In response to DACA uncertainty, Contra Costa County to discuss funding million-dollar immigrant-rights program

"Celebrating Children mural at MacDonald Avenue and Harbour Way in Richmond, CA. 37 percent of Contra Costa County's unauthorized population lives with a U.S.-citizen child under the age of 18." Photo credit: Cecilia Lei

"Celebrating Children mural at MacDonald Avenue and Harbour Way in Richmond, CA. 37 percent of Contra Costa County's unauthorized population lives with a U.S.-citizen child under the age of 18." Photo credit: Cecilia Lei

Activists and community organizers in Richmond aren’t waiting for President Trump and Democrats to come to an agreement on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. Instead, they are looking to push Stand Together CoCo, an immigrant-advocacy initiative, at tomorrow’s board of supervisors meeting.

Proposed by the newly formed Contra Costa Immigrant Rights Alliance (CCIRA), this initiative would establish rapid-response and community-education strategies to help ensure due-process rights for the county’s 65,000 unauthorized immigrants, a population that makes up about 14 percent of the Bay Area’s total unauthorized community.

It is estimated that the program will cost approximately $1 million annually, and will be paid for with both public and private dollars. At tomorrow’s meeting, the board will receive a report on the Stand Together and offer direction to staff.

Richmond Community Foundation and CCIRA member Mariana Moore said she’s cautiously optimistic about a DACA solution at the national level, but wants to see solutions here in the bay. “We still need to build clear policies and systems to educate and support all undocumented residents at the local level,” she said.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, 37 percent of Contra Costa County’s unauthorized-immigrant population has at least one U.S. citizen under the age of 18 in their household. Since mixed-status households are prominent in Richmond, a sanctuary city since 1990, the threat of deportation to one individual causes devastating ripple effects throughout families.

Stand Together CoCo asserts that advocating for the protections of one individual helps entire families and provides a sense of reassurance to those who fear being separated.

“Any time we see a new decision coming out of the current administration, it inevitably triggers existing fear and anxiety that’s already brimming at the surface daily for our families,” said Rhea Elina Laughlin with First 5 Contra Costa, an organization that works to preserve the health and safety of children ages five or younger.

Though its primary focus is childhood development, First 5 Contra Costa has had to realign its priorities in order to provide legal resources and even reassurances to its own members, many of whom are unauthorized immigrants.

“I never would have imagined that this was the kind of thing we would need to take a prominent stance on,” said Sean Casey, its executive director, “but there is a sense that we can’t necessarily work in our silos that comfortably anymore.”

First 5 Contra Costa is one of several organizations that has appealed to the county’s board of supervisors to pass Stand Together CoCo.

The program has also received funding commitments from the California Endowment, and the San Francisco, East Bay and Richmond community foundations.

If approved, the project would fill gaps in the county’s legal resources for immigrants, including proactive know-your-rights education and training, as well as legal representation and customized consultations that help immigrants learn how to get help.

One of the features of the pilot program is its 24-seven rapid-response dispatch hotline, which would verify immigration-related actions and provide immediate support for those threatened by immigration-enforcement activity.

Immigrants remain uncertain as to whether they will be targeted by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

“Immigration is one of the most complex areas of law, yet most immigrants navigate the cruel and complex deportation process alone,” said Saira Hussain with the Asian Law Caucus, who is also a member of CCIRA. “Currently, there are no legal service providers in Contra Costa that offer deportation defense.”

Moore says that Richmond is uniquely positioned to resist anti-immigration policies and lead in Contra Costa County. “For a small city in a county that’s not very progressive, it’s actually amazingly organized, awake, aware, active and connected,” she said.

Stand Together CoCo proponents hope a favorable vote by the board will affirm the importance of community partnerships when it comes to protecting Richmond’s immigrants. “Coalitions in Richmond have always existed,” Laughlin said. “We’re coming together more and more in these times because we recognize in order to promote justice, and safe and healthy communities, we need to be working together.”

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