One of multiple photos circulating on social media the week of July 14, 2019 mistook probation officers for immigration agents in Long Beach, spreading fear in the community.

Photos circulating on social media last week confusing officers in the city’s Willmore neighborhood with immigration agents has prompted Long Beach police to create a hotline where community members can find out about police activity in their neighborhood.

The phone line is considered a temporary pilot program and officials have not yet determined how long it will last, but immigrant rights groups are grateful for the department’s efforts and the emergency meeting command staff held with them to discuss the issue.

The hotline, called the Community Information Phone Line, isn’t intended as a repository for residents to report ICE operations. It’s a way for police to answer questions about law enforcement activity in Long Beach and any perceived immigration enforcement, Chief Robert Luna said.

The phone line is available in English, Spanish, Khmer and Tagalog. Callers will be able to leave voicemails with their questions or concerns and contact information. Police say they’ll respond to each message within 24 hours.

“The number can help us make sure if it is police or ICE,” said Andrea Donado, an organizer with Greater Long Beach Interfaith Community Organization.

Donado said police called for a meeting last Wednesday with community and religious groups after she emailed them the night before about photos making the rounds online claiming ICE agents were in the neighborhood.

One photo, which appears to be a screenshot from Instagram’s Stories feature, shows about a dozen law enforcement officials standing in the street and has text saying, “Ice on 9th st and chestnut!” Another set of photos shows a closeup of those officers and a line of unmarked vehicles.

It turned out to be probation officers looking for a man who violated his parole, but the photos prompted multiple calls to the Long Beach Community Defense Network, which receives reports of ICE sightings from the community.

“The community was in a great deal of panic,” said Donado.

The panic prompted Donado to reach out to police and ask if ICE was indeed involved. Police not only replied to her but called an emergency meeting July 17.

That meeting was attended by about a dozen people, half of which were the department’s command staff. Members of the police chief’s Latino Advisory Group, who act as liaisons between the community and department, were also in attendance.

Josefina Castellanos, a member of the Latino Advisory Group for about 15 years, said she has encountered undocumented residents concerned about being picked up by immigration agents despite not having judicial warrants for their arrest.

A few weeks ago, just before the Trump administration threatened mass ICE raids on Sunday, July 14, a couple with a young child went to Castellanos’ home asking for help.

“A lot of friends of theirs were staying home, not going to work, scared,” Castellanos said.

She told the couple that ICE already has a list of individuals with deportation orders and that they were not going to churches or job sites unless they are reported. However, Castellanos acknowledged the fear for some undocumented individuals of being “collateral” detainees.

“It’s quite scary for these people,” Castellanos said.

Activists mobilize as fear sweeps through immigrant communities amid threats of ICE raids

Immigrant rights groups are ramping up efforts to inform the undocumented community of their rights, including their right not to open doors to immigration agents unless they have a judicial warrant as well as their right to not speak to officials.

At last Wednesday’s meeting, police officials reminded community leaders in attendance that the police department does not help ICE round up people for civil immigration enforcement. And police can not notify groups when ICE alerts them to their presence.

“There’s a lot of misunderstanding of police rules and their capacity,” said Jessica Quintana, executive director of Centro CHA, which provides immigration services in Long Beach.

Officials are also considering holding a press conference or releasing a video to clarify any misconceptions, though nothing has been decided yet.

Call the Community Information line at 562-570-7238.

Stephanie Rivera is the community engagement editor. Reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter at @StephRivera88.