Local advocates are calling on elected officials, law enforcement and allies in Merced County to unite against the recent deportation efforts happening in Atwater and surrounding areas.
Five men in Atwater were picked up by the U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, on Sunday morning and advocates rallied together quickly in response to the “unjust” way the five men were taken, they say.
Two men were detained at an Atwater home by ICE agents who identified themselves to the family as “police” and not immigration enforcement, advocates said. Later that day, ICE agents waited outside Circle K on Shaffer Road in Atwater for three men who stopped for some coffee on their way to work, according to a witness.
Both instances were seen as unfair and a betrayal of trust to the advocates who spoke out at the gathering. About 30 people attended.
“We are not going to tolerate this in our community,” said Lupe Delgado, community organizer for Faith in the Valley. “We will not tolerate racial profiling. We are not going to keep living in the shade. This is an immediate call for action.”
Delgado urged people to call their congressional representatives, board of supervisors and city council members to prevent more families from being torn apart by deportation efforts.
ICE officials said in a statement they do not conduct raids that “target aliens indiscriminately, and the agency prioritizes public and national security threats, immigration fugitives and illegal re-entrants.”
“However, all of those in violation of immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States,” the statement also included.
UC Merced student Jose Chavez, who was at the rally, said his parents made the “ultimate sacrifice” to come to the United States from Michoacan, Mexico, knowing the risks they were taking to give him the “American dream” so many people search for.
“They didn’t come with the intent of hurting anyone,” the 18-year-old DACA student told the Sun-Star in an interview. “I’m here to go to college, graduate and become a model citizen.”
“I’m more than just an immigrant, I’m a person,” he added. “If we don’t fight for what we want we’re never going to get it.”
This is proof ICE is starting to come to smaller cities, Chavez said, and “people live in fear and parents are scared they’ll go to work and not come back.”
ICE did not confirm the Atwater arrests of Sunday morning, but said in a statement more than 150 people who violated federal immigration laws have been arrested in Northern California since Sunday. The agency said about half of them have criminal convictions, including assault, crimes against children, weapons charges and DUI.
“Sanctuary jurisdictions like San Francisco and Oakland shield dangerous criminal aliens from federal law enforcement at the expense of public safety,” said ICE Deputy Director Thomas D. Homan in a statement. “Because these jurisdictions prevent ICE from arresting criminal aliens in the secure confines of a jail, they also force ICE officers to make more arrests out in the community, which poses increased risks for law enforcement and the public.”
With Senate Bill 54 in October, California became a “sanctuary state” for undocumented immigrants. Earlier in the year, Livingston became the first and only city in Merced County to designate itself a “sanctuary.”
In the 2017 fiscal year, ICE arrested 20,201 undocumented people throughout California, the statement said, and 81 percent were convicted criminals.
Ana Maria Fabian, 50, has been living undocumented in the United States for 20 years and said she’s not fearful but has “a lot of sadness” for the families who were torn apart because of the recent deportation efforts.
“I am here for them,” the Merced resident said in Spanish. “Don’t be scared because fear will make you lose what we tried to build in this country.”
Monica Velez: 209-385-2486, @monicavelez21