More than 600 people turned out for a city-sponsored immigration forum last week in Salinas. Hosted by the Salinas chief of police, the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office and other city and county officials, the Spanish-language forum was scheduled in response the federal government’s recent focus on immigration reform and deportations.
“There’s a serious level of fear of being deported, and more of, being deported and leaving the children behind. Some of the these parents, as we heard them last night, they thought, what are the guarantees that if I’m working out in the field, is [U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE)] going to come and pick me up?” Tony Barrera, a Salinas city council member, told KCBX on Friday. “That was a big part of the discussion.”
Rolando Mazariegos is a deputy district attorney for Monterey County. He said the fear was palpable among the attendees, and that he told them his office enforces state law - not federal - and does not prosecute people simply because of citizenship status. He says the Monterey County DA’s office doesn’t partner with the federal ICE agency.
City Councilor Barrera says much of the forum was spent reassuring folks of that fact.
“So they didn’t have no reason to fear local law enforcement,” Barrera said. “But then [local law enforcement] said, we can’t guarantee what the federal government is going to do...but at the same time we are going to do everything in our power to protect you.”
Recently the Salinas City Council voted not to declare themselves a sanctuary city; the vote was four to three against it. Barrera said that vote did a lot to increase fear among residents, and that during the forum, attendees asked city officials to host another forum, this time with growers and farm owners on hand.
“Being that the growers are the ones that sometimes that help out financially with national political campaigns, I told them don’t even think that the growers are not on the phone right now, trying to protect their investment,” Barrera said. “As field workers, your part of their investment because you are their labor force”
Commander Joseph Banuelos of the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office was at the forum as well, and he said he thought the fear is being blown out of proportion on social media.
“We are doing nothing different than we have in the Obama Administration. And ICE, or immigration, has been operating in our jail since 2015,” Banuelos said. “A good example is in 2016 we booked 12,200 people in our facility, in our jail, and only 391 of them were taken by ICE.”
More community meetings on immigration will be held in the coming weeks in Salinas, say county officials.