By Vic Bedoian
There are an estimated three hundred thousand undocumented immigrants in the San Joaquin Valley who fear what the future may hold for them if the Trump administration does what they said they would do and deport them all. Fresno civic and community leaders were brought together by Fresno city council member Esmeralda Soria to reassure immigrants that they will be protected. Soria said the election of Donald Trump has intensified their already uncertain status in the united states, “We will ensure that Fresno is inclusive and we will work hard advocating for immigration reform that protects immigrant rights, keep families, support our local economy, which we know that especially our ag economy which depends on thousands of immigrants to do the hard work, and really allow all of us to achieve the American dream here in the city of Fresno.”
President Obama’s executive action has opened a path to ‘dreamers’ or young people who came to the country as children with their undocumented parents. Through the program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, some 750,000 immigrant children in the nation have gained legal status. Soria spoke directly to their apprehension over a renewed threat of deportation, “I know much concern has come from our young people, our dreamers, those who were brought to this country as children and were given temporary status through DACA. And so today I ask our president-elect and the next administration to keep DACA in place and not to endanger these dreamers by repealing the program.”
Fresno city councilman Oliver Baines said the nation’s history is replete with the intimidation of immigrants and minorities, and promised to support the city’s migrant community, “We have seen the marginalization, disenfranchisement and oppression of communities in this country before. We have seen this. This book has been well written. It is up to us right now, not only in this country but also in Fresno to make sure those pages will never be repeated. We need to stand up for what is right and what is just at all costs.”
Fresno area State Assembly member Joaquin Arambula assured undocumented residents that his office will provide help and support for them, “Our office will now be a beacon of hope. Our office will be a lighthouse in these troubling times. Use our office when you are struggling and afraid. When you have questions about what is going on, reach out to us. We are there for all our constituents, each and every one of our community members.”
Reza Nekumanesh, director of the Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno, spoke of the rising tide of hate crimes in the state, “According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, since the date of our election in California alone there’s been 430 incidents of either hateful intimidation or harassment, just in California, more than 400. It’s a trend, a disgusting trend that’s becoming a reality, and we as Fresnans have to rise together. Fresno has to stand up!”
Attorney Lazaro Salazar provided an overview of the legal rights that everyone has in the nation, including those who are here without papers, “We do know that there are constitutional protections that extend to the migrant community. The main one, the most important one, is due process. Believe it or not, even if you have no status whatsoever and you’re detained and you’re facing some kind of deportation proceeding you have the right to challenge the deportation in front of a judge, be heard, and explain to the judge why you should stay in the United States.”
There are well over 2000 dreamers in Fresno county colleges alone. Community colleges in the state each average around 600 students in the DACA program. Salazar had some advice for dreamers, who are now fearful of an uncertain future. “If people have DACA, it is recommended that you file a renewal, even it’s not due for another year, go ahead and file it anyway. For people who have never filed DACA there are some special risks, serious risks that one has to take into account. Not only do you run the risk of your fee being used up and not being reimbursed but the whole program could be gone starting January 20 of this coming year.”
Reverend D.J. Criner of the St. Rest Baptist Church concluded the press conference on a spiritual note, imploring Fresno, “Wake up and see that it’s not a baseball hat on your head that makes you popular or a hijab on your head that makes you sacred. But it’s the heart that’s in your body that makes you anointed. Wake up! And when Fresno wakes up Fresno can wake California up. And when California wakes up California can wake the United States up. And when the United States wakes up hatred can be trumped.”
Fresno is not designated as a sanctuary city, but Soria confirmed that Fresno police chief Jerry Dyer told her he does not intend to use his officers to participate in any kind deportation activity against otherwise law-abiding residents of the city.
Vic Bedoian is an independent radio and print journalist working on environmental justice and natural resources issues in the San Joaquin Valley. Contact him at vicbedoian @ gmail.com.