President Donald Trump’s executive orders to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and increase immigration enforcement were met Wednesday with defiance, disbelief and fear in the central San Joaquin Valley.
The United Farm Workers issued a short written statement:
“So if today’s executive orders from Donald Trump signal the beginning of fulfilling his oft-repeated campaign pledge to deport the undocumented, then who is going to feed America? Who is going to feed the guests at Trump hotels and golf courses? Who is going to feed Donald Trump?”
Undocumented workers, already fearful of deportation, are more on edge than ever in the valley, said advocates for the immigrants.
Fresno immigration lawyer Lazaro Salazar said Wednesday he’s been getting calls from frightened clients for weeks, and that should increase as news spreads of the president’s orders. “I just spoke with a lady who said, ‘I’m afraid to go to work. I’m afraid to leave my house. I don’t know what to do, I have U.S. citizen children.’ ”
Salazar said he hopes that fear doesn’t keep workers from going to their jobs “but it wouldn’t surprise me.”
But he doubts the president’s orders will be implemented. It’s one thing for the president to order a wall to be built and for thousands of more immigration enforcement agents, and another for it to happen, he said. “I find it hard to believe that this is actually going to come to fruition.”
I’m afraid to go to work. I’m afraid to leave my house. I don’t know to do, I have U.S. citizen children.
Client of Lazaro Salazar, Fresno immigration lawyer
Sadly though, he believes that “it’s going to continue to cause unnecessary panic and concern throughout the migrant community throughout the valley. He’s just putting a lot of fear in the community unnecessarily.”
Paul Betancourt, a longtime Kerman cotton farmer, said that in an age of terrorism the United States needs to protect its borders, but if the president’s orders were to become law “that would be pretty draconian, and that’s going to affect a lot of people and a lot of industries.”
Instead of deporting people, “let’s get them legalized,” he said. “If they started roundups (of undocumented immigrants), I’m not going to support that.”
As a political science teacher for the Madera Community College Center, Betancourt is not convinced the president’s orders will be that easy to implement. He said he reminds his students that there is a separation of powers in the United States. Trump “is not a king,” he said. “He has to work with the (Congress).”
But to build the wall, the president is relying on a 2006 law that authorized several hundred miles of fencing along the 2,000-mile frontier. That bill led to the construction of about 700 miles of various kinds of fencing designed to block both vehicles and pedestrians. And congressional aides said there is about $100 million of unspent appropriations in the Department of Homeland Security account for border security, fencing and infrastructure. That would allow planning efforts to get started, but far more money would have to be appropriated for construction of a wall to begin.
The president’s orders also call for hiring 5,000 additional border patrol agents and 10,000 more immigration officers, though the increases are subject to congressional funding. He also moved to end what Republicans have labeled a catch-and-release system at the border. Currently, some immigrants caught crossing the border illegally are released and given notices to report back to immigration officials at a later date.
Wednesday’s executive orders also would stop grant funds to sanctuary cities.
Nisei Farmers League President Manuel Cunha said the government should go after felons and anybody in jail who has committed heinous crimes, but he has concerns that increased enforcement could include going after families and immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children, for example. “I will be deeply disappointed in this entire government if they are going to treat criminals in this country better than people who are working hard,” he said.
Betancourt said immigration reform policy affects far more than valley farmers.
Immigrants are employed nationwide in the hospitality, restaurant, landscaping and manufacturing industries, among others, he said. “Everybody has a stake in this one in doing it right.”