Undocumented immigrants face uncertainty in wake of Trump’s election

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Valeska Castaneda can distinctly remember being pulled out of her preschool classroom after learning her mother was deported.

“I was uncontrollable — so upset — I didn’t understand,” Castaneda said.

When she was about 2 years old, Castaneda and her mother crossed the Rio Grande in a tire fleeing war in their home country of Nicaragua. Attached to it was a bag filled with a few clothing itemsthe only possessions they carried with them on the trek.

Eight months pregnant at the time, Castaneda’s mother gave her a lollipop so she would remain quiet while crossing. Once they reached the U.S. embassy in Texas, both were granted political asylum before arriving in San Francisco shortly after.

But after about three years, a judge ordered her mother to leave the country.

“I was just thinking about my mom. I couldn’t understand what paper she needed,” said Castaneda, now a permanent resident and a UC Berkeley alumna who works as a scholarship coordinator for the UC Berkeley Alumni Scholars program. “I remember I was crying because I was starting to think, ‘I have so much paper in school — what paper does my mom need to stay?.’ ”

“I remember I was crying because I was starting to think, ‘I have so much paper in school — what paper does my mom need to stay?.’ ”

It’s a feeling that has become all too familiar to Castaneda as she drops off her own 10-year-old daughter at school each morning in the days after Donald Trump’s election to the presidency. During his campaign, Trump pledged to deport approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants and more recently said in a “60 Minutes” interview that he would remove or incarcerate what he estimates to be about 2 to 3 million undocumented immigrants with criminal records after he takes office.

Now, Trump’s election has set off a wave of panic among Berkeley’s undocumented community. Now more than ever, Castaneda must confront fears about the safety of her immigrant family members and community.

In light of Trump’s announcement that he will cut federal funding from cities with sanctuary policies, Berkeley, a City of Refuge or a city that does not collaborate with federal immigration authorities’ attempts to enforce immigration law unless required by a federal or state statute is also under threat.

“The undocumented community is living in fear now,” said Berkeley City Councilmember and Mayor-elect Jesse Arreguin. “They don’t know what’s going to happen.”

The sanctuary movement can be traced back to the 1980s, when American churches began to provide refuge and aid to undocumented immigrants escaping violence and civil unrest in Central American countries. Berkeley pledged to support sanctuary congregations in 1971 and declared itself a City of Refuge in 1985.

“The undocumented community is living in fear now. They don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Although there is no one set of policies that defines a sanctuary city, Berkeley’s practices resemble those in place across the country, including in San Francisco and Los Angeles. In addition to restricting partnerships between local and federal law enforcement officials pertaining to illegal immigration cases, Berkeley’s policy further elaborates that city officials cannot share any information the city has obtained about the status of undocumented immigrants unless required by a federal or state statute.

In 2007, the deportation of a family enrolled in Berkeley Unified School District prompted City Council to adopt a resolution reaffirming its sanctuary status. The city also opted out of Secure Communities in 2011, a program administered by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, that required local law enforcement agencies to hold undocumented immigrants until they were taken into federal custody.

The potential economic impact on Berkeley if Trump follows through with his plan to sever federal funding from sanctuary cities is unknown, according to Arreguin. On Nov. 22, Arreguin, the first Latino to be elected as the city’s mayor, vowed that Berkeley would remain a sanctuary city and continue to shield its undocumented residents from deportation.

Arreguin said he plans to request that the city assess the possible repercussions of maintaining this status and has said that Berkeley has financial resources not provided by the federal government, such as housing funds gained from local measures.

“We will make it clear that Berkeley will not cave in to Trump and (the) Republican Congress to go back on our sanctuary policy — that we will continue to enforce our sanctuary policy and we will do what we can to protect our undocumented residents,” Arreguin said.

Searching for sanctuary on campus

In response to widespread concerns over Trump’s deportation plans, undocumented student leaders and members of the UC community met earlier this month to discuss the institution of a “sanctuary university” status. This designation would require the campus to adopt a similar policy to the city’s, preventing UCPD from apprehending and turning over undocumented persons to federal ICE agents.

The relationship between UCPD and undocumented UC workers has been fraught in recent years. In 2009, UCPD entered the Clark Kerr campus and arrested UC custodian Jesus Gutierrez after receiving a tip that he was allegedly using a stolen Social Security card. UCPD alerted ICE officials of its hold on Gutierrez, who was later deported.

Undocumented immigrants most at risk for deportation are those with criminal records, whom Trump has stated he will work to deport first after taking office. ICE currently prioritizes the deportation of undocumented immigrants with felonies or significant misdemeanor convictions, such as for domestic violence. But under a Trump presidency, the definition of “criminal” could expand, according to Shiori Akimoto, a refugee rights advocate at the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant.

While all undocumented immigrants undergo the same criminal justice system proceedings as legal residents, undocumented individuals also face the added anxiety of deportation. Benyamin Yusof, an undocumented student and ASUC senator, said this consequence is contrary to what he feels the goals of the U.S. justice system should be.

