Trump’s deportation threats stoke fears in Sonoma County immigrant community

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Immigration advocates and service providers in Sonoma County have been flooded with calls from undocumented residents, whose fears of deportation intensified after President Donald Trump twice last week threatened mass deportations if Congress didn’t make changes to the nation’s asylum policies.

Though Trump later said he would delay the raids as he seeks a compromise with Democrats, that provided little relief for immigrants. Their worries were illustrated by a spike in calls to the North Bay Rapid Response Network’s 24-hour emergency hotline.

Its dispatchers received 106 phone calls over a span of six days starting last Friday, said Susan Shaw, the executive director of the North Bay Organizing Project and its affiliated response network. The number of calls was more than they received in the past two months combined — 48 in April and 20 in May, Shaw said.

The hotline was launched in 2017 to provide immediate legal protection and help to immigrants sought by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. The network has since recruited about 700 legal observers who can be dispatched when ICE activity is reported, Shaw said.

“The tactics of the federal government are working. People are terrified,” Shaw said. “The communication and the responsiveness shows that we care for each other.”

About half of the 106 calls came within a four-hour span on Wednesday afternoon alone, when the hotline got multiple reports around 4 p.m. from people who said they believed federal immigrations agents were at a Red Lobster in Rohnert Park, Shaw said. They also received calls about 30 minutes later from people panicked about a convoy of black SUVs bearing an unknown insignia at Roseland Creek Elementary, Shaw said.

Legal observers with the network were sent to Red Lobster but found no activity, and in a call to Rep. Mike Thompson’s office, federal immigration officials said they were not conducting raids in the county, according to Shaw.

None of the other reports of ICE activity in the last week have led to verified sighting when legal observers were sent to check, Shaw said.

Trump’s threat to deport “millions” has led to tangible anxiety among undocumented residents and their families, who fear the warnings signal what’s to come, several local immigration advocates said.

On Saturday, the president posted on Twitter that raids would begin in two weeks if Democrats and Republicans were unable to “work out a solution” on asylum. His administration has pushed for a “safe third country” agreement in which people fleeing their homes to the U.S. would need to apply for asylum before reaching the country’s southern border.

Local advocates are responding by ramping up outreach efforts to the county’s undocumented community and holding informational workshops about their rights when contacted by ICE.

Those efforts include a series of know-your-right presentations, which Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa is hosting next month at churches in Santa Rosa, Windsor, Cotati and Petaluma, said Jennielynn Holmes, the chief program officer for the nonprofit.

“We wanted to do more proactive education about people’s rights and empowering them to understand what they need to know,” said Holmes, whose agency also saw an uptick in calls for immigration services since Trump’s tweets. “It’s running through scenarios of what happens if ICE shows up, or if you’re detained or pulled over.”

The nonprofit also plans to hand out cards, including one with contact information for the Rapid Response Network and instructions on what to do if ICE is at the door. Another card is meant to be given to immigration agents, informing them that the individual does not want to talk or give permission to enter their home without a signed warrant from a judge.

Domestic workers with the Graton Day Labor Center also are handing out those cards this week at food banks around the county while canvassing for victims of wage theft, said Christy Lubin, the center’s executive director.

Rafael Vazquez, who hosts a weekly segment about immigration on the bilingual radio KBBF, said he’s working with the Legal Aid of Sonoma County to organize child custody order workshops within the next week. Parents will be able to fill out and keep forms that grant temporary legal custody of their children in case they are deported. Over 250 people have filled out the forms in trainings over the past few years, and Trump’s latest threats led others to call for more of those workshops, he said.

He’s encouraging undocumented residents and their families to remain calm and learn about their rights instead of going into “survival mode” when they hear about immigration activity.

“These type of tactics are meant to get people to surrender as quickly as possible,” Vasquez said. “A tweet can create all this fear in the community and our job is to say, ‘It’s OK, this will pass.’ ”

You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or nashelly.chavez@pressdemocrat.com.

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