Trump’s threat of mass deportation stokes fear Forums help residents manage ICE contacts

Rep. Jimmy Panetta appears at forum  | Photo by Claudia Meléndez Salinas

By Amber Solorio

Jose is a 36-year-old undocumented immigrant from Salinas who says he is worried about himself and the safety of his daughters and other residents in his community.

“It’s cruel and illegal what ICE and our president is doing to immigrants in our communities,” said Jose, referring to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Jose attended a recent meeting at the Jesse Sanchez Elementary School to help undocumented residents in the city. Because of his fears, he asked that only his first name be used for this story. 

“We are truly the people that work really hard long hours, helping the country. Latinos put a lot of hard work into our jobs and I don’t know why ICE would be deporting us if they know that we are truly an element to the country. If we are not causing any harm, why deport us?” he said.

His concerns are the result of President Donald Trump’s recent announcement to begin mass deportation of potentially “millions” of immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. 

On June 17, Trump tweeted, “Next week ICE will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States. They will be removed as fast as they come in…” 

Trump delayed the raids and announced that they would begin July 14. 

Trump’s announcement has greatly impacted many daily lives of immigrants living everywhere in the U.S. Immigrants fear to do the simplest tasks such as visit their local supermarkets because they worry about being approached or taken by ICE. This has been keeping many undocumented immigrants on edge across the nation, including in Monterey County. Everyone in the United States of America, no matter what their citizenship status is, has certain rights under the U.S. Constitution.

The event at Jesse Sanchez School was called “Conozca Sus Derechos,” or “Know Your Rights,”  and it attracted about 45 concerned undocumented people and several panelists, including State Sen. Anna Caballero, Rep. Jimmy Panetta, Monterey County supervisor Luis Alejo and Assemblyman Robert Rivas. Panelists also included representatives from local organizations working on immigration policies. Similar forums have been held in locations throughout the Central Coast for the past year.

Adriana Melgoza, manager of the  Watsonville Law Center Clinic, was a panelist for the “Conozca sus derechos” forum. During an earlier phone interview, Melgoza said she is not confident that people in her community are aware of their rights. “I don’t think people are as informed as we would like,” she said. 

During the forum, Melgoza described the strategies when undocumented immigrants are contacted by by ICE. She started her presentation by having the crowd stand up and taking a deep breath. 

'If we don't believe we have rights, nobody else will'

Melgoza said she knows that the audience is terrified for their safety.  “Sometimes we get so nervous we can’t process what’s going on. We are scared and wonder what (ICE is) going to do?,” she said. “What are they going to say? So we can’t fully process things.”  Her presentation was interactive, call and response.

“Who has rights?” she asked.

“Everyone,” the audience responded. 

“If we don’t believe we have rights, nobody else will,” she said. 

Melgoza advised that undocumented immigrants know their rights under the law. If they encounter government agents, they should stay quiet, they shouldn’t give out any information and they shouldn’t open doors, sign anything or run. They should use their red cards, which organizations distribute during the meetings. The red cards have immigrant rights printed on them, in both Spanish and English. She encouraged everyone at the forum to share the information and the cards with family members, neighbors, friends, etc. 

She said she wants everyone to wake up in the morning and think, “No podemos vivir con miedo” or “We cannot live in fear.” 

“If we continue living in fear we won’t be able to do anything, we have to continue going clinics, to schools, to sports, we have to continue participating in our community events.” 

Laura, who also asked to remain anonymous, is a undocumented high school student who also attended the “conozca sus derechos” forum. She said she left her homeland, Mexico, with her family in 2013 in hopes of better opportunities. She said she attended the forum to inform herself about her rights as an undocumented person and how to act if she encounters ICE. Laura said that learning about her rights was something completely new to her and, thanks to the forum, she was able to receive helpful information.

​“I feel immensely oppressed and powerless,” she said. “I’m ashamed of the person elected as president. I feel powerless that I can’t stop all the injustices happening to my fellow undocumented people. I’m being oppressed and made less for the simple fact of not being born here. The things that they are doing (are) inhumane, separating families is wrong and these atrocities should not be happening. Have they not learned from the Holocaust?” 

Laura said she believes the immigration issue has really affected herself and her family. “Ever since the president announced the start of the raids, I have been going out less and being more aware of my surroundings,” she said. “However, I have also been getting more involved in activism and my community. My parents are definitely being more protective towards me. They only allow me to go out if it’s really necessary and we don’t go out as a family anymore in case we ever encounter ICE.”

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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.