Racial and religious diversity at Pierce has long been celebrated, but the upcoming revised immigration ban, the increase in deportation and the proposed border wall has fueled the undocumented community’s anxiety.
The Pierce College Diversity Committee is working with faculty, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) and the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) to quell some fears brought on by recent presidential executive orders.
Dean of Student Engagement Juan Carlos Astorga has been a part of the ongoing dialogue. He and other faculty members and professors of Pierce College met with the sheriff and sergeant of the LASD to inquire if police procedure regarding immigrant students would be any different.
“We have to create a place where all students, regardless of documentation, feel safe enough to report crimes,” Astorga said. “If the students start to feel as though the sheriff’s office is going to play a role in deportation, that really creates an uncomfortable environment for students.”
In 2012, President Barack Obama signed executive order the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) that would offer a two-year renewable reprieve of deportation to immigrants who qualified. Due to recent affairs, the future of DACA remains uncertain.
“There is a very significant intent to dismantle some of the policies that really created an opportunity for disenfranchised members,” Astorga said.
As a result, childhood arrivals are being advised to not sign up for DACA if they have not already. According to Fernando Oleas, chapter president of the American Federation of Teachers, signing up for the program now would expose them and make them vulnerable.
“They put their information thinking the government would protect them, but with the change of presidency… And I think it’s really unfair,” Oleas said. “They came out of the shadows, believing in the system, and the system has betrayed them. Now we have to do something about it.”
According to Astorga, Pierce faculty members have kept an open dialogue since it became a possibility that the Republican candidate would be elected. Their main concern was the well-being of Pierce’s immigrant community.
“It does something to our psyche. Of course we are going to be afraid,” Oleas said. “Of course we are going to doubt the system. Of course we are going to see a cop and think, ’He’s going to arrest me.’ We have to work through those fears.”
The LASD assured them that they would not, and legally could not, detain or question an individual based on their immigration status. Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell said in a statement that individuals should not be swayed by fear-based tactics used by opponents and the media that undermine decades worth of trust-building between law enforcement and citizens.
“This is our promise. It is also our department policy. Most important, it is the law,” McDonnell said in the statement. “We, as local law enforcement, do not have the constitutional authority, much less the extraordinary number of personnel required, to participate in mass deportations.”
The Pierce College sheriff’s deputies said that the student population need not worry about having their immigration status questioned.
“They don’t need to be concerned about that,” Sheriff’s Deputy Al Guerrero said. “I don’t care where you are from or what you do; if you need help, we will help you.”
In 1979, Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates signed Special Order 40 which prohibited the Los Angeles Police Department from stopping anyone only to ask about his or her immigration status.
This order was implemented to reduce the hesitation and fear immigrant people might have when reporting crimes or acting as witnesses.
With this order, Los Angeles became a sanctuary city.
According to the Migration Policy Institute, 1 million illegal immigrants live in Los Angeles. For decades, the county has imposed “sanctuary” laws that show tolerance and leniency to the immigrant community.
However, President Trump has announced his intentions to cut federal funding to cities and states that refuse to assist Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. However, Oleas said, these threats will not deter Pierce’s efforts to protect its students.
“Los Angeles is a sanctuary city. Pierce is in the middle of that,” Oleas said. “We are here to protect our students because they are here to change their lives, to improve their living conditions, to attain knowledge, to get a profession, to better themselves so that they can become important members of our society.”
Maria Bates, co-chair of the Diversity Committee at Pierce, began circulating a letter in late November imploring LACCD to “define our nine Los Angeles Community Colleges as sanctuaries, as safe places for the continued education of all students.”
The Pierce College website recently launched a webpage that provides links and information to off-campus and on-campus resources for undocumented students.
Since the election, LAPD, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Gov. Jerry Brown, the CSU Chancellor and the LACCD Chancellor, have come forward to show their support for immigrants and immigrant students.
“They are coming here to get an education and the students shouldn’t be afraid,” Oleas said. “The only worry I want my students to have when they come to my class is, ‘How am I going to pass this class? How many books do I need to read? How many pages does my essay have to be?’ Nothing else.
“I don’t want them to stop their education because of fear. I want them to walk with confidence knowing that they are not alone. We are here. Their problems are not their problems alone; they are my problems, too.”