.Undocumented Parents Prepare for the Worst

[This is the third story in a series examining immigration issues in Santa Cruz County. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.]

Sitting in a corner of the children’s section of the downtown public library, Camila* is holding a tan notebook. In it, she’s written a quote from Thomas Jefferson: “When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty.”

As an activist, Camila fought for plastic-free oceans, joining a statewide push for legislation to ban plastic bags and straws. She joined in the fight to preserve the Beach Flats Community Garden and got to know the Santa Cruz City Council very well with her regular appearances at meetings. But under the first few months of the new presidential administration, she has cautiously slid out of the limelight.

The parent of two young girls, Camila volunteers regularly at their school, teaching Spanish and art. They are her top priority.

“I have fears,” says Camila, an undocumented immigrant. “If it’s just me, I don’t care, but I don’t want to be separated from my kids. If I make a mistake or say things loudly as an activist, if I make someone in power uncomfortable, they can send ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] agents to my house.”

Like many in her situation, Camila pays taxes using an Employee Identification Number. Her driver’s license identifies her undocumented status with the words “Federal Limits” in the upper right corner. “Out there, many people are saying, ‘You break the law and you know it. There are consequences,’” she says. “But I believe that no human is illegal. In certain moments of your life you made decisions, and I am here. My kids are born here. They are American citizens, and they have rights.”

Attorney Tanya Ridino works with Monarch Services, a domestic violence outreach program that primarily serves the Latino community. After the election, Monarch began to receive a much higher volume of calls from parents asking for help with planning for their children’s welfare in the event that they are deported. She began training her bilingual staff to help families plan for the possibility of deportation. Along with a heightened increase in calls, she has noticed a drop off in showing up for appointments. “People are terrified to come in and seek legal help that they need,” she says.

Ridino isn’t the only one who’s sensed an increase in fear and uncertainty within the immigrant community. Immediately after the election, Michele Bigley, a writing instructor for UCSC and Cal State University of Monterey Bay, wondered how she could help those who might become more vulnerable under President Donald Trump’s new administration. Her husband, Eddie Broitman, an estate planning attorney, told her he also wanted to do something to help. She heard the same thing from her friends—parents, educators, and health professionals. Bigley and company teamed up with Sanctuary Central, a group working to make all residents feel welcome, and began to look at existing legal documents. “It’s all new to everyone. We are trying to latch on to the knowledge of people who worked in these fields for a long time,” Bigley says.


Safe Haven

The Self Help Center (SHC) at the courthouse in Watsonville is the only free place people can go for help with understanding legal issues and rights. Director of Operations Sasha Morgan says that they have gotten a lot of phone calls about notaries who were charging big bucks for legal advice that the SHC provides for free. SHC attorneys hosted a meeting at the Santa Cruz courthouse on March 14 to identify steps parents might follow to prepare for a deportation. They are also putting together a packet with local resources and a checklist of documents, modeled after a similar effort from the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC), as well as the “Know Your Rights” Red Card that groups like Community Bridges are distributing.

Three other documents are circulating now, and the SHC may also include them in its packet. A caregiver affidavit, for instance, allows a parent to choose an individual to be responsible for their children in the event that they are no longer able to care for them. The responsible individual signs the affidavit if and when it becomes necessary.

Most parents have expressed the desire to have their children brought to them if they are deported. Doing so requires a specific power of attorney identifying the terms of travel, including names and locations, and dual citizenship for the child is helpful.

Some community members have suggested circulating a nomination of guardianship form. Advocates like Ridino are concerned, though, that the document could be misused, because it completely removes parental rights and could make it very difficult to restore them. Ridino says she has had years of experience trying to help people undo disputed guardianship.

Morgan says all parents, regardless of immigration status, should update emergency contacts on record at their child’s school and specify in writing who they want to take care of their children in their absence. A representative from the Santa Cruz City School District says officials have also offered to scan important paperwork, since many documents were destroyed during the recent raids.


Point of Order

Camila is wary of getting help because she feels it isn’t safe. She took her children into court to get their passports, even though she felt very nervous doing so. Doug Keegan, program director of the Santa Cruz County Immigration Program, says it’s important to make sure the courts remain safe places locally, because there have been incidents of ICE agents showing up at courthouses to make arrests, as they did recently in Pasadena.

Although Camila has identified someone to be a guardian, the thought of that becoming a reality is too much for her to consider. Her family is in Mexico, but her only friends are here. She trusts those friends, but she says that—when it comes to her kids—no amount of trust could make the idea of a splintered family tolerable. It would be very difficult on her young kids, who don’t fully understand the situation when she and her husband talk to them about it.

A recent Community Bridges meeting for concerned immigrants shared information, including tips on self-care from a therapist. Nervous parents swarmed volunteers with questions. “I just want to give people some peace of mind,” says Rocio Liontop, who leads the group Proyecto de Tutela, a group of estate-planning attorneys.

Community Bridges devotes itself to serving the needs of all immigrants, regardless of legal status. CEO Raymon Cancino says providing helpful information is important, since the Trump administration has not been particularly clear on who will or will not be impacted by president’s campaign promises.

Bigley says some of her students came here as young as two years of age, but they’re undocumented. “They are just as American as we are, but they don’t have that paper. They are out there doing the real work—helping others in need, the mentally ill, kids with cancer,” she says. “They are doing the work in the most meaningful heartfelt areas, and to think we are sending the message that we don’t want them, it shames me for my country.”

*Name has been changed to protect source’s identity.


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