Facing fear Activists of all ages help undocumented residents cope

Vigil in Monterey, July 2019 | Juliana Hazel

By Juliana Hazel

I am a 14-year-old living in Greenfield and Gonzales. Although I am white, I grew up in a predominantly Latino community. I grew up with the children of immigrants and dreamers who were constantly living in fear of being deported. Even members of my own family were and are subjected to the prejudice and the fear tactics of racism.

My grandfather was a Latino who grew up in Los Angeles at a time when it was normal for people of color to be stopped and searched for no real reason other than being a person of color. My mother tells stories of many occasions when my grandfather was pulled over while she was in the car, simply because he was very dark-skinned. He was a successful businessman who drove a Lincoln. Once he got pulled over because the cop assumed that it was a stolen vehicle and he found it hard to believe that a Latino could drive such a nice car.

In my grandfather’s era there was always fear for people of color, and even before the Trump administration immigrants were terrified of being taken from their homes and families. Though this fear has always been present in the immigrant community, with the administration we have today, it has accelerated greatly and people are living in constant worry and anxiety.

Yet there are some groups around the nation, including in the Monterey Bay area, that are pushing back. People are joining together in organizations to combat the forces of ICE, Customs and Border Patrol and Homeland Security, and they’re also fighting the separation of children from their families as they’re put in detention centers.

Deb Clifford is an organizer of many groups, but most specifically and notably the Immigration Task Force of Monterey County. She says the task force started at the time of the Trump administration’s Muslim ban.

Clifford says she’s always had a “gene for justice” and has always rooted for the underdog. Growing up in the Philadelphia area with a racist and oppressive home environment, she said she had a tough time. She said she never “really bought into” her step-father’s attitude of racism and hatred. Shortly after high school she left Philadelphia and went to Boston where she became very political and an activist for many causes. She later returned to Philadelphia to protest at a gay pride rally where onlookers threw stones and tomatoes at the marchers.

The task force asked undocumented people what would make them feel safe. The overwhelming response was that people needed “someone to call.”

Clifford says the Immigration Task Force started with five people who got together following a meeting of Indivisible Monterey County. The members of the task force reached out to campuses and unions, and they asked undocumented people what would make them feel safe. The overwhelming response was that people needed “someone to call” when the need arose. And from there, the group created a hotline for people to call in case of immigration emergencies. They also developed a rapid response team of volunteer first responders who, in the case of ICE sightings, go where the sighting is and advise people of their rights and defend them from ICE officers.

Yanely Martinez, a Greenfield City Council member and a member of the Immigration Task Force, said she is willing to put her life and body at risk in order to help others.

She described getting arrested in the city of Miramar, Fla., while on a trip to Texas and the southern states. She protested outside of a detention facility and witnessed children being brought in to the center. She was arrested and detained on the charge of unlawful assembly.

Martinez talked about the inhumanity of the centers and the conditions of her arrest. The police did not use handcuffs, but put zip ties on her wrists so tightly they left marks for a month.

Martinez is a naturalized U.S. citizen. While crossing the border into the United States, she was separated from her mother for a week. She said that being away from her mother for that week was hard, and she couldn’t imagine what it must be like for the children who are taken and kept from their families for months. As a mother herself, she said she can’t imagine her children being taken from her.

Martinez’s son, Victor Torres, is a 12-year-old who has become very involved in his community. Growing up in Greenfield, he said many of his peers are from immigrant families, or are immigrants themselves.

Even though Victor is not an immigrant, he was born to a family that had recently immigrated, and says he still feels very strongly about immigrant rights and the issue of family separation. He said he understands the need for protection against incoming crime, but said it is not okay to judge someone and think they are criminals based on stereotypes about their ethnicity and skin color.

“Don’t judge a book by its cover,” he said.

Victor said he’s angered to see the separation and the mistreatment of families.

The Immigration Task Force held a candlelight vigil in Monterey on July 12 to protest children being separated from their parents and placed in detention camps. As people drove past the protest at Window on the Bay, many slowed down or honked their horns in support. Other drivers indicated they supported the Trump administration’s actions.

One local resident, a Dreamer who asked to remain anonymous because of the risk of deportation, says the fear is real.

“It’s a fear (I) carry around with me when I go early to work and leave work. I’m scared of being deported because I don’t want my children left alone.”

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Young Voices Media Project teaches Monterey Bay area teens multimedia skills to report the news from their communities. This project was generously supported in 2019 by the Clare Giannini Fund.