Unease and fear, always present among undocumented immigrant communities in the United States, has only been is bolstered since the presidential election’s “Build the Wall” rhetoric.
Although many hoped, Trump would become more moderate once in office, his stance has not softened. On Jan. 25, Trump signed an executive order that, among other things, called to build a wall along the country’s southern border and to “remove promptly those individuals whose legal claims to remain in the United States have been lawfully rejected.”
“I’ve always thought Trump is a salesman. He’s a conman. I thought the extreme nature of his campaign promises was an invention on his part to enable him to get elected,” said Toledo immigration attorney William Meyer. “That’s why I was a little surprised and somewhat horrified when he came out with those executive orders,” claiming that illegal immigration from Mexico has placed a strain on federal resources and contributed to an increase in violent crime.
“I don’t think anybody disagrees with the intention to deport dangerous criminals,” Meyer said. “[However,] the definition of being an illegal alien has fallen to the point of being really unfair.”
Meyer explained that undocumented immigrants who are otherwise law-abiding citizens can become felons due to difficulty in obtaining a driver’s license. “I’ve had numerous cases over the years of people that have had no license and no other way to support their family [without a vehicle], so they obtain a false document and go into the BMV to get a license. And that’s a felony,” he said.
But the executive order doesn’t just call for the apprehension of felons – or even convicted criminals. Section 2b states it is policy to “detain individuals apprehended on suspicion of violating federal or state law, including federal immigration law, pending further proceedings regarding those violations.”
“We have two immigration enforcement agencies here— ICE, and the US Border Patrol,” said Baldemar Velasquez, president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) in Toledo. “They’re not looking for white Canadians. They’re looking for Mexicans. So there’s a lot of racial profiling.”
Some members of FLOC are undocumented, such as Iris (name changed to protect identity), who first came to the United States in 2002. Living in the Toledo area with her husband, also undocumented, and 10-year-old daughter, since 2014, Iris says she’s now afraid to leave her home.
“I’m very fearful to go out, to buy groceries, to go to work,” she said. “When I see backed-up traffic, I’m afraid they are stopping and checking (all vehicles).”
The threat of deportation has always existed for people like Iris, but the perceived threat has increased since Trump took office.
“There’s no question that there is an undercurrent of, it’s not discomfort, it’s horror, on the part of people who have U.S. citizen children, sometimes 20-25 years of law-abiding presence in the US,” Meyer said. “They came here illegally, they broke the law and you have to acknowledge that.”
But illegal immigration is only a misdemeanor, Velasquez pointed out. Most of the undocumented immigrants are otherwise law-abiding residents who just want to build a better life for their families.
“I wanted to simply raise a family, work, do what you’re supposed to do in the community,” Iris said. “I would love there to be more unity and support [from the community] of our cause.”
Iris and many others pay taxes and Social Security, even though they’ll never be able to benefit from it.
“If you live in Toledo, you probably don’t know who the people living here illegally are,” Meyer added. “All [this executive order has] done is make their lives terrible. They’re under a high level of fear.”
Organizations offering help
“There’s definitely the fear of the unknown,” said Guiselle Mendoza, executive director of Adelante, a resource center for Toledo’s Latino community that specializes in education efforts for children, job skills training for adults and financial assistance for families. “We can’t guarantee anything. It makes them feel uneasy because there’s so much uncertainty about the future of their status here.”
Working with other organizations like Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE) and Welcome TLC to educate the community and offer social services, “what we want to avoid is misinformation where we add to the fear. But we also want to be proactive in terms of if something were to happen, these are the steps you should take,” Mendoza said. “We are here to support the Latino community and to lend a hand, an ear.”
FLOC is also encouraging its members to take proactive steps in the event they are detained or deported, especially those with children who are US citizens.
“The only thing we can suggest they do is have a family preparedness plan: Make sure your children are taken care of,” Velasquez said. “We try to surround them with attorneys that can help them get the right documents signed and processed ahead of time.”
He said Lucas County Children Services has agreed to work closely with FLOC to expedite hearings if the parents have assigned guardians for their children to prevent them from being placed into foster care.
Meyer advises immigrants at risk of deportation to avoid drawing attention to themselves.
“Don’t put yourself in situations where you will come to the attention of the authorities,” he said. “Obviously don’t put yourself in illegal situations that could lead to your arrest.”
He also suggested they contact ABLE, so the attorneys there can determine if there are any legal ways for the immigrants to stay here.
As for Iris, she isn’t letting her fear stop her from speaking out.
“It’s better to go out and take a risk to change things than just go to work and if something happens, we’re lost,” she said.
FLOC is looking for volunteers to help undocumented immigrants fill out forms and other steps to make sure they’re prepared in the event they are separated from their children.
Anyone interested in helping should call FLOC