County reassures illegal immigrants

The Santa Clara County’s Board of Supervisors are considering a proposal to partner with the city of San Jose and nonprofit groups to give immigrants legal services, such as preparing documents and representing them in court.

The plan would also ensure that immigrants in the county know about changes in federal immigration policies that may affect them, according to Chavez and Cortese.

“We will do everything we can to make sure our residents know their rights and have access to legal services to protect them from unjust deportation,” board President Dave Cortese said. “The county has long strived to be a place where immigrants can live without fear of being uprooted from their homes. That doesn’t go away with a new administration.”

Groups that oppose illegal immigration questioned spending public funds for such purposes.

“I’m not sure if the taxpayers of Santa Clara County would think that is a priority for them,” said Ira Mehlman, director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform. “There are probably a lot of other needs that money could go toward.”

The move to provide legal aid for local immigrants is similar to steps taken in other cities that voted democratically in the Nov. 8 election.

Major cities around California in Oakland, San Francisco and Los Angeles have also reportedly discussed using public funding for legal representation for immigrants and have even taken further steps to make sure that their local police departments should take a “hands off” approach with regards to immigration.

Local police departments around the Bay Area have also decided not to take an active approach in enforcing immigration policy not only because it could corrode community trust but also because it could lead to the victimization of people with immigrant status by providing incentives for immigrants to avoid law enforcement.

“The San Jose Police Department has not and will not enforce federal immigration laws,” police chief Eddie Garcia said at a news conference Friday at police headquarters. “It’s not our role.”

Donald Trump has said that one of his priorities will be deporting immigrants with criminal records, and experts have said that to accomplish that goal Trump would have to go after hundreds of thousands of people in California, including some with green cards and low-level convictions. The steps for Santa Clara county to provide legal aid is in the midst of rising calls around the country for cities that voted overwhelmingly against Trump to become “sanctuary cities” that do not honor requests from federal immigration officials.

Much of the uproar was also in response to the President-elect’s vow to repeal the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) through which more than 700,000 immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children have obtained temporary relief from deportation.

The march was part of a groundswell movement calling for colleges to become “immigrant sanctuaries,” places where school administration officials would not actively cooperate with federal officials on rooting out illegal immigrants.

According to the online publication Inside Higher Ed, more than 20 petitions calling on administrators to take action to make their institutions “sanctuary campuses” have circulated through social media since the election and many more are to follow.

The effort to create safe spaces for illegal immigrants in both universities and in the cities actually began under the administration of President Barack Obama, whose own aggressive deportation efforts provoked strong resistance but has only been strengthened since the election.

A major concern that universities and police departments have around the country is a fiscal fallout with the federal government. Under federal law, school administrators and police departments cannot technically block the federal government from deporting illegal immigrants as that would violate the tenets of the supremacy clause in the Constitution. However, neither police departments nor schools have to report immigration status which would make it more difficult for the department of immigration and border protection to find immigrants as they would have to conduct their own investigations.

Santa Clara County is also shifting staff into high gear to prepare for the fiscal fallout if the Trump administration were to withhold federal funding from local jurisdictions bucking his immigration policy.

Joe Guzzardi of Californians for Population Stabilization said people should wait, however, to see what the administration brings rather than jumping to hasty conclusions.

“I just don’t see where there’s an immediate threat to the existing illegal population,” he said. “What Trump has said is that he’s going to get rid of the criminal aliens, and then establish a reliable border security by fence or wall or combination of the two. Only at that point is he going to decide what to do with the remaining population of illegal immigrants.

“That to me says that any kind of action for the general illegal immigrant population could be years away,” Guzzardi said. “There’s a lot of fear and fear mongering going on out there.”

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