Responding to a week of stepped-up immigration enforcement throughout the state, the United Farm Workers of America organized a series of regional rallies Monday demanding an end to detainments of non-criminal immigrants.
Those rallies took place in Visalia, Modesto, Salinas, Merced, and Orosi. In Hanford, protesters occupied the offices of Republican Rep. David Valadao. In Bakersfield, protesters gathered outside the steps of the Kern County Superior Courthouse in front of the Liberty Bell.
There, more than a dozen people — some of them undocumented — waved iconic red UFW flags and called for an end to deportations. “Estamos en la lucha,” they chanted at passing cars. “We are in the fight.”
The rally comes after U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents changed their enforcement methods throughout the state in reaction to California’s “sanctuary state” law, which bars federal agents from entering jails to take undocumented criminals into custody, and restricts local law enforcement from working with ICE.
Immigrant communities have been shaken this week as more ICE agents have been deployed into neighborhoods to seek out targeted undocumented immigrants who have criminal backgrounds. Those agents, however, have been detaining people who may not necessarily have criminal backgrounds, but come into contact with agents in the field. ICE officials say such “collateral arrests” are a byproduct of agents conducting at-large arrests in neighborhoods.
At least 26 people throughout Kern County have reported to the UFW Foundation that they have family members — many of them farm workers — who have been detained since last week.
“People are living in fear,” Erriberto Fernandez, a UFW research and policy coordinator said Monday at the protest.
Armando Elenes, national vice president of the UFW, said that his organization has been focusing on documenting the detainments they can confirm; educating farm workers of their rights; and encouraging them to report and document sightings of ICE agents in their communities through a Rapid Response Network.
“We want to make sure that families are not afraid,” Elenes said, praising the power of social media to allow the UFW to quickly send mass warnings to their members, but also wary of how unconfirmed sightings can lead to hysteria.
Most of the people who have been detained in the last week, Elenes said, have been farm workers heading to the fields.
“Most have no prior records and no criminal history,” said Elenes, who was skeptical of ICE’s assertion that they must conduct at-large operations in response to the state sanctuary laws.
“If California had not taken action, it would have been even worse,” Elenes said. “ICE is trying to use this as a scare tactic, and criminal histories as a scare tactic.”
The current enforcement methods need to stop, said Arvin Mayor Jose Gurrola, who attended the rally and praised Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, who was criticized by ICE officials last week for warning immigrant communities in her town of planned enforcement operations.
“Both sides need to come together. We need Valadao to champion this issue and the people elected to represent us,” Gurrola said.
Many of those at the rally blame President Donald Trump, whose administration gave greater discretion to individual ICE agents last year, allowing them to arrest those they have “probable cause” to believe are violating immigration laws.
But some are also looking to the president for a solution.
Trump last year said he would “show great heart” when approaching a solution to Obama-era executive orders that established Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. He set a deadline that passed Monday for Congress to create comprehensive immigration reform that would include a solution for the nation’s about 700,000 DACA recipients.
“I know he has a heart. I know somewhere deep down in there, he can give us some hope,” said Frank Garcia, a first-generation American citizen who wore a Trump mask at the protest — its eyes poked out and a Mexican mustache pasted over his lip. “I don’t support him, but he has to support us. He’s our president. He has to stand for us.”