Community members gathered seeking information on immigration at the Hollister Community Center on Saturday, March 24. The event was hosted by a local chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). Attendees were told that their personal information is safe with Hollister schools. Local law enforcement encouraged undocumented community members to feel safe reporting crimes stating, "..we don't share that information with the federal government.”
Mark Sanchez, event emcee and LULAC member explained to the group, “What the purpose of our meeting is about is to exchange information, but most importantly it is to answer any questions that people may have."
Panelists with expertise in the fields of immigration, education, and law enforcement spoke to an audience of around 50 people that included Hollister Councilwoman Mickie Luna, Councilman Jim Gillio, and San Benito County Supervisor Mark Medina. Panelists were available to meet individually with attendees toward the end of the forum.
“We all have rights, regardless of our immigration status,” said Lizett Rodriguez, a law student and intern at the University of San Francisco School of Law Immigrant Legal Resource Center. She showed attendees a red, pocket-sized business card with printed constitutional rights helpful to people who encounter U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE).
“If you ever have any encounters with ICE officers, this is the card you show them,” Rodriguez said. “My main message is even if you are undocumented, you all have rights that are part of the constitution.”
As far as the local education system goes, regional institutions never provide the immigration status of a student, according to San Benito County Superintendent of Schools and LULAC Vice President Krystal Lomanto.
“It is a safe place for students,” Lomanto said. “Our job is to provide education and support for students. We do not give out information about our students under confidentiality, privacy, board policy, and education code because we want to make sure that every student receives an education.”
Even so, local schools are still required to comply with any federal subpoenas issued.
“But even if we complied with that subpoena, we have no information because we don’t ask,” Hollister School District Superintendent Lisa Andrew said. “We have been very vocal about this is a place for students to come and be educated. This isn’t a place for a political agenda or anything of that nature.”
As the conversation shifted to law enforcement, San Benito County Sheriff Darren Thompson encouraged undocumented people to still report crimes in the community.
“We want their statements when they witness a crime,” Thompson said. “We want them to live safely in our community. If they are afraid to interact with us because they’re concerned about deportation, they’re going to not report those crimes, therefore making our community less safe.”
Operations Captain Eric Taylor said that immigration and immigration violations are a federal issue, not a state and local issue.
“We at the San Benito County Sheriff’s Office do not enforce immigration law,” Taylor said. “If you come and report a crime to me, we don’t go and tell ICE that you don’t have documentation and that you’re a crime victim. We need the support of the community, we need you to report, we want to take care of you and protect you.”
“There should be no fear in reporting crime to us. There should be no fear in participating in the court process. There should be no fear in being a witness and helping your community stay safe because we don’t share that information with the federal government.”