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DACA Blues

Sonoma County sings the immigrant song

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ARCHITECT OF EMPATHY  Legal-observer trainee George Beeler says immigrants are ‘critical to our local economy - and in celebrating the exuberance of the food culture.’
  • ARCHITECT OF EMPATHY Legal-observer trainee George Beeler says immigrants are ‘critical to our local economy and in celebrating the exuberance of the food culture.’

Hector Jimenez is a 20-year-old sophomore at Santa Rosa Junior College whose parents brought him to the United States from Mexico when he was all of one year old.

Like many recent and undocumented immigrants, his parents were flushed out of their Oaxaca home by the negative economic impacts of the '90s-era North American Free Trade Agreement.

"I've been in the Santa Rosa area ever since," Jimenez says. But if Trump has anything to say about it, he's facing deportation to a country that's not his home.

Jimenez is one of 800,000 people, about one-fourth of them from California, who face possible deportation after Trump's decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which established a formalized registration system under which Americans like Jimenez could come out of the proverbial shadows and get a Social Security card, a driver's license and live without fear.

Jimenez has a cousin in the same situation, a graduate of Sonoma State University who, "when he got his degree and tried to use it, nobody would hire him because he didn't have a Social Security number," Jimenez says. His cousin graduated when Jimenez was in middle school, "and that's when I really realized what this meant for me." He recalls that he "essentially gave up on school—I didn't ditch it, but I just wasn't in it mentally because I realized that, 'what's the point if, when I graduate, I won't be able to use my degree anyway?'"

But he stayed in school and Obama unveiled DACA while Jimenez was entering high school. Like many youth in that age bracket, he wanted to get his driver's license but couldn't. "Luckily, this program came around, and I was excited but also very afraid; it put all of us in a vulnerable position, giving them all of my information that if they wanted to use it against us, there would be no legal consequence. It was a vulnerable and terrifying position to be in, but at the same time I was so excited to get my driver's license."

Now Jimenez is studying sociology and law at SRJC which, like many schools around the state and country, has become something of a sanctuary school, with about 1,500 undocumented students on the rolls and a dozen or so DACA Dreamers like Jimenez, who works in the schools' immigrant-resource Dream Center.

In response to Trump's order, the University of California state system has come out in vociferous opposition, and on Monday the state of California itself announced it would sue the administration for its push against the Obama legacy item. The state community college system is yet another of a number of organizations and agencies to come out swinging against the destruction of DACA. Local politicians, from State Sen. Mike McGuire to U.S. Congressman Jared Huffman, have issued blistering take-downs on the rescinded policy over the past week—"un-American," in Huffman's words—as Trump has rolled out his latest version of governance-by-blackmail to a compliant GOP Congress.

The program, says Jimenez, opened up a future that he couldn't envision before 2012. Persons who came to the States as children were given the opportunity to register in exchange for a commitment from the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency that they wouldn't be targeted for deportation. Seemed like a pretty square deal that fixed a long-standing problem.

That promise has been taken back, as Trump has broken faith with the essential decency and practicality of DACA, which emerged only after one do-nothing Congress after another refused to take on immigration "reform," lately under the Dream Act. Now Trump has called on Congress to pass reform, and if they don't, he'll start deporting people whose only crime is something their parents did. The same Trump who pardoned disgraced Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio and issued an executive order banning Muslims from the United States, has now argued that Obama exceeded his authority.

"I couldn't believe it at first," says Jimenez. "It was angering and frustrating to hear that the reason they were ending it was the rule of law—but they go out and pardon Joe Arpaio? How is this justifiable as well? This individual committed numerous crimes, and you pardon him? How is that just at all?"

Through DACA and the politics that pushed it into existence, Jimenez found his way, got interested in organizing and was part of the movement that pressured the Obama administration "so that something would occur. I was motivated and moved by that."

That's all changed now, says Jimenez, whose work at the SRJC Dream Center puts him in contact with undocumented students. "I've noticed the panic within the community—there's a lot of people coming here who seek comfort, and there's definitely been a spike in depression and anxiety, which is completely understandable. People who already have all sorts of things going on—they are taking 17-plus [college credit] units, working two jobs and also have to pay rent and on top of that—are now being told that they might not even be able to work."

The DACA downer has added urgency to efforts underway to protect undocumented individuals from excessive zealotry at the hands of ICE and the Department of Homeland Security.

It's a hot and dry Saturday afternoon in Petaluma, where about 20 Sonoma County residents have showed up at the Unitarian Universalist church on the west side of town to be trained as legal observers.

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