Despite an encouraging Supreme Court decision that means young undocumented immigrants known as “dreamers” will remain protected from deportation for now, people like America Hernandez are still skeptical.
On Monday, as she headed to an appointment in Fresno to get fingerprinted as part of her Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) renewal application, she messaged her boyfriend the phone number for her attorney “in case I don’t come back.”
“We’ve heard of people going in for appointments for something that’s supposed to be routine, and they’ve been detained. A lot of people are still very scared,” said Hernandez, 34, who came to the U.S. when she was 3 months old. “Today’s announcement is great because I know a lot of people can’t afford to lose their jobs and scholarships but it’s also really difficult because from what we’ve seen in Congress, there’s no sense of urgency for a permanent solution.”
The Supreme Court refused on Monday to fast-track the Trump administration’s directive for DACA to end next week, buying time for nearly 700,000 people like Hernandez who have received work permits and been temporarily protected from deportation through the program. About 18,000 people in Fresno, Tulare and Madera counties qualify for DACA.
“You hear they’re working on a solution, but at the same time you see all the attacks and ICE raids here in the Valley, so you don’t know what to expect,” said Hernandez, who works for Kids in Need of Defense. “In the meantime, we are all in limbo wondering what’s going to happen next.”
While Monday’s decision eliminates a March 5 deadline for the program to expire, reports of Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids in the Fresno area have dimmed celebrations, said Sukaina Hussain, community organizer with Faith in the Valley.
ICE audits of employees at several local farming companies sparked fear for undocumented workers earlier this month, and at least six ICE arrests were made in Atwater on Sunday, according to Hussain.
“Multiple incidents have been reported of ICE aggressively intimidating and targeting families in their homes and using tactics of racial profiling to detain individuals from public places, such as a gas station,” Hussain said of reports Faith in the Valley received this weekend. “This is only as far as we have heard, so definitely there could have been a lot more incidents happening that we are not aware of.”
Monday night vigil
About 30 people, adults and children, held a vigil Monday night in downtown Fresno. They stood in the cold and wet with signs at Inyo and L streets and said they were there to stand in solidarity with families who are affected by raids in the Valley.
Thomas Weiler, lead organizer for Faith in the Valley, shared a few demands. First, he said, ICE must stop calling itself police. “That does a disservice to our communities,” he said. “It creates a lot of distrust.”
He also called on ICE to “stop terrorizing Valley families.” He then called on Valley congressmen David Valadao, R-Hanford; Devin Nunes, R-Tulare; and Jim Costa, D-Fresno, to denounce anti-immigration tactics and stand with families help to pass a clean DREAM Act.
Weiler asked the crowd if they were interested in holding another vigil Tuesday if the raids continue. Everyone agreed, but wanted to take it a step further and hold the vigil at an elected official’s office to make a bigger impact.
Reza Nekumanesh, executive director of Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno, said whether you are documented or not, this issue affects everyone. “All of us stand together knowing that it’s not pieces of paper that honor you or give you dignity, but it’s your worth as a human being.” All human beings are valued, dignified and honored and need to be treated as such, he added.
The crowd chanted at the end of the vigil “Pánico no, poder sí,” which translates to “Panic no, power yes.”
Work to be done, supporters say
“We’re really glad and relieved to hear that there is some hope around DACA, but what we want to make sure everyone is keeping in mind is that we don’t want that success to be happening at the cost of additional ICE enforcement that impacts other immigrant families,” Hussain said. “Today’s celebration is being dampened because we’re seeing this increased activity and we don’t want to lose sight of the fact that people are still being detained and deported or lost in the process.”
Samuel Molina, state director for Mi Familia Vota, said Monday was cause for celebration, but urged people to keep fighting for a permanent solution, saying that an estimated 19,000 DACA recipients have lost their work permits since October.
“We’re very happy about today’s decision. It’s a sense of relief, especially for those whose work permits were set to expire,” he said. “But, we have to continue to keep fighting for immigration reform. This decision is not an overall solution for the immigration reform problem. We still need Congress to come together and provide a real solution for our communities.”
Fresno Unified School District – the state’s fourth-largest – opened a Dream Resource Center in September and has processed hundreds of DACA renewals and citizen applications since then, according to district spokesman Miguel Arias. District officials were preparing for informational workshops after Monday’s announcement, and also pointed to reported immigration raids.
“Our local communities are excited by the Supreme (Court) ruling, which will in affect allow continued authorization and protection for DACA recipients,” Arias said in an email Monday. “The news provides long-awaited relief even it’s only temporary for many of our families and students.”
California State University Chancellor Timothy White urged eligible students and employees to apply for renewal of DACA as soon as possible, and offered free legal support. More than 600 undocumented students are enrolled at Fresno State.
“The Supreme Court’s decision today to require a full appeal of the legal challenge regarding (DACA) is encouraging news for Dreamers studying and working throughout the California State University. We are hopeful that a permanent and positive solution is reached as soon as possible...” White said in a statement. “As I have stated repeatedly since before last September, providing those with DACA status a clear path for the future – to complete their education and build their careers – is indeed a wise decision for California and our nation. I continue to call on federal policymakers to stand up for our shared American values of inclusivity, opportunity and excellence – regardless of background or birthplace.”
Staff writer Jessica Johnson contributed to this report.