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San Joaquin Valley’s elected officials must stand up for immigrants

Pro-ICE supporter Ben Bergquam, left, and Jaimie Loza, right, who spoke out for immigrant rights, have a heated exchange at the community rally outside the Hall of Records building, Tuesday Aug 8, 2018. The demonstration was held to protest recent arrests by ICE agents at the Fresno County Courthouse.
Pro-ICE supporter Ben Bergquam, left, and Jaimie Loza, right, who spoke out for immigrant rights, have a heated exchange at the community rally outside the Hall of Records building, Tuesday Aug 8, 2018. The demonstration was held to protest recent arrests by ICE agents at the Fresno County Courthouse. Fresno Bee file

Since mid-July, Immigration and Custom Enforcement officials have been making arrests at Fresno’s courthouses, violating people’s right to due process and continuing to stoke fear within the immigrant community. It’s no coincidence that Fresno County is home to one of the fiercest in-state critics of California’s sanctuary policies, Sheriff Margaret Mims, who has proudly announced that her deputies and ICE have a strong working relationship. Though she claims that she is complying with state laws, the experience of community members in the Valley proves that there continues to be tight entanglement between her office and ICE. In our daily interactions with the immigrant community, providing legal services and know your rights trainings, we have heard more and more stories about a growing fear of contacting local law enforcement because of legitimate concerns of potential deportation.

The Central Valley is being acutely impacted by Trump’s war on immigrants – so much so that my organization, the Services, Immigrant Rights & Education Network is poised to open a new office in Fresno due to increased demand. I have witnessed the plight of immigrants in our community firsthand since I was young. I grew up in the Fresno area as the daughter of immigrant farmworkers, hearing the stories of abusive employers and seeing my family and neighbors racially profiled by police and targeted by ICE. Now, as the executive director of SIREN, an immigrant and refugee rights advocacy organization, I’ve been connecting with many people who have been swept up by ICE in their brutal campaign.

maricela gutierrez
Maricela Gutiérrez is executive director of the Services, Immigrant Rights & Education Network. Contributed

It’s clear that Trump’s policies are creating an environment unlike anything we’ve seen before. There is no end to the mass deportation and detention we are witnessing in our communities. The Trump administration is targeting mothers with young children, immigrant rights activists, DREAMers who have valid DACA certification, and even legal permanent residents, who themselves are now being arrested and forced out of the United States. And it doesn’t stop there.

These heightened attacks by the Trump administration have also occurred against the backdrop of Congress’ continuing failure to take action to pass any version of several immigration-related bills, including the DREAM Act. In late July, the House Appropriations Committee, including Rep. David Valadao (R-Hanfod), approved a spending bill mandating billions of dollars for a border wall, more ICE agents, and additional resources for Customs and Border Patrol. This is billions more than the Department of Homeland Security received last year, much of it earmarked to target our immigrant neighbors and family members who are the lifeblood of our communities.

And following the court decision in Texas calling for the Trump administration to uphold DACA and ensure protection from deportation, it’s clear that these thousands of young immigrants are legally afforded their right to live and work in the United States. Recipients of DACA, including the many here that I’ve worked with in California, deserve the federal government’s sincere and thoughtful assistance in making sure that any legislation protects their immigration status and doesn’t plunge communities into dysfunction and chaos.

For these reasons, it is all the more important that Central Valley members of Congress who are supposed to represent us push back against the Trump administration’s attack on immigrants. Agencies like ICE and CBP have terrorized our communities by unjustly targeting and locking up immigrants, children and families. They must be entirely defunded rather than being rewarded with a financial incentive for abusing immigrants. Our members of Congress owe it to the communities they serve to call for a clean DREAM Act and reject any bill that helps further Trump’s war on immigrants. Reps. Jeff Denham (R-Turlock), David Valadao, Devin Nunes (R-Tulare) and Jim Costa (D-Fresno), we’re looking at you to decide who you stand with: your immigrant constituents or the racist bigots attacking them?

Maricela Gutiérrez is the executive director of Services, Immigrant Rights & Education Network (SIREN), a nonprofit organization that has worked on immigrant and refugee rights issues for more than 30 years and which serves Northern and Central California. She was born and raised in Fresno.

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