In Santa Rosa, Mexican consul general seeks to reassure immigrants after Trump actions
The San Francisco-based consul general of Mexico on Friday urged undocumented immigrants in Sonoma County and the greater Bay Area to be resilient and trust in human rights enshrined in American democracy as a safeguard against the crackdown that President Donald Trump has ordered on illegal immigration.
Gemi José González López, who has held his post since June, delivered that message Friday in Santa Rosa at a luncheon hosted by Los Cien, the county’s largest Latino leadership group.
“This is a great country, this is a great country,” González said in his speech to a crowd of more than 200 at the Flamingo Resort and Spa. “This is where human rights were born and were most protected.”
González’s visit came during a week of rising tensions between the United States and Mexico over President Trump’s formal call for the construction of a massive border wall, a dramatic increase in deportations and a 20 percent tax on Mexican imports that threatens to throw the two nations into a trade war.
The moves, telegraphed by Trump in his campaign, have been hailed by supporters who have clamored for enhanced border security and stronger enforcement of the nation’s immigration laws. But the actions have ratcheted up anxiety in immigrant households across the North Bay and nation, with individuals and families hailing from Mexico voicing greater fear of being targeted by the U.S. government. They also have infuriated many Mexican politicians and citizens, with some calling for a boycott of U.S.-made products.
González, who was invited by Los Cien to speak before the November election, sought to smooth over the turmoil and tamp down nationalist campaigns that he said would only divide the two countries and jeopardize close ties between California and Mexico.
“That is an mistake, it’s a mistake,” González said in an interview before he addressed the crowd. “What we should be doing is becoming better friends … This is not a problem with the United States, and it’s not an issue with the American people. On the contrary, we should be closer with our friends in the United States and let’s promote North America as a region.”
González said his first priority as consul general is to ensure the human and legal rights of Mexican nationals living within his consular jurisdiction, a region that runs from the Bay Area up to Seattle and includes Hawaii.
With Trump threatening more deportations, González said his office has expanded its legal assistance services and set up an after-hours hotline for immigrants seeking help.
“The Mexican consulate and other Hispanic consulates are there to help them,” he said in his speech.
On Wednesday, Trump signed a pair of executive orders that made good on his campaign pledge to be tough on illegal immigration. Along with the order to begin planning and construction of a wall along the southern border, Trump also called for the hiring of 5,000 new border patrol agents and tripling the number of immigration officers who conduct deportations.
He also called for withholding federal dollars from cities and counties that have declared themselves sanctuaries for certain undocumented immigrants and creating new criteria that could make more undocumented immigrants eligible for deportation.
On Thursday, White House officials announced plans to pay for the border wall through a 20 percent tax on Mexican imports, a proposal that administration officials later appeared to walk back by saying it was among the options the president was considering. The news broke a few hours after Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto canceled a visit to the White House planned for next week.
The renewed tension with Mexico - homeland to the largest group of U.S. immigrants and a key American trading partner - was a major concern at the luncheon Friday.
“We cannot forget about the undocumented community who live in fear and trauma every day,” said Jordan Panana Carbajal, 22, the student body president at Santa Rosa Junior College.
A former undocumented immigrant from Mexico, Carbajal became a permanent legal resident of the U.S. several years ago. He spoke from the audience during an exchange with Gonzalez about education and immigrant rights.
González touted the importance of investing in education for Latinos, since 2015 the largest ethnic group in California, making up about 38 percent of the population. He highlighted several consular programs aimed at helping parents participate in the education of their children.
González also addressed high dropout rates for Latino students and the difficulty many have completing their college education because of the cost.
“The key is to help the parents engage and commit to the education of their children,” he said.
Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore, a fluent Spanish speaker who spent his Peace Corps tour in Bolivia, welcomed González’s appearance and his call to contain nationalist fervor in relations between the two neighbors.
The Mexican government, he said, is “not taking the bait.”
“They’re saying, “You talk about building walls, we’re still talking about building bridges,” Gore said.
You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @renofish.