Fear Among Undocumented Immigrants

Moving quickly on campaign promises to tighten U.S. borders and crack down on “sanctuary cities,” President Trump is spreading fear among communities where many undocumented immigrants live, reports Dennis J Bernstein.
By Dennis J Bernstein

The new mayor of the “People’s Republic of Berkeley,” Jesse Arreguin, is facing a trial by fire. The son and grandson of farmworkers and the first Latino to ever be elected mayor of Berkeley, California, Arreguin finds himself on the frontlines of the “sanctuary city” movement and in the cross hairs of President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant policies.

Artists work on a sign that reads “Deport Trump” during the presidential inauguration. January 20, 2017. (Photo: Chelsea Gilmour)

I spoke with Mayor Arreguin on Wednesday after Trump signed several executive orders aimed at undocumented immigrants and challenging so-called “sanctuary cities.” Arreguin said he had spoken to many immigrant students in city schools who are not sure what is coming next.

Dennis Bernstein: I wanted to begin, first, by asking you to give us your own response, sort of to the overall, what’s going on. And then we’re going to talk about the implications and how you feel in terms of continuing Berkeley as a sanctuary city.

Jesse Arreguin: Well, in just two days, Donald Trump has not only set us on a course of ruining our planet, by fast tracking the approval of the Keystone Pipeline and the Dakota Access Pipeline, but also stripped the civil rights and civil liberties of our citizens, has pushed a divisive wall, [and] is now threatening cities which had the courage to stand up for being a city refuge for all people, regardless of their citizenship status. And Berkeley is one of those cities.

And so, I’m angry. And I’m concerned about what the executive order the President signed today [Jan. 25] means for the people of Berkeley, and undocumented people throughout our country. And, now, more than ever, we’re going to stand up, and protect everyone, regardless of their national origin, their religion. And, I think, now more than ever, Berkeley needs to be a leader in the resistance against the Trump administration.

Artwork by Shepard Fairey.

DB: I was going to ask you that; People have always looked to Berkeley. You know, they refer to it as the “People’s Republic of Berkeley.” […] We’ve been on the cutting edge when it comes to conscience and action, so I’m sure the whole world is watching.

Have you been hearing from some of your constituents? … Is there fear in the community? Are the kids…we’re right across the street from Berkeley High School. There’s a good number of kids in there who are probably feeling like maybe they should go into hiding. How’s that coming to you?

JA: Absolutely, there’s a great deal of fear in the community. And actually, after the election, I visited a number of our schools, including some of our middle-schools and elementary schools. And there are a lot of students who were very concerned about what the election of Trump means for not just them but their classmates. Including their classmates who are undocumented. You know, being uprooted from their schools, from their families, dividing families, dividing communities. And I spoke to these students to try to reassure them that Berkeley will remain a sanctuary city. And “we’re here to support you.”

So, we’re actually going to be working with the University of California, with the Berkeley Unified School District, to try to… sort of coordinate our resources, our legal resources, and our other resources for undocumented residents. Because we need to help people defend against deportations. We need to help people… families are being divided. But there’s a great deal of fear.

But, I want to say that the City of Berkeley stands with everyone, regardless of their citizenship status. And we will protect our residents, and … our city employees are instructed to not, in any way, cooperate with ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement]. We refuse to cooperate with ICE, but we do need to be prepared, for what if ICE comes in our community. What are we going to do?

A popular anti-Trump slogan, “Respect my existence or expect my resistance”. Artwork by Victoria Garcia.

DB: What are you going to do? Are there preparations, is there a lot of planning?

JA: So, we’re beginning to think about that, and plan for that. It happened before, in 2007, ICE came onto the Berkeley High campus to try to identify and detain students. And that’s actually where our sanctuary policy came out of. So, it’s happened before. Sadly, it is likely to happen again. But we will fight back.

DB: And what about the threats? Is there a concern that this could really take an economic toll? That they can do things to hurt you, to really make it difficult for various constituencies that you represent to get the things that they need?

JA: Absolutely. So, my understanding of the executive order the President has signed [on January 25] would strip cities that are sanctuary cities of federal funds. And in Berkeley, that’s around $11.5 million in federal funding. And that’s funding for our most vulnerable. You know, these are housing programs, programs for our homeless, public health programs.

And so, we need to make sure we maintain the safety net, even in the wake of cuts in federal funding. It’s going to be difficult, but we need to make sure that we can serve our most vulnerable, but also not cave into the fear and the divisiveness that’s coming out of Washington.

DB: Do you think, yourself, a person of color… do you feel that you bring a special sensitivity, do you see this as being quite a personal thing, as well as a political action?

