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When met with the seemingly impossible choice between silence and safety, history has shown that solidarity is the solution. Want proof? Compañeros Inmigrantes de las Montañas en Acción (CIMA) provides a master-class lesson in active resistance, collective power, and community transformation. We’ve been taking notes. Here are some of the highlights.
CIMA was born out of the need for greater connectivity and collaboration among regional Latinx-led organizations, understanding the power of an integrated, informed, and prepared community network in positively shifting the sociopolitical setting of Western North Carolina (WNC) and the lives of the Latinx immigrant community. CIMA was first formed in October 2002 with the support of the Center for Participatory Change and under the name Coalición de Organizaciones Latino-Americanas (COLA). In November 2015, COLA transitioned to CIMA to better reflect its focus on connecting and supporting individuals, as opposed to organizations. CIMA is currently fiscally sponsored by and is a member of Colaborativa La Milpa, a collective of grassroots organizations based in the Emma community of Buncombe County.
Reimagining the Immigrant Experience
CIMA’s mission is to connect, strengthen, and organize communities to take action for immigrant rights in WNC, including combating anti-Latinx oppression, homophobia, and sexism. Advocacy is the heart of CIMA’s work and ongoing development – from protecting people to challenging policies. The objective is to rewrite the American immigrant narrative. CIMA accomplishes this through its two primary program areas: Defense Comunitaria and Community Outreach.
Defense Comunitaria seeks to establish a responsive structure that adapts to shifting immigrant community needs through direct community member resourcing, support, and rapid response. The program actively collaborates with network partners and nurtures trusting community relationships to amplify and deepen its mutual aid impact. Key themes of this collective care plot include: 1) Community members are experts in their own lives, and 2) All people deserve access and justice.
Under Defensa Comunitaria, CIMA provides “Know Your Rights” education, operates a 24/7 Hotline used to report checkpoints and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids, and coordinates a Rapid Response Network with volunteers verifying these reports. CIMA also helps coordinate the WNC Sanctuary Movement – a coalition of faith leaders who advocate for immigrant rights and support people facing detention and deportation. Finally, Consulta Tu Compa provides direct support to families and individuals in crisis, eliminating barriers through accessible resource, referral, and accompaniment services.
Community Outreach aims to grow CIMA’s reach in the WNC region. This dialogue is imperative to effective community engagement. CIMA’s perspective is that everyone involved in this work is a main character because every person is critical in the immigration rights equation. Outreach is key to ensuring Latinx community safety, security, and resiliency. CIMA’s Community Outreach staff connect with the community through door-to-door visits, community events, social media, and by operating monthly food and PPE distribution sites in partnership with MANNA FoodBank. This team is currently sharing information and increasing access to COVID-19 vaccines in partnership with county government and local health-focused nonprofits. Most recently, outreach staff mobilized support for families impacted by the flooding from Hurricane Ida not being reached by other service providers.
The Conflict: Immigration Advocacy in Action
Western North Carolina is not new to immigration raids. In 2007, ICE raided Mills River Manufacturing (textile Factory), arresting over 50 people. The community hotline was in direct response to this event and set up to inform people of rights, as well as to assist in locating loved ones caught in the Police-immigration pipeline. In April of 2018, a series of ICE raids led to the arrest of over 40 immigrants in North Carolina, sparking outrage and action in Asheville. As local fears intensified, CIMA emerged as the clear protagonist by quickly organizing key players, informing the public of ICE activities, educating immigrants on their rights, and generating funds to assist detainees’ legal efforts. The main idea: partnership is power.
While the 2018 ICE crisis chapter has ended, CIMA’s direct services continue to promote and protect WNC immigrant community resiliency. In the first quarter of 2021, CIMA:
- Partnered with Manna Food Bank, Emma Methodist Church, and Buncombe County Schools to distribute 50,000 pounds of food to 2,400 Households and 10,000 individuals.
- Partnered with the county, Western Carolina Medical Society, and Appalachian Mountain Community Health Center to schedule 300 people for vaccines, administer 50 first-time vaccines, and distribute over 15,000 PPE materials and information.
- Partnered with PODER Emma in regranting $155,000 in COVID-related funding to 104 families.
The Climax and Resolution
The CIMA story is not over, and the climax has yet to come as the final chapter on immigrant inclusion and collective liberation is still being written. There are many ways to get involved in this immigrant rights revision process, from volunteering service to donating dollars. Remember, this is not their story; it’s our story.
To learn more about CIMA, check out the video below.