Uniting to Protect Immigrant Rights

From the Opinion section of the Napa Valley Register:

  • Harjit Khaira

Women’s March Napa Valley held yet another impassioned community town hall meeting last Sunday at the First United Methodist Church with a distinguished 10-member panel and a respectable audience.

Each panelist touched on the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) raids that are stoking fear in the hearts of our immigrant populace, particularly among those who are undocumented.

Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza stressed the need to work together and promote a message of unity while some audience members demanded more action from local officials and particularly from the Chamber of Commerce, the Napa Valley Vintners, wineries, grapegrowers and the vast hospitality industry.

Retired lawyer and audience member Preston Shackleford passionately delivered a message beseeching these industries to speak up and step up to help immigrants, regardless of their documentation status, as these very immigrants are the ones who enable such industries to thrive.

She expressed the need to protect vulnerable immigrants and held that once ICE is at an undocumented immigrant’s door, their rights are gone and they may not get to say goodbye to their family or have proper legal due process.

The current immigration crisis was interpreted as allegorizing “Napa’s second earthquake” with Shackleford emphasizing the need for strategic tactics by creating “sanctuary churches” to protect families and vehemently summoning the community to rise up as it did after the last earthquake.

Audience member Sharon Macklin followed with a timely question to the panel, “Who have you reached out to in the industry?

If you haven’t, can you do so?” Supervisor Pedroza answered that he would try to have more of a “direct ask” of these industries and how they can be more proactive.

Of particular importance was the openness of both Napa Chief of Police Steve Potter and Napa Sheriff John Robertson who attended in full uniform to explain law enforcement’s policies of never asking for immigration status when interviewing people in our community. Robertson pointed out that Napa is special and unique because “we truly work together with the community with open discussion.” Steve Potter thoughtfully added that they try to be present at community events and encourage all people, including minorities to attend and speak up at such Town Hall meetings. He has been witnessing much fear in children who are afraid of their parents being detained and deported.

Local pediatrician Joseph Carrillo added that he has seen an increase amongst children suffering anxiety, behavioral issues and not wanting to go to school. He believes that much of the trauma children are feeling and experiencing is due to the fear surrounding possible deportation, and unfortunately most physician offices do not have social workers or therapists. He touched on therapy for children in schools through puppetry to help them deal with fear and create a safe space.

Both Potter and Robertson talked about local law enforcement’s efforts in creating trust with local communities and all neighborhoods.

Potter relayed to the audience the difficulties they face when ICE goes on a raid and represents themselves as “local police.” ICE essentially takes advantage of the trust that the local law enforcement has worked hard to build.

ICE uses a ruse to get people to come out of their homes to arrest them.

Robertson doubled down emphasizing that when ICE is portrayed as homeland security in the media with their uniforms boldly declaring, “POLICE,” it diminishes the trust between the immigrant community and the local police. Robertson and Potter wear their uniforms with pride and want to educate and help immigrant communities and build deeper trust.

Melissa Patrino, executive director or Puertas Abiertas, a community resource center working hand in hand with Latinos has remained steadfast and active in responding to the vulnerable needs of the community.

She commented that ICE is a rogue agency with a list of people they are targeting and will persist with their raids even if it is a sanctuary city. Patrino discussed the difficulty of obtaining legal status. Most undocumented immigrants are hard-working, good people who have been in the U.S. for decades paying taxes.

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Yet it remains a difficult and arduous road to obtaining legal status for most. Despite anyone’s stance on immigration, it is reasonable to agree that all people should be treated with dignity, respect and with due process despite their immigration status.

Irit Weir, organizer of the Women’s March Napa Valley, announced that if anyone knows undocumented immigrants in critical danger of deportation, an Advocacy Authorization form can be obtained from Congressman Mike Thompson’s office/website.

It can be submitted to his office or to Puertas Abiertas. Potter added that if ICE is at one’s front door claiming to be local police, the local police dispatch number (257-9223) can be called to confirm whether the local police are in fact at their door. Napa local police stressed the desire to partner with neighborhoods to create dialogue and openness.

If community members want to host a gathering of locals, they are happy to attend and talk to all people.

The panel was markedly diverse, with Karla Marquez (Dream Team Organizer), Gabriela Ramirez (Vice Principal of Napa Valley Language Academy, NVLA), Liliana Navarro (Latinos Unidos) and Melissa Patrino (Executive Director of Puertas Abiertas) sharing their raw stories and adversities they overcame. Alfredo Pedroza (Napa County Supervisor) and Jill Techel (Napa Mayor) stressed the need to create more dialogue and a community of problem solvers. Madeline Feldon (attorney for the International Institute of the Bay Area, IIBA) and Dr. Joseph Carrillo (local pediatrician) both discussed the stress and anxiety they have observed in children with undocumented family members.

They offered their respective legal and medical services to aid those in need.

Steve Potter (Napa Chief of Police) and John Robertson (Napa Sheriff) have increasingly taken a more active role in reaching out to the Latino population and being accessible at this critical time in our seemingly divided nation.

Harjit Khaira is a writer from Napa and a participant in the Women’s March.



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