An 18-year-old student at an East Bay community college worries she could come home one day and find that immigration agents have taken away her parents under the new era of President Donald Trump.
Although she and her 15-year-old sister are American citizens, their parents are undocumented Mexican immigrants.
“Who would be responsible for my sister if they were to get sent back?” Jazmin said. (She asked to be identified only by first name, and her parents are not being named to protect the family’s identity.) “What would happen to us financially if we weren’t able to go with them?”
The Oakland residents are among a growing number of immigrants who are preparing for the worst by making deportation-preparedness plans. Across the Bay Area, immigrant rights advocates and faith-based organizations are advising undocumented residents and those in mixed-status households to create a family plan that includes making child-custody arrangements and getting their finances in order. They explain the importance of legal documents like affidavits of care and financial powers of attorney.
Mexican consulates are encouraging undocumented immigrants to apply for dual citizenship for their U.S.-born children.
Gerardo Galvan and his wife, Lizbeth Navarro, went to the San Jose consulate recently to register their 4-year-old son Maximiliano. His 11-year-old brother, Gerardo, already was registered. The couple also filed paperwork to grant their sons power of attorney in Mexico so they have rights to family-owned land and other assets.
“We like to be prepared and have everything in order, things like passports and other necessities,” said Navarro, 36. You never know what can happen … if all of a sudden we have to leave.”
Araceli Martínez-Olguín, president of the East Bay La Raza Lawyers Association, said the reason for making a family plan is to be ready for just that kind of sudden departure.
“Should the worst come, let it be that you at least have fewer things to worry about because you have put some documents in place and you have reached out to loved ones who could help in your absence,” she said.
Her group is co-sponsoring a clinic Thursday in Oakland with Centro Legal de la Raza.
Deportation planning is part of a broader strategy to empower immigrants in the same vein as know-your-rights workshops that train people what to do and what not to do, if they come into contact with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). People can also call Alameda County’s new rapid response hotline (510-241-4011) for reporting immigration enforcement activity.
On Sunday, Jazmin and her mom went to a workshop at St. Jarlath Catholic Church in the Fruitvale district organized by Oakland Community Organizations. More than 200 people came.
“No one ever talked about making a plan before because we weren’t in the environment that we are now where people feel like at any point, something could happen to me,” said OCO community organizer Emma Paulino.
The Obama administration made it a priority to deport non-citizens who had recently crossed the border illegally and people who were convicted criminals. Trump, however, has expanded the definition of criminal to include any immigrant who broke the law or was even suspected. During ICE sweeps in other parts of the country, people without records also were ensnared.
The Immigration Legal Resource Center, a San Francisco-based nonprofit, recently created a family preparedness guide that it distributes to grass-roots organizations.
Mark Silverman, a senior staff attorney at the center, said it’s good to be prepared but that people’s fears are out of proportion to the actual danger.
“There is very little risk of deportation in Northern California except for people with removal orders or those who have been deported and come back,” he said.
There haven’t been any reported ICE sweeps locally, but there have been unfounded rumors that caused panic. One involved immigration agents stopping people in the Richmond Costco parking lot last month. Now, Jazmin’s family no longer shops there.
“I heard it wasn’t true,” her father said. “But we just couldn’t take the risk.”
Cristina Hernández, coordinator of the office for life and justice at the Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland, said immigrant families within its parishes in Alameda and Contra Costa counties are suffering from trauma. Some 85 Sunday Masses are said in Spanish each week, and there are as many as 170,000 undocumented immigrants between the two counties, she said.
“For folks to actually be having these kinds of conversations at home: Who will take care of the kids if something happens to us and we need to have these documents in place? And what are the ramifications of this and for how long,” she said. “And how do you talk to your kids about this? It is a very unfortunate situation.”
Hernández said the diocese is starting a parish rapid response network to report and respond to ICE activity and assist people who are detained.
Jae Maldonado, executive director of the Street Level Health Project in Fruitvale, said the nonprofit clinic has seen a 30 percent increase in people seeking mental health services so far this year, much of it related to immigration concerns.
“People who have been detained are coming in with heightened fears about how fast that process is going to happen and how soon they will be separated from their families,” Maldonado said. “For others, it’s the fear that it could happen to them on the way to church, to buy groceries and to meet these simple basic needs that require movement.”
Maciel Jacques, legal services program manager for Catholic Charities of the East Bay, said all the talk about fear overshadows the larger issue that the immigration system is out of date and needs reform.
“We have these mixed-status families who have been contributing for decades, but they aren’t able to get any kind of lawful status,” she said.
Jazmin’s parents can’t live in the U.S. legally until she turns 21 and can petition for them to get green cards.
Now 44, they have spent almost half their lives in the United States. Her father hired a coyote, or smuggler, to bring him across the border in 1997 because there was no work in his small rural town. He said he walked a full day through the desert in 100-plus degree heat. He later sent for his wife.
He’s an ice cream maker. His wife is a cook in a restaurant. They’ve don’t have criminal records and have never been detained by immigration. They’re active in their Catholic church and are OCO leaders.
“I understand we broke the law,” Jazmin’s father said. “But we aren’t criminals. We were just trying to have a better life.”
Staff writer Tatiana Sanchez contributed to this story.