As agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement rounded up undocumented aliens in raids across the county this weekend, a forum in Leesburg sought to provide more information about immigrants’ rights and local support resources.
The Rev. Daniel Velez-Rivera holds the sessions each month as part of St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church’s community outreach. The topic has been of greater concern since November’s presidential election and growing uncertainty over the nation’s immigration policy.
Saturday’s forum was attended by representatives from 15 community organizations that have interactions with immigrant residents, as well as several non-English speaking immigrants who were hoping to take information back to their neighborhoods. A representative of U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock’s office and Leesburg Mayor Kelly Burk also attended.
The presenters were M. Lucero Ortiz, an attorney who specializes in immigration and family law, and Jasmine Moawad-Barrientos, of CASA of Maryland.
Ortiz provided an overview of the evolution of U.S. immigration policies, dating back to the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. The number of undocumented immigrants has increased sharply since President Ronald Reagan’s 1986 amnesty as subsequent policy changes have led to years-long waits for visas.
Acknowledging heightened states of fear and uncertainty among immigrants in recent months, Ortiz said that many have lived in fear of being sent to their home countries every day for decades. But the desire to work and provide better lives for their families is stronger than that fear.
“You can’t separate immigrants from the economy. Immigrants make the world go ‘round,” she said. She also said that, contrary to the popular stereotype, most of the immigrants are paying taxes—often more than the richest Americans, the 1 percent.
“Thousands of people have died on the border because they want to work,” she said.
Ortiz said that raids by immigration enforcement officers are not new under President Donald Trump’s administration; raids also occurred during the terms of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. What is new, Ortiz and Moawad-Barrientos said, is that it is unclear what level of enforcement is being pursued now. Past efforts have largely targeted violent criminals and employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers.
They advised families with undocumented members to plan for the worse-case scenario by having someone authorized to act with power of attorney to care for children and other family matters in case they suddenly are detained or deported.
Another key piece of advice was knowing the phone number for an attorney, but Velez-Rivera said there appear to be few legal resources in Leesburg and Loudoun to provide the assistance and he urged the participants advocate greater support.
“The positive thing is we’ve begun,” he said.