Local law enforcement, Immigration Law Clinic, AB540 and Undocumented Student Center perspectives
A certification of an UndocuAlly training is signified by four butterflies against a green background, similar to the logo of the AB540 and Undocumented Student Center, a circle of interconnected butterfly wings. The addition of this butterfly to the end of a professor’s email, or to the number placard on their office door, can mean more to some students than others. According to Jesica Cuervos, a fourth-year transfer sociology student who is also a community advocate for the AB540 and Undocumented Student Center, the butterfly can help build trust.
“This also helps students who are taking a class […] and they see a professor who has that symbol outside their door, it kinda helps them build that trust because automatically they know that to an extent that professor already has that knowledge and doesn’t have to start from the beginning and explain ‘what is undocumented,’” Cuervos said.
This trust may be difficult to achieve during a moment in which the political climate seems to indicate an increasingly aggressive stance toward the undocumented, immigrants and minorities. Holly Cooper, the co-director of the Immigration Law Clinic at UC Davis, reflected on 20 years of work with detainees.
“We’ve always had this architected system of detention which is a very punitive environment for migrants,” Cooper said. “Some of the dynamics that I have seen change since the outset of the Trump administration are policies toward when a person can be released, and policies toward who should be apprehended. Now it feels like almost everybody is a priority.”
Cooper’s experiences have taught her that while the system of detention, which was a Democratic Party construct and increased militarization of the border, was part and parcel of the Obama administration. Today, amid increasingly aggressive immigration reform rhetoric, deportation does not seem to belong only to migrants with a strictly “criminal” history. Despite a broader definition of deportability, the rhetoric of criminality around migrants could not be more prevalent. Cooper and Yolo County sheriff-coroner and public administrator Sheriff Prieto critique this development.
“When we give credence to this whole terminology of criminality, we’re also giving credence to this whole system architected by racial principles, racist principles,” Cooper said.
Although Cooper is skeptical of the history of the criminal, penal system, Prieto works to move past the rhetoric that drives racist immigration policies and turns instead to constitutional law, human rights and due diligence.
“As the sheriff of Yolo County, my position has been very clear, even before the undocumented issues had become so vogue in our nation,” Prieto said. “I’ve always been a very staunch supporter of human rights, our constitutions, I’ve always been a very firm believer in our undocumented, that there are certain rights that have to be afforded to you […] just by the due diligence of law and court proceedings.”
The March 2018 ICE raid and arrest of 232 individuals in the Bay Area piqued the attention of the federal government and the general public following Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf’s warning to her constituents. Schaaf chose to notify her community of a potentially impending raid, information from an undisclosed source, in order to give individuals time to organize their affairs and prepare for the worst. ICE responded negatively, accusing Shaaf of responsibility for over 800 potential obfuscating undocumented migrants with a criminal history. Of the 232 individuals arrested, approximately 100 have a criminal history. Cooper resists the ease and exceptionalism with which political rhetoric has applied criminality to the undocumented.
“I’ve never been one to sort of run away from having a dialogue, an honest dialogue, about what it means to be an immigrant with a criminal history,” Cooper said.
Sheriff Prieto refers to a deep respect for the legal system to handle criminality as opposed to aggressively targeting the undocumented, whom he sees as scapegoated in our current political moment.
“The Yolo County sheriff’s office does not get involved in participating in any form of ICE raids, nor would we nor will we as long as I’m sheriff,” Prieto said. “We do not make arrests of undocumented individuals in the county, those that we stop, just because they’re undocumented. If somebody commits a very serious crime […] they are held in custody until they have a preliminary or they post bail. That is the due diligence of our constitution and human rights.”
Unfortunately, those arrested in Oakland will likely next be detained, according to Cooper. Once detained, Cooper says that the best chance an individual has to avoid deportation is through assistance of a lawyer, often an unaffordable prospect.
“If someone is detained they only have, like, a 15 percent chance that they will have legal representation,” Cooper said. “The chances are even lower that they’ll have free legal representation. The number one determining factor if someone is going to stay in the United States is whether they have a lawyer.”
The system of detention and deportation is convoluted, rendering those arrested hard-pressed to represent and protect themselves. The Immigration Law Clinic at UC Davis tries to represent all those it can within its resources, although they are limited. The AB540 and Undocumented Student Center, too, offers at least some level of legal services to its members.
“In general all students from UC Davis have access to legal resources for them and their family member,” Cuervos said. “Usually students feel confident and comfortable in that setting if they’re making an appointment and coming into the center and talking to a fellow that would also take into account […] even the mistrust that many students and general community members have with talking to lawyers and being in that space.”
Alongside a legal fellow, students of all types of documentation can seek counsel, at the very least. Aside from practical legal aid, the center manifests a space and ethos of community. Previous to 2014, the center was constantly reorganizing, transforming and struggled to present a clear message. Today, it is growing and is able to provide resources and support without constantly teaching people what it means to be undocumented.
“Through our center we offer a lot of different ways for students to get help, whether it’s financially or mentally or just finding a home away from home,” Cuervos said. “Each individual student doesn’t represent the story of everyone, and for that same reason it’s harder to understand the struggles and the amount of stress and the amount of emotional and mental stability that students have to control and deal with on a daily basis.”
Despite the fact that Davis is a sanctuary city and Sheriff Prieto pledges to never cooperate with an ICE raid in the county, members of the UC Davis community and beyond still fear the unknown. Whether for themselves or others, recent events spark fears.
“Especially now with the political climate I think everything is in a tension and you just don’t know what is going to happen and the reality is so not sharp for many of the students who identify as undocumented,” Cuervos said. “That’s another fear that students face […] the student might not be undocumented at all but the parents might be, or a sibling might be.”
Those who want to protect and support the undocumented community at UC Davis and Yolo County at large can sign up to become an UndocuAlly with AB540 and Undocumented Students Center.
Written by: Stella Sappington — firstname.lastname@example.org