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Election Worries Immigrants and People of Color

As locals reel from election, South County leaders extend supportive hand and answer questions

County residents are worrying about many of President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign statements, including promises to ramp up deportations and build a massive wall along the southern borders.

At Cabrillo College, anxiety in the November election’s aftermath feels subtle but palpable.

A sandwich board in front of the Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS) office features a flyer calling out to students that are immigrants, LGBTQ, Muslim, women and others feeling unsafe in the weeks after the election of Donald Trump. “Please know that EOPS will continue to offer each and every one of you a SAFE space to express your fears and anxiety in these times of uncertainty,” it reads.

Students walking into the office are met with two stacks of flyers: one advertising counseling programs and healing circles, the other listing the phone numbers of immigration lawyers.

Brando Marin, a 24-year-old Cabrillo College student and Watsonville resident, remembers peers expressing their fears in class. One friend talked about her son—who is half black, half white—and how he might be affected by stories of aggression against people of color following the election. Others talked about the uncertainty of what Trump, a candidate who boasted about his draconian immigration plans, will and won’t follow through with.

“Right now, it’s a time where people are getting informed. They’re acknowledging what’s happened,” says Marin, whose uncle, a fieldworker, has been joking with his co-workers that their deportation is imminent.

The election results brought a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment, prompted protests against president-elect Trump and created anxiety across the nation. But they’ve also brought out a network of support.

Wall Fears

Trump’s pledge to build a wall along the Mexican border and deport millions of undocumented immigrants has definitely hit home in Santa Cruz County. Though the county is still predominantly white, Latinos are the second-largest group, making up a third of the county’s population. The Migration Policy Institute estimates that there are 20,000 undocumented immigrants in Santa Cruz County and more than 3 million statewide.

Immigration experts say it’s too early to know what Trump would do in office, but his recent nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions—a stalwart supporter of anti-immigration policy—for attorney general doesn’t bode well for progressive immigration policy. Nor does the addition of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach—a figure behind some high-profile immigration laws—to Trump’s transition team. Kobach helped draft the controversial 2008 “show me your papers” Arizona bill, most of which got thrown out by the U.S. Supreme Court, and a photojournalist got a picture of him last week holding a memo titled “Kobach Strategic Plan for First 365 Days.” The document, among other things, called for re-introducing the “National Security Entry-Exit Registration System,” which was implemented shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Anxiety levels have spiked in recent weeks among students in South County schools, says Erica Padilla, CEO of Pajaro Valley Prevention and Student Assistance. Schools and parents have quickly but cautiously reached out to the nonprofit, which provides academic, social and emotional counseling to students.

“A lot of fear around their parents being deported. A lot of anxiety of potential separation of children from parents,” Padilla says. “Those are the types of issues that my staff was reporting children were expressing.”

A lack of information has driven fears about what can and can’t happen to them come 2017. Wanting to dispel notions of what could and might happen, community leaders organized a forum at Watsonville High School on Nov. 20.

The forum drew more than 450 attendees—a mixture of legal immigrants, citizens and undocumented residents. Hundreds of parents, aunts, uncles and caregivers filed into the high school cafeteria with questions for the two-hour session: Will there be mass deportations? When will they happen? How do I talk to my children about this? Organizers tapped legal experts, law enforcement officials and other community organizations to calm fears and share information.

Speaking in Spanish, presenters walked the crowd through an array of topics, from their right to an attorney to current laws to how to plan for the worst. One handout’s instructions detailed how to create an emergency plan during a workplace raid, precautions like carrying a card for an immigration attorney and planning ahead of time how to care for children.

“They were very serious. Very attentive,” says Doug Keegan, an immigration attorney and director of the Santa Cruz County Immigration project. “You could tell that this was something very important to them.”

Among some of the assurances made by the school district and the Watsonville Police Department were that they were not working to enforce immigration law and take parents away from children.

“The message was made clear by many of these groups and it spoke positively about the Watsonville community,” Keegan says.

At the end, the crowd’s mood was a mixture of relief and gratefulness at the realization that their community was there for them. Pajaro Valley Unified School District (PVUSD) Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez says some parents were already aware of the community resources available to them, but the forum cemented the support.

“People are happy to explicitly hear that and know that they have a community that surrounds them and supports them,” she says.

Community support was made clear but what was unclear is what the exact policy change will be under the Trump administration. President Barack Obama deported more than 2.4 million people since taking office, but he also implemented immigration change. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) passed while he was in office, creating a program designed to protect undocumented immigrant children from deportation. Trump will likely dismantle the DACA program, Keegan sees. He also predicts the ramped-up deportation of incarcerated undocumented immigrants.

But beyond that, there is only uncertainty about the future of immigration. While Trump promised to target immigrants with a criminal history, it’s unclear whether there would be distinction between major and minor offenders. He also promised to quickly deport millions while in office, a promise that Keegan says is within Trump’s power but is certainly cost-prohibitive.

Keegan doesn’t want to be hopelessly optimistic in his expectations of the Trump administration, but he does hope people can find a solution.

“The solution isn’t the deportation of millions of people. It’s finding a pathway,” he says. “A middle ground for people who are here without documentation to become legal residents or have some pathway to legal citizenship.”

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