“It’s a human right to stay here. … Being held by ICE, it’s not what I would call due process of the law,” Yusof said.

UC Berkeley has a self-reported population of 446 undocumented students.

UC Berkeley has a self-reported population of 446 undocumented students, according to Prerna Lal, an immigration attorney with the East Bay Community Law Center, a portion of which are recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, an executive action issued by President Barack Obama in 2012 that enables undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. before the age of 16 and meet various other conditions to receive a temporary work permit and protection from deportation after paying a fee.

Although UC Berkeley’s establishment as a sanctuary university would restrict UCPD’s enforcement of immigration law regarding undocumented individuals with and without DACA, Julian Lucas, a UC Berkeley senior and member of campus advocacy group R.I.S.E., said that the rest of California should follow suit with a sanctuary state status in order to truly protect undocumented students.

“(The sanctuary university status) doesn’t focus on the bigger spectrum of things, which is our community and our families and friends who don’t fall into this category of student,” Lucas said. “As much as I love this idea of sanctuary city and university, what I think we need most is a sanctuary state.”

Communities grapple with safety concerns

Meanwhile, some students’ fears extend beyond campus. San Jose State University issued an advisory this month to undocumented students warning of the implications of studying abroad and encouraged those currently abroad to return home before Trump takes office so they are not prevented from reentering the country if DACA is repealed.

At home, it is important for undocumented immigrants to become educated about their rights, said Dania Lopez Beltran, an immigration attorney with the East Bay Community Law Center. Lopez added that undocumented immigrants have the right to representation by an attorney and the right to ask for a search warrant before ICE agents enter their homes.

“As much as I love this idea of sanctuary city and university, what I think we need most is a sanctuary state.”

The separation of local and federal authorities in illegal immigration cases, Lopez said, establishes trust between undocumented residents and police officers, resulting in safer communities.

But others fear that sanctuary cities may welcome crime rather than prevent it.

San Francisco has continued to enforce its policies as a sanctuary city despite facing criticism after Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez — an undocumented immigrant who was previously released from the city after a marijuana charge against him was dropped by city prosecutors although federal authorities had requested his detainment at the time was charged with the murder of 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle. Steinle’s parents sued former San Francisco sheriff Ross Mirkarimi on the grounds that the sheriff’s office allegedly violated federal law by restricting communication with federal law enforcement agents regarding Lopez-Sanchez’s case.

Lopez, however, said undocumented immigrants are more likely to report criminal activity to law enforcement agents if they do not fear the risk of being deported.

“I would find myself being a bystander because I’m fearful of my status and fearful they might report me to ICE, Lucas said. “That’s the climate we’re putting ourselves into if sanctuary city or state is not in constant conversation — it’s essentially putting all these people back into boxes and not having the freedom to express what’s happening when they need to.”

Beyond fear

One Berkeley institution that provides sanctuary services to refugees and undocumented immigrants is the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, located across from campus on Bancroft Way. According to EBSC director Maureen Duignan, the term “sanctuary” implies something more than just a form of shelter but also a commitment toward helping refugees build livelihoods.

“Something like this — it’s like you can’t get out from under it until everybody puts their strength together and says, ‘Yes, we can do this. We will support our refugees, we are a sanctuary,’ ” Duignan said. “It’s not just a tent. … It’s something that gives hope.”

In 2014, Castaneda volunteered in Arizona to serve local immigrant communities at the Southside Presbyterian Church, one of the few institutions in the area that accepts undocumented immigrants for sanctuary.

When she asked the priest why the church had never turned anyone away from services, he replied, “In Lak’ ech Ala k’in,” a Mayan expression that translates to: “I am another you, and you are another me.”

And in the aftermath of an election that has left many feeling as if the country’s goals for the undocumented community are fragmented, Castaneda said this Mayan phrase has acted as her reminder of the need for communities to unify in the months leading up to Trump’s inauguration. Although some may expect undocumented immigrants to return to the shadows once Trump is sworn into office, Castaneda said undocumented students who may have been standing on the sidelines of advocacy before his election have recently stepped forward to work toward immigrant solidarity — a sign of the resistance that is to come.

“While I know fear is valid, I’m not going to have fear silence our community,” Castaneda said. “We’ve come too far.”

Cassandra Vogel is the lead schools and communities reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @cass_vogxz.

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  • Annon

    Let’s deport them.

  • Chimalli Cuetlachtli

    Valeska a very resilient, passionate, intelligent, and lovely human being. In the years that I have known her she has shown nothing but dedication to humanity, to serving others from a pure and sincere heart. If you can’t see that Mr Merlin it is because you are blinded by your own ignorance and hatred. While you are making the world uglier with every breath you take she is beautifying the world around her. Her life has and will continue to touch the lives of thousands of people who need a loving, caring, and strong voice of hope.

  • deport them all! its a matter of law!

    • Alex

      MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!