Local group fights to protect immigrant rights | October 6, 2017 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

News - October 6, 2017

Local group fights to protect immigrant rights

MV parents bring legal help, emergency plans to families fearful of deportation

by Kevin Forestieri

Fear and anxiety spread among the local immigrant community last week after federal immigration officials conducted a nationwide sweep targeting sanctuary cities and counties, leading to the arrest of two undocumented Mountain View residents.

But a group of local parents from the Castro and Mistral elementary school community is vowing to assuage the fears of deportation with action. The newly formed group, called Listos Mountain View, has assisted dozens of immigrant families with information and essential documents needed to ensure that parents and children are prepared if Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents knock on the door.

Listos Mountain View, which consists of nine Mistral parents, began aiding undocumented families in the Castro community earlier this year after finding that the countywide "Know Your Rights" campaign did little to explain what residents without citizenship need to do in order to prepare for an ICE raid, according to Jill Rakestraw, executive director of the group. The more they heard from the families, the more it became clear that contingency planning was a big weak spot.

"The families are worried about being separated and whether their kids are taken care of," she said. "And they don't know how to deal with that."

The goal is to give families a clear understanding of their current immigration status — and take immediate steps to legalize immigration status when possible — as well as help obtain identification and passports for travel in and out of the country. The emergency plan also includes legal documentation for child care authorization, meaning kids left stranded following an ICE raid have a place to go if their parents are detained. Without it, social workers are often forced to transfer kids to a county shelter and search for temporary placement.

"If it's a single mom who has no family here and nobody who they can hand their kids off to, they need a guardian," Rakestraw said. "Some of us have stepped up to be guardians."

The grassroots effort came together following the November election, said Sarah Livnat, a parent and former PTA president at Mistral Elementary School. The anti-immigration policies and rhetoric of the Trump administration — as well as President Donald Trump's comments on the campaign trail — left many families at the school "distraught and upset," prompting her and other parents to find some way to help.

The group caught the attention of county Supervisor Joe Simitian, who in late June helped secure $25,000 in county funds to boost the group's efforts. Simitian told the Voice that Listos Mountain View is part of an important continuum of services needed to make sure immigrants are treated fairly and have access to legal representation. He said he is proud to see constituents, without direction from the county, step up to help residents in need.

"The folks in Mountain View on their own came together to do their part to help," he said. "You just gotta love it when people step up to do the right thing."

While small and fairly limited in scope compared with the broad immigrant services provided by the county, nonprofit groups like Listos are a powerful ally in bringing help to hard-to-reach populations in the county, especially in areas far away from the population center and the seat of county services in San Jose, Simitian said.

At a Listos Mountain View meeting last week, members focused heavily on how to reach as many families in the immigrant community as possible, particularly the largely Spanish-speaking, lower-income families from Mexico and Central America who make up a large portion of the Castro community. Cultural awareness, thoughtful and bilingual events, building a network of trust — whatever it takes to convey that the events aren't putting anyone in a dangerous situation.

Although the grant is intended to help anyone — not just families with kids at public schools — the group has found that the Castro campus offers an open, safe line of communication with immigrant families who have been forced to live in the shadows. When they invited representatives from the Mexican consulate and a lawyer to the school in April to talk about emergency planning, more than 70 people showed up.

"The families are at the schools every day, the kids are there, and it's right in the center of the neighborhood," Livnat said. "Any time you can get a lot of people to show up is a big victory."

One of the biggest challenges the group faces is that initial, uphill battle of gaining trust with a community fearful of divulging personal information. A well-advertised event at the public library may end up with next to zero attendance while a surreptitious meeting in the Mountain View Senior Center will draw plenty of families.

"The people who are living in the shadows are known to each other," said Diana Wegbreit, a Listos Mountain View member. "They go to church together, they know who their resources are. They're pretty darned successful to be managing here; it's just a matter of (us) finding a way into those networks."

ICE targets sanctuary cities

Last week, U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement announced it had completed a four-day immigration roundup specifically targeting so-called sanctuary jurisdictions, arresting just shy of 500 people across the country — 27 of whom resided in Santa Clara and San Francisco counties In a statement, ICE officials claimed that cities and counties that adopt sanctuary policies, such as limiting local law enforcement's cooperation with federal immigration agents, are protecting "dangerous criminal aliens" and undermining public safety.

Rakestraw said that kind of political posturing from ICE in press releases is largely ineffective at scaring the immigrant community, but seeing someone local get taken away by ICE — often in a discreetly marked van — every few months does keep a constant level of fear in Mountain View. On Sunday, Sept. 24, a Salvadorean teen was reportedly arrested by ICE somewhere in the downtown area, Rakestraw said. Immigration officers were looking for his brother, who had a criminal record, but incidentally took him instead, she said.

"Yes, the messaging has heightened fear in people, but it's a thousand times higher because of the boy who got picked up," she said. "If ICE comes in every two to three months and picks someone up, they keep up that fear and hope that they can force people to pack up and move."

Simitian said the ICE raids on sanctuary cities serve as an important reminder to the community at large of the "weight of anxiety" that perpetually hangs on undocumented immigrants, that there's a real, tangible threat that people who are here illegally may be taken away from their families.

"It's also a tangible reminder of why it is important to have groups like Listos Mountain View in place and adequately funded to do their work," he said.

Email Kevin Forestieri

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