JA: Absolutely. I mean, I’m the son and grandson of farm workers. I’m the first Latino mayor of Berkeley. Probably one of the only Latino mayors in the Bay Area. And so, for me, this is personal. This is real. My grandparents immigrated illegally, to this country. I have friends who are undocumented, this is a real issue.

And friends I know who are undocumented are living in fear now, not knowing what’s going to happen. And so, for me, as not only the mayor of the city, but as a Latino, it makes me angry, but it also motivates me, even more, to speak out and to fight back.

Artwork by Shepard Fairey.

And one of the things that’s most inspiring, I think … in the wake of the election… (there’s not a lot to be inspired about but, well, it’s been inspiring) is just the overwhelming–in this community and throughout the country–the overwhelming desire to fight back. And to stand for the values that make Berkeley, and make our country, such an equitable and inclusive society.

And that was evidenced by the hundreds of thousands or maybe millions of people that participated in the women’s marches. And we’ve got to keep that momentum going. And so, what we’re doing in Berkeley, we’re remaining a sanctuary city and the policies we will set, and speaking out against, the right-wing agenda from Washington, hopefully we’ll work collectively with other cities to lead the resistance that will hopefully change this country in four years.

DB: And, just finally, in the broader view of things, there are many things happening in communities of color, under attack, in many ways. Yesterday [January 24] it was Standing Rock and the pipelines. Now, I’m wondering how you integrate or see these sort of parallel attacks playing into the attacks on immigrants. How does that work for you? How do you see the overall picture, both in the negative and perhaps in the way that it can unite?

JA: Well, I think communities of color and poor people, working class people are under attack by the new administration in Washington, whether it’s, you know, desecrating the sacred land, the sacred rights of our indigenous communities, whether it’s mass deportation, for us, or building walls to divide our communities, whether it’s pushing the prison industrial complex. I’m assuming we’ll see more of a militarized approach to law enforcement across our country, and we’ve seen how that has played out in communities of color.

So there are real, serious challenges at a time where … our country is divided. But I think the struggles, the collective struggles that we’re all experiencing, provide an opportunity. I think it was evidenced by the very diverse crowds that we saw at the women’s march: people coming together to fight back, and to work collectively to stand for a core of progressive values and to also work collectively to bring about real change. And that’s inspiring.

Dennis J Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom. You can access the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net.

11 comments for “Fear Among Undocumented Immigrants

  1. Julian
    January 29, 2017 at 20:44

    Is anyone else finding it odd that these people are openly defending the point that they’re in fact illegally in the United States and are refusing to cooperate with the government? They are not sheltering Jews from the Nazis, not Yazidis from murderous ISIS members, not white tigers from Chinese poachers, etc. They’re protecting illegal immigrants who the government has the right to deport.

    Sheltering a wanted criminal is a crime and doesn’t absolve the wanted person from punishment, even if he/she behaved well while under your care.

    Like it or not, illegal immigrants are a problem. They take away jobs and pay no taxes. Taking away jobs means that others can’t have them, who are then either forced to seek other jobs or become unemployed, which means they can’t pay taxes and are themselves reliant on taxes via welfare.
    Illegal immigrants do not create jobs when they migrate to a country. They only increase the competition for them and have the inherent advantage of being willing to work for (far) less while being easy to fire and don’t require any form of employer health care, since that would only alert the authorities.

  2. WG
    January 28, 2017 at 02:51

    It’s interesting how the term chosen to describe the ‘immigrant’, frames the entire story. What kind of immigrant are they? Why they’re ‘undocumented’! They aren’t in the country illegally, they haven’t committed a crime, they simply don’t have the proper paperwork!

    Why bother having a legal way to apply for a green card, paying application fees, going through a background check. Just become an undocumented immigrant, why not?

    Either change the law or actually attempt to enforce current statutes. The way things are now is completely ridiculous.

  3. Zachary Smith
    January 27, 2017 at 22:12

    The US of A has caused a lot of the chaos and misery in South and Central America leading to the desperation of citizens there. It’s my personal opinion that taking in a few refugees is not the way to make amends. We need to stop allowing the Cintons and Obamas and Bushes and Reagans to stir the pots down there, and make amends to the entire nations with extensive reparations.

    • Karl Kolchack
      January 27, 2017 at 22:43

      Same thing applies to refugees from the Middle East. I favor America enforcing its immigration laws since big business uses unfettered immigration to drive down wages (which has the unfortunate side effect of fueling right wing populism and xenophobia), but I also favor ending all of America’s wars, including the incredibly destructive war on drugs.

      I also favor reparations–just so long as said money comes directly out of the pockets of Wall Street, corporate America and defense contractors, and their former CEOs and senior corporate officers and board members and then goes directly to the citizens of said countries and not their corrupt elites.

