Fears mount among Petaluma immigrants

As immigration enforcement becomes more aggressive, local Latino leaders are hearing concerns.|

Changing immigration policy at the federal level has the Petaluma Latino community on edge, and Abraham Solar, a leader at St. Vincent De Paul church is in a unique position to listen to and allay much of their fears.

Sizable activist groups in Petaluma and other Sonoma County cities have shown support for undocumented immigrants as local jurisdictions consider resisting President Donald Trump’s calls for mass deportations. Still, Petaluma Latinos remain concerned by the shifting climate on immigration.

Solar’s work with the Latino community goes beyond public support for fair treatment of individuals. The pastoral director of St. Vincent’s, he has worked in the community for 21 years and has recently stepped up help for Latino immigrants in the wake of last November’s election.

His church has also worked with the Mexican consulate since 2013 to help immigrants of various statuses get paperwork in order to help reduce fear of deportation.

“The consulate came on Jan. 28 with its ‘mobile consulate’ to help with passports and consular IDs,” Solar said. “They wanted to make sure that Mexican people without documents can go back to Mexico without difficulty in case things get rough.”

The Matrícula Consular de Alta Seguridad (MCAS) is an identification card issued by the Mexican government to Mexican nationals residing outside of Mexico. It is also known as the Mexican CID, and has been in existence since 1871.

Solar said that the consulate approached him in November after the election and wanted to do more than the annual mobilization.

The response was huge, with more than 300 people attending and receiving help through a digital database that expedited the process. Whereas large numbers of people have generally missed appointments in the past, this time only five out of 325 missed and 27 people showed up without appointments, Solar said.

“They don’t want to get into trouble,” he said. “Families have concerns, children are concerned. They are listening to the news on Univision and hear their parents talking. They don’t understand.”

Fear is spreading through the immigrant community following a series of raids last week that led to more than 680 arrests in Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, San Antonio and New York City. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said those operations targeted public safety threats.

The agency last week denied rumors swirling through Sonoma County’s Latino community that agents had conducted several local raids and set up checkpoints in the area to snare undocumented immigrants.

ICE has not conducted any enforcement actions in Sonoma County nor detained anyone in the county, according to an ICE official.

“Rumors of indiscriminate ‘raids,’ checkpoints and sweeps throughout Northern California are false, dangerous and irresponsible,” the agency said in a statement. “Our operations are targeted and lead driven, prioritizing individuals who pose a risk to our communities. Examples would include known street gang members, child sex offenders, and deportable foreign nationals with significant drug trafficking convictions.”

Supporters of more protections for undocumented immigrants introduced a resolution at the Feb. 6 Petaluma City Council meeting stating that the city would not work with federal immigration officials. The resolution will come before council for discussion on Feb. 27.

At that meeting, Petaluma Police chief Ken Savano assured the gathering that Petaluma police officers “do not engage in law enforcement action based on a person’s immigration status alone, and we have no plans to change this long-standing policy.”

He also pledged to adhere to the California Trust Act, a bill enacted in 2014 that limits cooperation with federal agencies and protects crime victims and witnesses from fear of deportation.

“Our department does not and will not engage in federal immigration enforcement activities,” he said. “Our officers do not ask for an individual’s status and Petaluma police officers will collaborate in enforcement only on violent offenders.”

Solar praised Savano for his support.

“It brought hope and optimism,” Solar said. “He’s not an outsider. He’s from Petaluma and it’s good to hear.”

But what Solar most wants to do is to ease fears in the community, particularly for families who face an uncertain time when no one really knows what might happen.

“The ambience is heavy dread,” he said. Not knowing has created fear in the whole community. This is what an undocumented person feels.”

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors is also addressing support for the immigrant community.

“There is a lot of anxiety,” Supervisor David Rabbitt said. “What really needs to happen is immigration reform, but there is fear about that because of how Congress is formed. The rhetoric gets in the way.”

At its Feb. 7 meeting, the board directed county staff to look into current policies and take a closer look at SB 54, a bill sponsored by Kevin De León, D-Los Angeles, to prevent California law enforcement from cooperating with ICE agents in deportation actions.

Rabbitt applauds the work of organizations that help undocumented children, including a group of California lawyers providing pro bono legal aid to immigrants, but sees the uncertainty of federal policy as the most difficult hurdle to overcome.

“No one knows what the real implications of Trump policy will be,” he said. “Most people just want to know what the rules are, and that’s true across the board. We are in the middle of a test of our democracy, and I have faith in democracy. I think our country and democracy will prevail.”

(The Press Democrat contributed to this report.)

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