THE BUZZ: Bridges, Not Walls

By on November 22, 2016

Community addresses what’s next for Latino populace under a Trump presidency.

St. John’s Church’s Hansen Hall was filled to brimming for an immigration forum hosted by One22. (Photo: Melissa Brumsted Snider)

St. John’s Church’s Hansen Hall was standing room only for an immigration forum hosted by One22. (Photo: Melissa Brumsted Snider)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – St. John’s Episcopal Church overflowed with concerned people of all ages and races on Wednesday to address how a Donald Trump presidency may impact this area’s Latino community. More than 250 residents gathered for a discussion led by attorneys Elisabeth Trefonas and Rosie Read of Trefonas Law. Psychotherapist Daniela Peterson joined the attorneys to offer advice about managing post-election anxiety and stress.

With reports of families already closing bank accounts and leaving town, the forum served to dispel outsized fears and give practical advice to Jackson residents worried about deportation.

One of the key issues addressed during the discussion is the potential for Jackson to become a sanctuary city—a place that employs a range of policies to protect undocumented immigrants. According to Lieutenant Tom Combs, of the Teton County Sheriff’s Department, the sole written agreement the county has with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is as a detention facility to hold federal immigration detainees.

“The only other time that ICE is contacted is if we have physical arrest where we need to verify the person’s identity and the person is foreign born,” Combs said. “We do not want the community to fear us,” he added.

During the evening forum, children played on the sidelines while a rapt audience of adults listened as Read and Trefonas tag-teamed discussion of the potential threats now facing undocumented immigrants.

The diverse turnout signaled community solidarity in the face of impending crisis. “If you leave with two things tonight, I hope you get valuable information,” said Mary Erickson, forum organizer and One22’s executive director. “And I want you to take a minute and look around the room. This is our community and we are standing together.”

Trefonas began the discussion addressing what she and Read say is the worst news for undocumented immigrants. Trump has promised that the current program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), will cease to exist on day one of his presidency. “We think this is the hardest thing that is going to happen, and it can happen just by the president-elect’s decision to do so,” Trefonas said. “He doesn’t need Congress or courts to make this decision.”

DACA, Trefonas explained, is a privilege that Obama extended to children who were brought to this country before the age of 16. These young people have little to no criminal background, are educated, and of good moral character, meaning they pay their taxes. “President Obama said we will not deport those individuals,” Trefonas said. “In exchange for paying a fine, those individuals could get a work permit and a driver’s license.”

Almost one and half million individuals nationwide will be impacted by eliminating DACA, Trefonas said. In Wyoming, there are 1,323 DACA applications, 605 of which have been approved. Trefonas said in an email that she would guess the majority of the approved DACA cases are in Teton County. In other words, hundreds of individuals and families here will be affected if Trump makes good on his promise to end DACA.

“I knew of 10 people in the room at the forum whose DACA cases we handled,” the attorney noted.

Trefonas had two pieces of advice regarding DACA. If individuals were currently thinking of applying for DACA for the first time, Trefonas Law advises that they not do this. “There are some concerns it might flag your life here,” Trefonas said, meaning that a DACA application might draw attention to an undocumented status.

However, Trefonas advised that people pursue DACA renewals if they are eligible. “If you are close to renewal, we are advising you do that as soon as possible,” she said.

She also recommended correcting illegal entry by leaving the country briefly under an advance parole document and then re-entering the U.S. lawfully.

Read said that, realistically, Trump will not be able to deport the nearly 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. Currently, Congress earmarks enough money to remove only 400,000 illegal immigrants.

Trefonas advised that people, if approached, are not required to speak with an ICE official.

“If they do not have an order to arrest you from a judge, you do not need to answer questions about your status here,” Trefonas said. “With local law enforcement, you never need to answer those questions. You might have to identify yourself, but if they ask where your visa is or if you are here unlawfully, you don’t have to answer them.”

At the end of the forum, several people said they want Jackson to become a sanctuary city. Erickson said she supports the concept, but acknowledged sanctuary can mean different things to different people.

“The idea has generally gotten a bad rap,” Erickson said. “I hope we can all agree that violent criminals should be arrested and eventually deported. But I would like our local police to be allowed to use their discretion and not ask for documentation during simple traffic stops.”

Indeed, discretion is the name of the game in what Mayor-elect Pete Muldoon calls “uncharted territory.”

“We don’t know yet what we’re up against, but we have to stand together,” he said, referring to Trump’s promises. “It’s a test for our community, but I believe we are up to the challenge.”

In general, elected officials showed interest in exploring policies that would protect undocumented immigrants in Teton County. County commissioners Greg Epstein, Natalia Duncan Macker, and Smokey Rhea all told The Planet they would be willing to look at options. Town councilors Jim Stanford and Hailey Morton Levinson also expressed interest in looking into the sanctuary issue; both councilors said they want to ensure that all Jackson residents feel safe and respected. Councilors Bob Lenz and Don Frank did not reply to emailed questions on this matter. Commissioner Mark Newcomb also did not respond to an email inquiry.

Muldoon said he is looking at “all feasible actions that we can take to make sure that no members of our community have to live in fear, and that we show support for them in word and in deed.”

One such action taken by the town council of Santa Ana, Calif., was that the town council recently voted to cancel the city’s contract to hold federal immigration detainees in the city’s jail. According to the news website, Voice of OC, the contract was the main funding source for the jail, which doesn’t hold people arrested by local police.

Another action taken in Seattle was to pass an ordinance barring police officers from asking about a person’s immigration status without reasonable suspicion that the person has been previously deported or has committed a felony, unless required to by law or a court order. This is the case in Seattle.

Sheriff Jim Whalen, who attended last Wednesday’s forum, said that his agreement with ICE exists solely for the purpose of public safety. The verbal agreement is that the sheriff’s office will contact ICE whenever they “take someone into custody for state law violation and there is evidence to suggest they are undocumented and foreign born.”

In the wake of Trump’s election, a number of cities nationwide have vowed to maintain their sanctuary status, including Seattle, Santa Fe, Portland, Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Trump has promised to cancel all federal funding to sanctuary cities. However, there are discrepancies about what “sanctuary” means in each city.

Seattle’s chief of police and mayor recently affirmed their version of sanctuary. The Seattle Times reported: “Despite threats of reduced federal funding, a Seattle Police Department policy barring officers from inquiring about a person’s immigration status will not change, Chief Kathleen O’Toole said Tuesday.”

Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales told NPR that Santa Fe would continue to be a sanctuary city. “We have to do everything we can at the city level to make sure that families who are living in fear now are protected and that we don’t use any local law enforcement resources to do really what the federal government’s job is, and that’s to check immigration status,” he said.

In an interview following the forum, Whalen echoed Gonzales’ sentiment. “We don’t have interest in our officers acting as immigration enforcers,” he said.

Whalen, however, says he was disappointed that Read and Trefonas advised immigrants not to answer police officers if asked about immigration status. “I thought there should have been an emphasis to not violate state law,” he said, including driving without a license. “We have good public transportation, or drive with someone properly licensed.”

Engendering a spirit of cooperation and coexisting between law enforcement and the public is Whalen’s hope. “My message is to please see yourself in terms of cooperating,” he said. “Let’s build a bridge and not a wall.” PJH

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About Meg Daly

Meg Daly is a freelance writer and arts instigator. She grew up in Jackson in the 1970s and 80s, when there were fewer fences, but less culture. Follow Meg on Twitter @MegDaly1

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