Anti-Trump demonstrators downtown earlier this year
Anti-Trump demonstrators downtown earlier this year
Brian Feinzimer/L.A. Weekly

Fearing Trump's Policies, the Undocumented in California Go Underground

Undocumented immigrants are facing not only a new round of federal sweeps under the administration of President Trump but a change in tone in the national conversation about those who cross our borders without permission.

Trump's words alone — he kicked off his campaign for the White House by calling Mexican immigrants criminals and rapists — have had an effect. A new report from the nonprofit California Reinvestment Coalition says the potential for arrest, deportation and hate crimes is having a deep impact on a large portion of the population of the Golden State, where a nation-leading 2.35 million undocumented people reside.

"In response to this rhetoric, reports suggest that immigrant families are less likely to report crimes, to seek justice through our legal system, to seek medical care for their children, or to access needed services like food stamps, highlighting how the health, safety, and economic security of immigrant families and entire communities are being compromised," according to the report, titled "Hiding in Plain Sight."

The report cites an array of examples of immigrants impacted by new policy and rhetoric — parents afraid to send children to school, landlords trying to evict immigrants illegally, increased federal arrests — but it also surveys 43 nonprofit public service organizations in the state regarding the impacts they've documented.

"There is absolutely no doubt in our mind that the anti-immigrant and xenophobic rhetoric of the Trump administration is feeding a sense of anxiety and foreboding in communities largely comprised of immigrants," Jorge-Mario Cabrera, communications director of CHIRLA (Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights) said via email.

Sixty-eight percent of those respondents named children of undocumented immigrants avoiding school out of fear family members would be deported as a top concern in the Trump era. The same percentage were concerned that folks they serve weren't showing up for work as a result of the same fears. One in five of the organization say they've seen fewer undocumented clients since the election. The biggest concern (98 percent of respondents said so) is that families could be separated under Trump's suspension of Obama-era DACA protections for those who were brought to the United States illegally when they were children.

"It appears there is a general feeling among families that they are in greater danger due to increased hate rhetoric and rumors of changes in policies and the heightened risk of deportation of detention," says California Reinvestment Coalition executive director Paulina Gonzalez. "We've begun to hear from our member organizations that families are afraid to walk children to school — they're even afraid to go to work. There's a drop off in public services and benefits. That's what generalized fear does."

Cops, including the Los Angeles Police Department, have expressed concern that the undocumented are letting crimes go unreported. In spring, Chief Charlie Beck said the department had seen deep declines in spousal-abuse and sexual assault reports. "While there is no direct evidence that the decline is related to concerns within the Hispanic community regarding immigration, the department believes deportation fears may be preventing Hispanic members of the community from reporting when they are victimized," according to an LAPD statement.

"If people don't feel safe in their communities or feel they can't even walk outside," Gonzalez says.

That's not good for business, especially in Los Angeles, where about 1 in 10 residents is undocumented. "If small businesses are reliant on the communities they serve — and they are — having an entire community living in fear has an impact on the local economy," she says.

The flip side of fear, however, can be anger and action. Gonzalez says Trump's policies and remarks have inspired a new generation of pro-immigrant activists, particularly young people who were covered by DACA, to rise up, defend their communities, and organize "know your rights" workshops. "There's a great deal of organizing that is happening," she says.

"Some individuals may be curtailing their activities outside of work or home," Cabrera added. "But CHIRLA has not seen members of our community cutting back on their daily activities but we have observed more apprehension, concern for the future, and limiting their contact with law enforcement, including when they are victims of a crime or when they need help. The reign of terror by the Trump administration must stop."

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