“Greatness is what we do for others, not who we are,” reads the message around the big heart with four figures inside that Sophie Cruz drew to represent her mother, father, and younger sister.
It was part of a letter Cruz, age 8, wrote to President Donald Trump on Monday, Feb. 20 (President’s Day), where — among other things —she asked Trump to follow in the legacy of “equality, justice, respect, peace” as previous leaders have done.
“Please look for a solution to make the kids not to be afraid that one day they take away our parents. I love my parents as much as you love your children,” she wrote.
Like Cruz, about a dozen other kids, all with undocumented parents, wrote letters to Trump asking him to stop the raids they fear would separate them from their families.
It was an event organized by Hermandad Mexicana Transnacional, a community and immigration services organization located in Van Nuys, that sought to bring attention to the fear the recent raids across the country caused in the undocumented communities — particularly here in Southern California.
“These are US citizen children that are affected by the raids,” said Gloria Saucedo, director of the organization. “We’re going to send these letters to the White House and we’re going to ask for a audience with the President when we take a delegation of children to Washington (D.C.) in the spring. We want him to hear what the raids have meant for them.”
The fear is something Jeffrey Herrera, 13, knows firsthand.
“I’m a little bit afraid that my mom [would be] deported because she’s all alone and she doesn’t have anyone who can help her,” he said.
Herrera didn’t hesitate when asked what he would say to the President if he had the chance to speak with him.
“I would tell him to not deport our parents. Without them we wouldn’t be able to live in this country because we’d be alone,” he said.
He Can Be Good Or Bad
Yancy Vargas, 11, who drew three pictures of Trump at the bottom of his letter — on one side Trump as Hitler giving the Nazi salute and on the other Trump is welcoming immigrants at the border — shares the fear. The drawing is a representation of the choice the President has in his hands. He can be good or he can be bad, Vargas explained.
“I wish he would read this letter and think for three minutes and change his mind about deporting people,” he added.
Justin, 8 and Angeline Ramos, 4, also wrote letters and finished them with a big heart, something their mother, Ingrid Paredes, hopes Trump would have for immigrants.
“We are worried, but we have to have faith and hopefully he will listen to the voice of these children who are citizens and are the future of the United States,” Paredes said.
Lola Vargas, mother of Yancy and five other minors — two of them beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and four are U.S. born — also hopes for something miraculous.
“We are afraid because (Trump) doesn’t touch his heart for immigrants,” she said. “I’m hoping for a miracle. I hope God softens his heart and makes him understand. He has children. How would he like it if he was separated from them,” she said.
Targeted Enforcement, Not Raids
Two weeks ago, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) launched a series of targeted enforcement operations across the country that resulted in the arrest of 680 undocumented immigrants — 161 of them in Southern California.
ICE contends that most of them had criminal records.
“These operations targeted public safety threats, such as convicted criminal aliens and gang members,” noted Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, in a statement explaining the operation.
“President Trump has been clear in affirming the critical mission of the DHS in protecting the nation and directed our Department to focus on removing illegal aliens who have violated our immigration laws, with a specific focus on those who pose a threat to public safety, have been charged with criminal offenses, have committed immigration violations or have been deported and re-entered the country illegally,” the statement said.
Since then, the fear of “raids” has propagated through the immigrant community and on social media.
“Yo, everyone ICE is pulling up on houses in the Pacoima area, pass this on,” read a tweet from Feb. 9.
“ICE is gonna be a Superior tomorrow in Pacoima. On Laurel Canyon and Osborne,” read another shared on Feb. 15.
On Feb. 16, there was another rumor spread that ICE was near Paxton and Herrick. Others warned of ICE raiding the San Fernando Swap Meet.
All proved to be false. Even ICE said they weren’t accurate.
“The rash of recent reports about purported ICE checkpoints and random sweeps are false, dangerous, and irresponsible. These reports create panic and put communities and law enforcement personnel in unnecessary danger. Individuals who falsely report such activities are doing a disservice to those they claim to support,” the agency said.
But the agency went to say that “during targeted enforcement operations ICE officers frequently encounter additional suspects who may be in the United States in violation of the federal immigration laws. Those persons will be evaluated on a case by case basis and, when appropriated, arrested by ICE.”
The flurry of rumors did reveal a level of uncertainty that has gripped the undocumented community.
And those fears probably increased on Tuesday, Feb. 21, when the Trump administration announced it expanded the number of undocumented people it considers a priority for deportation, including those arrested for traffic violations, according to released agency documents.
The documents represent a sweeping rewrite of the nation’s immigration enforcement priorities.
The Homeland Security Department memos, signed by Secretary Kelly, said any immigrant living in the United States illegally who has been charged or convicted of any crime — and even those suspected of a crime — will now be an enforcement priority. That could include people arrested for shop lifting or minor traffic offenses.
The directives do not impact the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program created by the Obama administration that has protected more than 750,000 young immigrants from deportation. DACA remains in place, but immigrants in the program will be still be eligible for deportation if they commit a crime or otherwise are deemed to be a threat to public safety or national security, according to DHS.
Martha Arevalo, executive director of the pro-immigrant organization CARECEN, spoke to that fear and uncertainty.
“It appears that we are returning to the bad old days in which the mere mention of immigration authorities struck terror throughout our communities,” she said.
Still, pro-immigrant organizations warn about spreading false rumors and to check with viable sources.
Arevalo also reminds undocumented immigrants that “we have certain rights before the immigration system in this country.”
Those rights include:
1. The right to keep the door closed if immigration agents come to your home.
2. The right to remain silent and answer no questions of immigration agents, even if you are detained. The only question you are required to answer when asked is to give your name. You should never lie or show agents false documents.
3. The right to consult a lawyer.
4. If you are questioned at work or in a public place, you have the right to ask if you are free to go. If the agent says yes, you should do so, slowly and calmly.
5. If you are at home when immigration agents arrive, you have the right to ask officers for a warrant with specific information, including the name of the person they are seeking and the areas they can search. As them to slip the warrant under the door and review it before you let them in.
6. If you do not know the person they are seeking, or if they are not on the premises, say so, and do not open the door if they have a warrant that only names that person.