Local residents who may not have legal status, or whose family members are undocumented, were urged by immigration advocates this week to “know their rights” and to work with an immigration attorney if possible.
A forum hosted by the Planada School District on Tuesday night attracted about 100 people who heard from an immigration attorney with the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, to ask questions and to receive information and resources for immigration services.
The forum was held days before the Planada School District’s governing board considers a resolution that would declare the district a “safe haven” for all families and students.
The district began talk of such a resolution in December, Superintendent Jose L. Gonzalez said. If approved, the district would be the second in Merced County, after Livingston, to pass such a “safe haven” resolution. The board will consider the resolution at its regular meeting on Thursday.
“We felt it was timely given the aggressiveness of the executive orders coming out in week one,” he said, referring to the first days of President Donald Trump’s administration. “As a governing team, we do feel it’s our constitutional obligation to provide an equitable and safe education. … (The resolution) falls in line with our core values.”
The forum was a venue for parents and community members to ask questions about current immigration policies and ones Trump may enforce that could affect their families.
“Obviously, with the population we serve, we have an obligation to properly inform our community and squash the rumors and rhetoric out there. We need to address the concerns and pacify the anxiety that’s been percolating and bubbling,” Gonzalez said.
Bianca Dueñas, an immigration attorney and fellow with the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, told community members that their best form of protection is citizenship.
Organizers distributed cards from the Immigrant Legal Resources Center that Dueñas said could be handed to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents rather than speaking to them.
The card informs the agent that the person is exercising their constitutional rights against self-incrimination and unwarranted searches.
“Every piece of information you give them, ICE will use it against you,” Dueñas said, speaking to the crowd in Spanish.
She recommended that families who have a loved one they fear could be deported plan for such a possibility, such as by designating someone to care for the person’s children and leaving written permission for them to do so.
Dueñas said ICE may use different forms of scare tactics and recommended having someone record and take photos of the interactions in case it can be used as evidence against agents.
Dueñas stressed the importance of consulting with an immigration lawyer for any non citizens. Each immigrant’s case, whether undocumented or documented, is different and complex. Under the new presidential administration, former protections, such as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, are not guaranteed in the future.
To be referred to an immigration attorney or for further assistance, Dueñas recommended calling the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation at 559-486-6278 or the Mexican consulate in Fresno at 559-233-3065.