It’s Friday night on the steps of the Santa Cruz Courthouse, and close to 200 people are standing in solidarity with the local immigrant community and those at detention centers along the U.S.-Mexico border.
For Tina Gomez, the gathering is a helpful way for immigrants to feel supported in smaller communities.
“The vigil opens minds, and hopefully unites us Latinos together. It’s important to take a stand and be present,” Gomez says. “I’m glad that they had this here, so at least I can take a stand. This [treatment] is wrong. They treat animals better than they treat these children.”
The July 12 vigil was part of a nationwide movement called Lights for Liberty, which advocates to “close the camps” where undocumented immigrants are being held in federal detention centers. A similar rally happened at the Watsonville Plaza at the same time.
At the vigils, groups like Santa Cruz Indivisible, Your Allied Rapid Response (YARR) and the Santa Cruz County Immigration Project provide support and information on legal rights and services. Members of the Santa Cruz Dreamer Project, like Blanca Cortez and her daughter, pass out flyers and information about the Rapid Response Hotline. Undocumented community members can call the number to find out if Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents have been spotted in the area. Community members can also call to report ICE sightings.
“I’m a mom, so I feel like this is important not just for me but for my daughter to attend,” Cortez says. “I plan to do more activism, and we both plan to be more involved. It’s a reminder to my daughter about how lucky she is, and how to support others.”
Over the past week, undocumented residents around the country—especially those in the 10 U.S. cities identified in news reports—have been on edge since President Trump announced that immigration raids would start this past Sunday.
“They’re going to take people out, and they’re going to bring them back to their countries, or they’re going to take criminals out, put them in prison or put them in prison in the countries they came from,” Trump said on Friday. The raids were expected to take place over the course of several days.
Although cities listed so far don’t include less-populated areas like Santa Cruz, Doug Keegan, program director and attorney at the Santa Cruz County Immigration Project, advises immigrants with vulnerable statuses to be on high alert.
“It sounded to me like they were targeting larger cities like San Francisco or Los Angeles, but there could be some spillover in our area,” Keegan says, reminding people to be careful about going out in public. “ICE is really going after low-hanging fruit. People need to understand that they need to take common-sense approaches to protect themselves.”
Keegan estimates that close to 70% of Watsonville residents have at least one undocumented person living with them.
ICE has not said whether any agents are present in the Santa Cruz region. Agency Spokesperson Paul Prince, representing the San Francisco and Northern California region, reports that 2,327 arrests were made between January and March of this year throughout the state, and 1,245 individuals were deported during those three months.
Research last year by UCSC Professor Regina Langhout showed that the detrimental effects of deportations extend beyond the individuals detained, impacting families and the community at large. The study found that family members left behind can suffer multiple psychosocial consequences, and that separation of a child from a parent due to a deportation is associated with economic hardship, housing instability and food insecurity.
Valeria*, who lives undocumented in Santa Cruz, says her husband was detained by ICE last month and is currently in custody.
“It’s difficult for my children and I, who don’t get to see him,” she says. “It’s really emotional. We have a lot of problems since he was taken.”
Her family’s uncertainty grows as money becomes tighter and food becomes scarce. Valeria picks fruit from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m., and says she still does not have enough money to pay next month’s rent, let alone support her children. That reality could leave her with difficult decisions to make should her husband get deported to Mexico.
“We want to stay here. It’s better here for my children. There’s better education, better opportunities and a better life for us here,” Valeria says, adding that they have no real family elsewhere. “We are alone. We don’t have enough money or resources. Most of our lives are here, and we can’t just leave.”
Valeria has considered speaking to immigration lawyers, but she says there are few services in the area, and that she doesn’t have money to pay a lawyer. She was told that her husband is being held in San Luis, Arizona, but hasn’t been able to speak with him since his arrest.
Prior to recent immigration raids, California Gov. Gavin Newsom released a video on Twitter telling immigrants they have the right to be careful before opening the door. “I just want to say, folks that are anxious about a knock on the door, when we talk about knowing your rights, ‘No abras la puerta.’ Without a warrant, you don’t have to open the door. You have the right to due process. You have the right to legal representation,” Newsom said.
Local law enforcement in both the county and city of Santa Cruz have refused to cooperate with ICE under most circumstances. As reported by GT in 2018, Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jim Hart wrote to then-state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon that “fear of detention, deportation and family separation” was bad for public safety, undermining trust in law enforcement. After the passage of California’s Sanctuary State Bill, Hart, who oversees the jail system, stopped cooperating with ICE altogether.
The Santa Cruz Police Department (SCPD) participated in a controversial 2017 federal anti-gang operation, in which some immigrants were arrested because of their immigration status. SCPD has since outlined its official immigration policy, stating that an individual’s immigration status “is not a matter for police action,” and that local and state agencies do not have authority to enforce national immigration laws.
It also mentions that “officers shall not dedicate department time or resources to the enforcement of federal immigration law where the only violation of law is presence in the United States without authorization or documentation.”
*Name has been changed to protect source’s identity