obtenga los datos de contacto de testigos.
  • Si está herido, busque atención médica de inmediato y tome fotografías de sus heridas.
  • Presente una denuncia con la división de asuntos internos o o la junta civil que examina quejas de la agencia. En la mayoría de los casos, puede presentar una denuncia anónimamente.



  • Becca Loux relocated to Truckee on a mission to tell stories that are fact-checked and data-driven without sacrificing the human element. She is an avid hiker, biker, skater, surfer, boarder, kayaker, sun-worshiper, and all other important "-ers" relating to the outdoors. Becca's wolfpack recently expanded to include a teenage husky named Koda.

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