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How pro-immigrant groups say people should prepare for Trump’s presidency

May 24, 2017

(Inland Congregations United for Change members from left Zulma Ruiz, Estefania Esparza and Carlos Sanchez Mata listen to Attorney Russell Jauregui speak during a Know Your Rights forum at Cal State San Bernardino on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017.) 

 

By  | amolina@scng.com | The Press-EnterpriseJanuary 15, 2017 at 11:14 am

 

The election of Republican Donald Trump has instilled so much fear in some immigrants that a number of them reportedly started packing their bags to move back to their native countries.

But immigrant rights organizers are saying, "Not so fast."

In the wake of Trump's election, dozens of "Know your Rights" forums are being held across Southern California to educate the immigrant community about their U.S. constitutional rights.

During his presidential campaign, Trump vowed to deport the 11 million immigrants who are in the U.S. without proper documentation. He also has pledged to build a wall between the United States and Mexico.

Related: How Inland residents view Trump's inauguration

"There's certain constitutional rights and even rights in current immigration law that people have that Trump cannot change," said immigration attorney Russell Jauregui.

But to those who favor immigration restrictions, the forums are bad news.

"They're encouraging people to stay here in violation of the law, and I can't think of any justification for that or any good reason to be doing that," said Jessica Vaughan with the Center for Immigration Studies, a research group based in Washington, D.C.

The forums are being held at churches, college campuses, elementary schools and community centers in Orange, Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. The workshops are nothing new in immigrant communities, but they have taken an urgent tone in the days leading up to the presidential inauguration.

At these forums, organizers advise immigrants not to open their doors if Immigration and Customs Enforcement is knocking. They tell them not to run during an immigration raid, and not to sign documents they don't understand.

"The community is scared," said Beatriz Loera, of San Bernardino, who is helping organize a forum at her church. "You can see the fear at the market, at church. We need to calm those fears."

(Attorney Russell Jauregui speaks during a Know Your Rights forum at Cal State San Bernardino on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017.)

At a Wednesday, Jan. 11, forum at Cal State San Bernardino, the topics were heavy. The forum was held by university students and Inland Congregations United for Change, a group of Inland faith leaders.

A crowd of about 30 watched a know-your-rights training video that showed how to handle potential scenarios with immigration agents.

In one scene, a husband and wife are getting their morning coffee ready when immigration officials knock and demand they open the door. The couple embrace as the wife whispers to her husband that authorities must have an arrest warrant in order to be allowed in.

The immigration agents slip paperwork for him to sign, and his wife urges him not to because it may be an order for deportation.

In another scene, set in what appears to be a workplace raid, a woman is crying in front of an immigration agent, pleading not be deported because she has children.

Attorneys at the forums are stressing that immigrants have a right to remain silent in front of immigration agents who may ask where they were born or how they came to this country. In other words, they're trying to prove they're here illegally, Jauregui said.

"The undocumented person has a right to say, ‘I don't want to answer that question until I have access to an attorney," Jauregui said.

Jauregui stresses that immigrants have certain defenses in immigration court that could work in their favor, he said.

For example, if people without proper documentation have been in the U.S. for more than 10 years, and they can prove they've paid taxes and or have children who are U.S. citizens, then their good character may qualify for defense against deportation, he said.

That advice is troubling to Vaughan.

"In some cases, the best thing for them might actually be to concede that they're ‘deportable' and go home and move on with their lives," Vaughan said. "Rather than deliberately obstruct the process and perhaps making things worst for themselves and their family."

"There may be people who do have a legitimate claim to be able to stay, but it's not most of them, and I don't think it's necessarily a good idea to encourage people to do this," she added.

But forum organizers say, that for now, this is the right strategy.

(Laura Ruiz speaks during a Know Your Rights forum at Cal State San Bernardino on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017.)

Lyzzeth Mendoza with Inland Congregations United for Change said keeping immigrants informed is an initial step to help protect them against potential deportations.

Next, she said, organizations are working to form rapid-response teams.

These teams will include residents, church leaders, attorneys, educators who sign up to take different roles if they see immigration agents in a community. One person, for example, can offer legal services. Or a church can offer sanctuary to house undocumented immigrants.

"We have a lot to lose, so a lot more people are stepping into the breach," Mendoza said.