Fear of deportation clouds future for undocumented immigrants in SLO County

Gloria, whose parents brought her to the United States when she was 13, has two children — Anthony, 4, and Elena, 5 — who are American citizens. If she were deported to Mexico, she would take her kids with her.
Gloria, whose parents brought her to the United States when she was 13, has two children — Anthony, 4, and Elena, 5 — who are American citizens. If she were deported to Mexico, she would take her kids with her. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Gloria makes tougher decisions every day than many other Paso Robles mothers will face in a lifetime.

The 24-year-old Cuesta College student is getting her education while she and her husband raise their 4-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter.

And she’s been living in the United States illegally for more than a decade.

Gloria’s parents brought her to California when she was just 13 years old.

The Tribune is not using her full name because of uncertain federal immigration enforcement rules.

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She wants her children, both U.S. citizens, to be able to choose their own futures and where they put down their roots. But since President Donald Trump took office — and with his promise of mass deportations — she’s been worried about her family’s future. That fear has ratcheted up since the Department of Homeland Security issued two memos in February outlining the terms of the crackdown.

The memos outline new policies that will “no longer exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement.”

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Undocumented immigrants and their children — many of whom, like Gloria’s children, are U.S. citizens — now fear deportation may separate them. Thirty-three percent of undocumented immigrants live with children younger than 18 who are U.S. citizens, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

Many of the 9,000 undocumented residents living in San Luis Obispo County are trying to be prepared in a time marked by confusion and uncertainty.

Certain groups, including immigrants like Gloria who were brought to the United States as children, once felt safe living under protections enacted during President Barack Obama’s two terms.

San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office Cmdr. Stuart MacDonald reads a statement on immigration enforcement and policy from Sheriff Ian Parkinson, and Elsa Hernandez with Lucia Mar Unified School District provides translation in Spanish, during a

But now, even those eligible for the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program enacted in 2012 — which delays immigration enforcement for people who came to the United States as children — fear they could be sent back to countries where they haven’t lived since childhood.

Although the Homeland Security memos specifically continue the DACA program, that doesn’t assure individuals won’t be deported.

On Thursday, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement emphasized that point in a tweet: “Deferred action does not prevent DHS from executing a removal order. ... DACA is not a protected legal status, but active DACA recipients are typically a lower level of enforcement priority.”

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As an example, Daniela Vargas, a 22-year-old Argentinian immigrant in the midst of renewing her DACA status, was arrested March 1 in Jackson, Mississippi, after speaking at a news conference. She was released Friday, but deportation concerns persist, her lawyer said.

To cope with the uncertainty, undocumented parents across San Luis Obispo County are making difficult decisions about who should care for their children if they’re suddenly deported. School districts are holding information meetings to assure parents their campuses are safe and to encourage them to bring their kids to school. The Mexican Consulate has been swamped by families seeking advice, and appointments are backed up for two months.

All the while, Gloria is pushing forward, hoping her family won’t be separated.

“I have learned home is not where you’re born,” she said. “Home is where your family is.”

Tough decisions

Gloria came to Paso Robles about 11 years ago from Torreón, in the Mexican state of Coahuila near Texas. She moved with her parents and younger brother, who’s a student at Paso Robles High School.

The entire extended family lives together — Gloria’s mother washes dishes at a restaurant, and her father works in construction with her husband. They are all undocumented. Gloria’s children attend a local preschool and elementary school.

Gloria said DACA “was like hope” and gave her a sense of security for the first time.

“You never knew what could happen,” she said. “I never thought I could go to college.”

They’re great students, and really motivated to stay. They know where they’re going, but they don’t forget where they came from.

Diane Dee Limon, adviser of Cuesta College’s Latino Leadership Network, on the school’s undocumented students

Now, she’s preparing to finish up at Cuesta and continue her studies this fall at Cal Poly, with plans to one day become a social worker.

Gloria said her family members now check in with one another throughout the day when they’re away from home, just to make sure they’re all safe and accounted for. In the past few weeks, she said she’s seen her mother growing sadder and struggling with worries that her family may be torn apart.

