Alameda County Supervisor Richard Valle
represents numerous immigrant populations
in District 2. PHOTO/Matt Santos

A sense of panic within immigrant communities in Alameda County is pushing residents to discontinue accessing county social services due to fears their personal information will lead to deportations. High absenteeism among immigrant students is also resulting from uncertainty over President Trump’s immigration policies and proposals, according to an ad hoc committee on immigrant and refugee rights led Thursday by Alameda County Supervisors Wilma Chan and Richard Valle.

The committee’s inaugural meeting repeatedly described a disturbing sense of foreboding among immigrant populations and the non-profits that served them. The committee intends to hold a series of hearings this year at the Board of Supervisors chambers and across the county, the next being March 11 in Union City, said Valle.

“Today I hope we can speak more about this issue and speak from our hearts about how we connect with each other as human beings and the importance of having mutual respect for people throughout the world,” said Valle, who represents District 2 in southern Alameda County.

Both county supervisors represent some of the largest immigrant communities in the East Bay. During the three-hour hearing they heard of ominous threats of raids by U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement agents, and mere rumors of eminent raids, later proven false, that are casting a sense of depression over residents, according to numerous speakers.

County staff said there has been a noticeable uptick in immigrants discontinuing use of social services or resisting giving personal information during the application process for safety net aid. When it comes to MediCal, county staff told supervisors, there have been instances where recipients with chronic illnesses are skipping their scheduled appointments for fear of facing legal entanglements.

Non-profit health care clinics in Alameda County are also being put in bad position because of the lack of information for navigating the current immigration maze, Chan added. “They’ve had people deported because they took medical care,” Chan said of local clinics. “They don’t know whether to say [the government] can’t do that to them or tell them, ‘You’re in danger.’”

Eleni Wolfe-Roubatis, an attorney for Centro Legal de La Raza, said the situation is in flux regarding Trump’s immigration orders and those that may come down the line. Similar questions surround children brought to the U.S. by undocumented parents, known as Dreamers, said Wolfe-Roubatis. “I know everybody wants a very broad and easy pamphlet to give,” she lamented. However, individuals should seek consultations with an immigration lawyer based on their unique situations, she advised.

The extreme uncertainty over immigration has led local and state leaders to propose legislation that has focused on resisting Trump’s objectives toward illegal immigration while earmarking additional funding for legal services to aid immigrants, regardless of their status in the U.S.

East Bay Assemblymember Rob Bonta, for instance, proposed legislation earlier this month that would support public defenders by securing funding to fine tune their expertise in immigration law.

Last week, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors led by Chan, allocated $750,000 in matching funds to provide rapid-response legal aid for immigrants in the county. In addition, several East Bay cities and 12 of the 18 school districts in Alameda County have declared sanctuary cities or safe havens for immigrants. Chan said Thursday that she hopes local cities can allocate additional funding to the pot. “Even if they put in $50,000, we could find a match,” she said.

School children appear to be struggling with the constant fear of having parents deported along with the prospects of having their family life upended. “Families are sharing with us a deep sense of anxiety and detachment,” said Jason Arenas, a representative from the Alameda County Office of Education.

High absenteeism among immigrant students has been reported all over the county, said Arenas. In particular, immigrant students and those with undocumented parents in Alameda , Hayward and the New Haven Unified School District in Union City “are not coming to school,” he said.

“The mental health of our children is critical, especially at an early age,” added Valle.

Chan, in her comments last week about the impetus for seeking $750,000 for legal services, also worried about the effect on the children of immigrants.

She asked Arenas whether any incidents of two parents being deported at once has been documented, while leaving the children in legal limbo. Indeed, a family in the New Haven school district has faced that exact fate, said Arenas.

However, a legal arrangement was already in place securing custody for the children, said Arenas. “That’s a huge part of the information that needs to continue to go out,” said Chan.