Our great state’s core values and a vital segment of our community have been increasingly endangered over the past year through anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies at the federal level.
These directives have generated fear, anxiety and uncertainty across our state, especially among the millions of undocumented individuals who call California home, including an estimated 85,000 undocumented Fresnans.
In response to this reality, we are proud to stand with our philanthropic partners, community leaders and clergy to launch the first-ever Fresno Legal Defense Fund. This fund will help provide legal representation for Fresno County immigrants threatened by deportation but unable to find or afford an attorney.
These organizations and several individual Fresnans have made contributions totaling more than $30,000 in seed funding to support the fund and a collective community commitment to grow the fund to provide legal representation to anyone in Fresno who might need it.
Supporters gathered outside of the Fresno County Courthouse on a cool autumn evening to symbolically represent one of the fund’s most core values: the basic right to due process and legal representation for all who need it. Denying immigrants the ability to defend against deportation and have their day in court violates both international human rights and the U.S. Constitution’s right to due process.
Earlier this year, a group of faith leaders visited with immigrants being held at the Mesa Verde Detention Facility in Bakersfield. They met with individuals from varying backgrounds who shared real fears of threats to their life and concerns for their families.
One young mother shared that she was being held at the detention facility because, when she reported a domestic violence incident to the police, her husband reported her as being undocumented. Since she did not speak English, she was unable to share her story and has since been at the facility without hope for legal representation or knowledge of what has happened to her children.
California’s business, civic and political leaders have rightly spoken about the negative economic and social impacts of these new federal anti-immigrant policies.
The Valley region is one of the biggest economic engines of California and home to the highest concentration of undocumented residents in the state – they make up 42 percent of the agricultural workforce and 11 percent of the region’s overall workforce.
Almost one-quarter of these undocumented residents own their own homes and an estimated one in five children in the Valley has at least one undocumented parent.
Equally important, if not more important, than the economic and social impacts are the less often discussed negative health effects of living under such policies, which can cause both physical and psychological harm. Detention and deportation can result in tangible and diagnosable impacts on those who are targeted, as well as on their family members left behind.
In fact, simply living with the daily trauma and threat of family separation puts children and their caregivers under extreme stress, which disrupts their ability to learn, work and be productive. Through our support for the San Joaquin Valley Health Fund, Sierra Health Foundation and The Center have made a strong investment in promoting the health of all Valley residents, including immigrants.
Current anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies threaten to undermine this goal of a healthy Valley for all.
As Californians, we understand that we have benefited from the tremendous economic and cultural contributions immigrants have made to our state.
Accordingly, we take seriously our responsibility to protect our neighbors, business owners, employees and friends. In the San Joaquin Valley, there is a rich history of struggling to live together as a healthy community with respect, unity and appreciation amongst our diverse populations.
The Fresno Legal Defense Fund is the latest example of honoring this tradition and fighting for the health and well-being of our region and all of its residents. We invite you to join us and contribute to the Fund visiting www.faithinthevalley.org.
Chet P. Hewitt is President and CEO of Sierra Health Foundation and The Center at Sierra Health Foundation, a nonprofit intermediary. The Center also manages the San Joaquin Valley Health Fund which is supported by 11 state and national foundations working with community partners to strengthen the capacity of communities and organizations in the San Joaquin Valley to improve health and well-being by advancing programs and policy changes that promote community health and health equity for all.