“Every time I wake up and leave home, I tell her that I love her,” Gloria said. “My mom and dad always tell us, ‘Drive safely, don’t drive fast. Call me when you’re at work, call me when you’re on break.’ 

As far as Gloria’s plan for her own children, things are not as clear.

“I told my husband the other night, if I go, send my kids with me,” she said.

Javier Cerritos de los Santos, el consul de protección y asuntos jurídicos en el Consulado de México en Oxnard, habla de sobre el Consulado puede ayudar a las personas que están detenidas por las autoridades migratorias. La reunión pasó en Nipomo

Children with U.S. citizenship born to Mexican parents are eligible for dual citizenship, said Jonathan Alvarez, the consul for community affairs at the Mexican Consulate in Oxnard.

During the past three to four weeks, the consulate has seen a surge in parents inquiring about obtaining citizenship for their children, Alvarez said: “Demand has skyrocketed.”

The consulate, which serves San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, is trying to expand resources to help more people because appointments are backed up to May 3, he said. More than 700 people have pending appointments, and more than 800 have contacted the consulate to schedule visits.

Alvarez and Javier Cerritos de los Santos, the consul for protection and legal affairs, said if parents are forced to go back to Mexico, their children could accompany them on temporary tourist visas. But in order to access Mexican benefits and services, such as schools and health care, children must obtain citizenship.

Trying to make a better future

Another local immigrant, Blanca, 23, also attends Cuesta and faces some tough choices.

She was brought to California from Cuernavaca, Mexico, when she was 6 and now lives in Los Osos with her boyfriend of eight years and their 6-year-old daughter. Her father, boyfriend and daughter are U.S. citizens, but she and her mother are not.

“Thanks to DACA, I’ve been able to support myself,” Blanca said. “It wasn’t my choice to be here, so I’m just trying to make a better future.”

Blanca said her family has been working with an immigration lawyer to figure out how to get legal status. If Blanca and her mother were deported, the plan is for them to stay with her grandmother in Tijuana. Blanca’s daughter would remain with her father in the United States.

Although Blanca said she knows people who are scared and are considering returning to Mexico, she’s not giving up on her plans to attend Cal Poly in the fall.

“I’m the type of person where, if I haven’t done anything wrong, I’m not going to hide myself,” she said.

Cuesta helps students like Gloria and Blanca through programs such as the Latino Leadership Network, which supports Latino community college students throughout California, and Extended Opportunity Program and Services, which helps provide access and educational equity for low-income students.

9,000Number of undocumented immigrants in SLO County

Diane Dee Limon, the Latino Leadership Network’s adviser, said the increased threat of deportation “does impact (students) a lot.”

“They don’t want their families broken apart,” she said.

She said after Trump was elected, many of the students she works with expressed concerns about being able to finish their studies. Some didn’t want to reapply for state financial aid because the forms require students to provide names and birth dates of family members.

Cuesta leaders worried that concerns about deportations would cause a drop in Cuesta financial aid applications filed through the California Dream Act. The state law, passed in 2011, allows undocumented students to apply for Cal Grants.

That drop doesn’t appear to have happened, however. The college received 134 applications from Dream Act students by the March 2 deadline, compared with 92 this time last year, said Patrick Scott, Cuesta financial aid director.

Limon said she and other Cuesta staff try to support undocumented students and find answers to their questions: “They’re great students, and really motivated to stay.”

“They know where they’re going, but they don’t forget where they came from,” she said.

Schools as havens

Adult students aren’t the only ones worried about deportations — children worry about what might happen if their parents are gone when they come home from school. And parents consider whether they would bring their children with them if they’re deported or leave their children behind to benefit from opportunities in the United States.

Schools across San Luis Obispo County are trying to help those frightened kids and their parents. Many school districts are hosting meetings to provide parents with information about immigration laws, law enforcement policies and schools as safe havens during a time of uncertainty.

Lucia Mar Unified School District has held at least two such meetings, including one on Feb. 24 at the Oceano Community Center.

There, men and women listened attentively to representatives from the county Sheriff’s Office, the school district and the Mexican Consulate. Pismo Beach Mayor Ed Waage and immigration attorney Sarah Overacker also spoke to the crowd of about 150 people.

