At a news conference Wednesday morning, Fresno City Councilman Oliver Baines spoke directly to immigrant residents in light of the presidential election: “We are standing with you.”
A week after Donald Trump was elected, local leaders from the Latino, black, Hmong, Sikh and Muslim communities united to stress the importance of being inclusive and protecting all residents. During the campaign, Trump said Mexicans are rapists and murderers. And since winning the election, Trump continued to call for a registry of immigrants and visitors from Muslim countries and a ban on others from entering, and pledged to deport millions of immigrants here illegally.
In the days since the election, racist threats and hate crimes have increased nationwide. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights group based in Montgomery, Ala., has recorded more than 400 incidents of harassment and hate in the past week. At San Diego State University, a Muslim woman wearing a hijab was assaulted and robbed in a parking lot. In an interview on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” Trump said he was saddened to hear about the incidents and told his supporters to “stop it.”
Baines acknowledged that the marginalization and oppression of certain groups is nothing new. He said residents should stand up to the government to make sure leaders recognize the past and never go back. He called for people to march, protest and stand with immigrants to make sure their rights aren’t violated and “make sure the suppression and oppression being promised to them does not come to fruition.”
“This book has been well-written,” he said. “It is up to us right now, not only in this country but also in Fresno, to make sure that those pages will never be repeated. We need to stand up for what is right and what is just at all costs.”
We need to stand up for what is right and what is just at all costs.
Fresno City Councilman Oliver Baines
City Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria, who organized the news conference, called Fresno a model for diversity, and said the election cannot be allowed to reverse generations of progress. She said the mistreatment of immigrants is a personal issue because she is the daughter of Mexican immigrants.
Soria said Fresnans should continue advocating for comprehensive immigration reform, and urged Trump to continue the federal program that provides deportation relief and work permits to undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children. She said she is looking into the Fresno County sheriff’s collaboration with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement amid complaints that immigrants are being targeted who don’t fall under the priorities for deportation. Other sheriff’s departments in the state have vowed not to change their policies.
The collaboration started June 22, 2015, and allows two ICE agents to work from inside Fresno County Jail. They determine whether inmates are in the country legally and examine their criminal history before deciding whether they should be deported. Trump has called for collaboration between immigration authorities and local law enforcement nationwide.
There is no such collaboration at the Fresno Police Department. Chief Jerry Dyer said in a statement that being undocumented does not give officers the right to contact, detain or arrest a person. “Officers are not interested in a person’s immigration status, but only whether they are involved in criminal activity,” he said.
None of the leaders at the conference said Trump’s name directly. Instead they alluded to him or referred to the election. In an apparent reference to Trump’s campaign slogan, Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno, said the chance of a better life – for anyone – is “what made America great in the first place.”
Reza Nekumanesh, director of the Fresno Islamic Cultural Center, said Fresnans need to build better relationships across communities. He praised the resolutions the Fresno City Council has passed in solidarity with marginalized people, including the resolution condemning Islamophobia. But he challenged leaders to stand up to hate when they see it.
Four cars were broken into at the cultural center on Monday during an event that had been largely publicized. Police told Nekumansh it doesn’t appear to be a hate crime.
He said that points to a more nuanced consequence of the election.
“Even when property crimes happen at our religious centers, whatever the reason is, many people’s brains go there,” he said. “Automatically, there’s a fear that it could be related.”
Mayor Ashley Swearengin acknowledged that many residents are anxious and uncertain of what comes next.
“This is not a time to throw more fuel on the fire,” she said in a statement. “I encourage Fresnans to bring out the best in each other, not the worst.”