    • Anon
      January 28, 2017 at 07:44

      The US has never paid reparations, likely because the right wing demagogues never admit guilt. Development aid would be an easier sell, but even the brief Kennedy era never even got that started: it is about one meal a year for the world’s poorest. The US admits immigrants only because the right wing can depress wages that way.

      So long as the right wing control the mass media, the US will be a pile of sewage. That is not to blame everyone, for there are many perfectly good atoms in a pile of sewage. But its organization stinks.

      It would take two or three generations of benevolent leadership to make the US a somewhat humane society. But the US would sooner collapse the short distance remaining into 100% gangsterism and racketeering under God and the Stars and Stripes. There will be no benevolent leadership this side of a bloody cataclysm, for which the benevolent will not prepare.

  4. Sam F
    January 27, 2017 at 18:57

    Berkeley Mayor Arreguin notes that the “city of refuge” sanctuary policy originated with 2007 ICE operations at Berkeley High, that the city will “work collectively with other cities to lead the resistance” to the “right-wing agenda from Washington” and that city employees are already instructed to not “cooperate with ICE.”

    Now if there is really an “overwhelming desire to fight back” the sanctuary should first file a federal legal challenge, and then establish a Sanctuary Police force to actively suppress ICE operations under state and local law. Confrontation with ICE while “the whole world is watching” would really lead the resistance and set the tone for the next four years.

    “change this country in four years”

  5. Sally Snyder
    January 27, 2017 at 15:43

    Here is an article that looks at the prohibitive costs associated with actually implementing American immigration laws:


    • SteveM
      January 28, 2017 at 11:23

      A low-cost, even cost-free solution is to enforce immigration laws at the employer level. I.e., widespread workplace audits to validate the right to employment status of workers, with heavy civil fines on the employers for non-compliance.

      For STEM (H-1B) compliance, audits of company HR job applicant data bases to ensure American citizen technologists were made aware of job opportunities and that well qualified American applicants were not passed over in favor of H-1B immigrants.

      Also audits and inspections of layoff lists to ensure that American citizen workers were not laid-off while immigrants were retained.

      Again, heavy fines for abuse of EXISTING immigration laws to pay for vigorous, expansive enforcement.

      The program would pay for itself, a large percentage of immigrants would return back to their home countries, and American workers would take up the slack with employers forced to pay a living wage based on market forces.

  6. GMC
    January 27, 2017 at 11:56

    If those that govern cities, towns, and villages can’t see that the root of this problem ,as in most Federal Government problems today is that the Leaders of the past have not only not enforced a legitimate immigration plan- they murdered it with no actions. And if we go back further , the failed policies of helping our southern neighbors in C A and S A to bring their countries up to good economic and cultural standards that would interlock with the north Americans and their world – have totally made this ” abortion” – reality. The US had no plan to integrate Central America with North America and the CIA wars in C A show this. Until a President or Congress admitt this – the latino population will be the bottom of the totem pole in the “Programed” USA

    • Bill Bodden
      January 27, 2017 at 12:57

      And if we go back further , the failed policies of helping our southern neighbors in C A and S A to bring their countries up to good economic and cultural standards …

      When did the failed policies of help ever exist? The dominant U.S. policies have been the exact opposite destroying the social and economic fabrics of nations south of the Rio Grande. Most of the refugees, forget immigrants, trying to reach the United States for economic and safety reasons appear to be very family-oriented and would probably have been more than happy to live in peace in their homes and neighborhoods, but U.S. policies have helped big time to make living untenable for many people in Central and South America – a real fact opposed to whatever “alternative facts” Trump and his accomplices in this crime against humanity want to believe.

      • Sam F
        January 27, 2017 at 19:21

        I would agree that the US should have had an entirely benevolent policy toward SA and CS, but the “failed policies” since Monroe have been merely decorations to cover selfish goals. The initial policy was to ignore SA except to keep Europe out, and the US refused to help the Bolivarian revolutions because leaders carelessly felt that democracy could not succeed there. 19th century US policy was driven by desire for natural resources (phosphate, minerals, lumber, Panama canal). US policy towards Mexico has been land theft and sporadic violent intervention. Despite surpluses that should have been devoted to hemispheric development aid, 20th century secret executive policy has been to suppress socialism in the US by attacking it in SA through secret wars, on the pretense that the US is threatened by communism there.

        All of this ignorance, selfishness, hypocrisy, and malice of the US results from its unregulated market economy, which our economic oligarchy mass media credit with all that is good in the US, rather than all that is bad. CA and SA are gradually setting a better example than the US despite their massive obstacles. More power to them.

        When the US is at last dragged to the truth, that productivity incentives and free markets must be combined with economic rights and business regulation to achieve a decent society, we can better integrate the hemisphere. That will require a cataclysmic confrontation of oligarchy with the people. The sooner the better.

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