The somber tones of the speakers were punctuated by raucous shouts, squeaking sneakers and the sound of video games coming from the sizable number of young children clustered near the back of the gym.

If you have problems ... we will support you. Don’t be afraid to come to us.

Javier Cerritos de los Santos, consul for protection and legal affairs at the Mexican Consulate, which serves San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties

“School is a safe place for them,” Linda Pierce, the director of student services at Lucia Mar, told the crowd through a translator. “We do not collect immigration status, and we don’t share that information. If you are deported, your children still have a right to attend our schools. We want your children to come to school.

“We are here for any questions you might have. We want them to keep focusing on school and getting an education and to not worry about this.”

Sheriff Cmdr. Stuart MacDonald told the crowd through a translator that local law enforcement has no interest in individuals’ immigration status: “Our focus is on violent offenders and keeping peace for your families and for your children.”

“We know you are very worried about ‘What will happen to my kids if I’m deported?’ ” said Cerritos, the Mexican consul for protection and legal affairs. “If you have problems ... we will support you. Don’t be afraid to come to us.”

Rick Mayfield, principal of Pacheco Elementary School in San Luis Obispo, part of San Luis Coastal Unified School District, said at a similar meeting at his school in February drew about 500 attendees.

“There’s just been a lot of thought and heightened awareness about immigration, and deportation in particular,” he said.

He said some parents are no longer participating in school-sponsored activities out of fear. School officials don’t ask about anyone’s immigration status, but Mayfield said he encourages families to have plans in place to prepare for any potential deportation situations. The school district treats deportation situations much like any other family emergency — staff would notify affected children’s emergency contacts.

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“This year, we’re seeing people come to school very worried about the situation,” Mayfield said. “When a family’s in crisis, it’s very difficult for a kid to learn.”

Lindsey Holden: 805-781-7939, @lindseyholden27

Gabby Ferreira: 805-781-7858, @Its_GabbyF

Staff writer Nick Wilson contributed to this story.

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How to act in case of an immigration detention

Cómo actuar en caso de detención migratoria

1. Develop an emergency plan. Take care of your family, especially minor children. If they’re born in the USA, go to your closest consulate to register them as Mexicans.

Elabora un plan de emergencia. Cuida de tu familia especialmente de las y los menores. Si nacieron en EUA, acude a tu Consulado más cercano para registrarlos como mexicanos.

2. Find out what documents you always should keep handy and keep a copy of all your documentation in a safe place.

Investiga qué documentos debes llevar siempre a la mano y mantén una copia de toda tu documentación en un lugar seguro.

3. If you require immigration counseling, consult with your consulate, and they will provide information on reliable immigration lawyers.

Si requieres orientación migratoria, acércate a tu consulado, te brindarán información sobre abogados confiables de migración.

4. Know your rights in your home, place of work or on the street.

Conoce tus derechos en tu casa, lugar de trabajo o en la calle.

5. If authorities enter your home without an arrest warrant or badge, in a very polite way ask their names and badge numbers and tell them that you don't give your consent to search.

Si las autoridades entran a tu casa sin una orden de arresto y/o registro, de manera muy cortés, pide nombres y numeros de placas y diles que no das tu consentiemiento para realizar el registro.

6. If authorities detain you:

Si las autoridades te detienen:

▪  Remain silent

Guarda silencio

▪  Don’t reveal your immigration status

No reveles tu situación migratoria

▪  Ask to speak with your closest Mexican consulate

Pide hablar con tu Consulado de México más cercano

▪  Talk to your lawyer

Comunícate con tu abogado

▪  Don’t sign anything

No firmes nada

▪  Find out who arrested you

Averigua quién te arrestó

▪  Request an interpreter and a right to bail

Solicita un intérprete y derecho a fianza

▪  Don’t lie

No mientas

▪  Don’t hand over fake documents

No entregues documentos falsos

For more information, contact your nearest Mexican Consulate or call CIAM: 1-855-463-6395. Information provided by the Mexican Consulate and Mexican Information and Assistance Center.

Para mayor información acércate a tu Consulado de México mas cercano o llama al CIAM: 1-855-463-6395. Información provisto por el Consulado de México y Centro de Información y Asistencia a Mexicanos.

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