As Trump Presidency Looms, OC’s Immigrant Advocates Prepare for the Worst

Adam Elmahrek/Voice of OC

An activist opposed to the expansion of a Santa Ana jail contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement is interviewed by a reporter with the Spanish-language station Estrella TV.

In the week since President-elect Donald Trump’s shocking Election Day victory, immigrant-rights advocates throughout Orange County have begun mobilizing to prepare people in one of the nation’s most vulnerable immigrant communities for what will assuredly be a harsher stance from Washington D.C. regarding their rights to live and work in this country.

While Trump has in the days since the election backed away from his campaign pledge to deport all 11.4 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S., he is still vowing to remove up to three million who have committed crimes.

“On January 21 we cannot promise anybody that the law isn’t going to change…even for legal permanent residents,” said Julio Perez, executive director of the Orange County Labor Federation, which held a press conference last week condemning Trump and announcing a series of workshops to help legal residents apply for citizenship.

The county is home to an estimated 300,000 unauthorized immigrants and 170,000 legal permanent residents who are eligible for naturalization, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

And an estimated 18 percent of Orange County children have at least one unauthorized parent and 53 percent have an immigrant parent, according to a 2014 joint report by the University of California, Irvine and University of Southern California.

The Labor Federation has launched an early effort to encourage legal permanent residents to naturalize, with the fear that new policies could make it more difficult for those even with legal residency to remain in the United States or acquire citizenship.

It is also planning to canvass neighborhoods in Anaheim and Santa Ana to raise awareness of resources for unauthorized immigrants.

“It’s only a matter of time before they’re talking about legal immigrants," said Jose Moreno, president of Los Amigos of Orange County and a candidate for Anaheim City Council, in a phone interview. "Bill Clinton agreed to immigration reform in 1996 – including taking away access to programs for legal that’s where they may start.”

Nearly 100 people turned out Wednesday evening for a hastily arranged informational meeting hosted by the Public Law Center at Latino Health Access in Santa Ana. During the meeting, attorneys provided general legal advice about the potential future of President Obama’s programs that provide protection from deportation, work permits and pathways to legal residency for unauthorized youth or the unauthorized parents of U.S. citizens.

The somber event drew teenagers, young parents and grandparents, all listening intently as attorneys gave guidance about risks of applying for the federal government's deportation protection programs before Trump’s inauguration. They are called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA); and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA).

Attorneys warned that applying for either program would mean providing their home address and personal information to immigration authorities, and there is no guarantee their information would not be used to deport them.

Mary Anne Foo, executive director of Orange County Asian Pacific Islander Community Alliance, said the organization has fielded calls from clients who are concerned about the status of their DACA or DAPA applications, and those concerned about whether they would lose their health coverage under Obamacare.

Fourteen percent of the state’s undocumented population is Asian-American, with South Korean, Filipino and Chinese communities among the most impacted.

“We’ve had a lot of calls to our mental health counselors about fear – people who are afraid, whose friends have been attacked verbally, families where children are afraid,” said Foo.

State and Local Protections

One positive for unauthorized immigrants living in California is they are likely to be among the most protected in the nation. Officials in a number of cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, have reaffirmed their jurisdictions as sanctuary cities and say they will continue to defy federal immigration authorities, despite threats from Trump that he will cut off their federal funding.

During their regular meeting Tuesday, members of the Santa Ana City Council majority declared Santa Ana a sanctuary city that will refuse to cooperate with deportations.

“The other side has been so bold to spout out hatred and division, said Councilman David Benavides. “I think we need to be bold…and take the stance that this is a sanctuary city. This is a place where our community is safe and…we’re going to stand with them.”

State legislators from both houses have also issued a joint letter, in English and Spanish, stating that it would defend its laws from threat of rollback by Trump.

Additionally, since 2014, the state has had legislation that limits the use of local jails for immigration holds and allows unauthorized immigrants who are the victims or witnesses to crimes to be able to cooperate with police without fear of deportation.

Progressive groups are pushing local public schools – which are required under federal law to provide public education to all children regardless of immigration status -- to become places where unauthorized immigrants and their families can access information and support without fear of referral to immigration authorities.

The Anaheim Union High School District, through its spokeswoman Patricia Karlak, said it will work with community advocates to “develop a supportive plan for our undocumented students and families,” including emotional support and information on deferred action programs and power of attorney.

At a meeting of the Latino civic club Los Amigos of Orange County Wednesday morning, Teresa Mercado-Cota, assistant dean at Santa Ana College, recalled the fear, shock and anxiety from students and professors at a recent college forum. “I think cities and schools need to formalize that they are sanctuaries,” she sai

Groups like the Labor Federation, OCCORD, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice and American Civil Liberties Union are also planning workshops to educate unauthorized immigrants about their constitutional rights when approached or detained by immigration officials, and to prevent fraud by notarios (immigration consultants) and others claiming to be immigration attorneys.

Fears of Increased Racism

With the results of the election still fresh, members Los Amigos Wednesday, who are of many ethnic backgrounds, discussed their fears of not only changes to immigration policy, but growing division and racism.

Zeke Hernandez, president of the Santa Ana chapter #147 of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), said he has received calls about bullying and verbal harassment in school yards and on streets.

“I have heard from so many people, ‘never before have I been so disrespected,’” he said.

A 50-year-old man and former U.S. Marine who goes by the name Plumas, meaning “feathers” in Spanish, recalled times throughout his life that he was called a “dirty Mexican” or the child of “wetbacks.”

He recalled recent months spent working in Newport Beach, where he said he was spit on and called racial slurs.

“I’ve never pulled the race card…but after my experience in Newport I can’t [claim] that what our people have gone through has ended,” said Plumas.

Moreno said the threat of deportation isn’t new for many Latinos.

“While Trump is threatening to deport three million people, Obama did deport three million people," Moreno said, alluding to the more than 2.5 million people who have been deported during Obama's two terms in office.

Hairo Cortez-Palacio, program coordinator for Orange County Immigrant Youth United, said the group is focusing its efforts on protecting the deferred action programs and lobbying local government.

“It means resisting attempts to crack down [by the federal government] while also pushing for local action that creates stronger protections for the immigrant community,” Cortez-Palacio said.

Obama’s deferred action programs came after a nationwide push by immigrant rights groups and by unauthorized youth to demand comprehensive immigration reform and pathways to residency and citizenship for the undocumented.

“Now is not the time to go back into the shadows. If there’s anything we’ve learned, the more people are involved in the local community and open about their status…the easier it is to come to their aid and defense.”

Contact Thy Vo at or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.