In the face of an increasingly roughshod immigration enforcement system, San Diego Country educators and advocates are taking it upon themselves to protect young non-citizens from deportation. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported this weekend that students and teachers have received illustrated, wallet-sized pamphlets filled with useful information about how to respond to immigration agents and avoid deportation. Predictably, the area’s cops are unhappy.
The materials were developed by the Casa de Maryland, a group that works with low-income immigrant communities, and have been distributed in numerous other localities across the country, offering immigrants a check list of do’s and don’ts if they’re stopped by police. The tips include staying calm, not giving false testimony, and reminding people of their right to see search warrants.
The advice is sound and honest. And because immigration law is confusing and enforcement practices constantly in flux, many non-citizens are unaware of the rights they have.
But local police have taken issue, mostly because they’re insulted by the way the cartoon images portray them. Those involved with distributing the pamphlets, including employees of the county’s department of education, say that disseminating the information is necessary because immigrant students can’t learn if they are afraid that they or their families may be swept up and deported at any moment.
"I thought long and hard about it when I was approached by individuals who felt they needed some help in getting to know what are the civil rights involved in this," Mary Glover, executive director of the San Diego County Office of Education Juvenile Court and Community Schools, told the Union-Tribune.
"My purpose is to educate staff so they can inform students of their civil rights," she added.
But Jim Maher, police chief of Escondido, a city in San Diego County, is mad.
"It astounds me that another governmental agency, the Office of Education, would be giving out information that doesn’t give the whole picture. It’s an example of not telling the whole truth," Maher told the Union-Tribune. "It’s inappropriate. I don’t think the pictures they used in that flier are appropriate."
But the images of muscled, crew cut cops and ICE officers arresting brown people and of detention centers lined with bunk beds filled with other cartoon brown people are plainly the reality. San Diego has become a giant deportation trap. Border Patrol SUV’s pick up thousands every month. Immigration and Customs Enforcement cars spot the highways. San Diego County signed a 287g agreement with ICE to deputize cops immigration enforcers. And almost two-thirds of those deported from San Diego as a result of the federal Secure Communities program, which checks the immigration status of anyone booked into a local jail, were convicted of no crime at all.
Non-citizens are broadly at risk, and young people are often the targets. With immigration enforcement increasingly in the hands of local law enforcement, teenagers of color, who because of racial profiling are most likely to be treated with suspicion by cops, are also likely to be thrust onto the deportation system.
"This is just one more thing they’re having to deal with — the deportation of their parents, their family, their friends," Dawn Miller, a teacher who makes the guide available to her classes, told the UT.
San Diego public officials are decidedly mixed about how to treat immigrants in the community. The city of San Diego voted to boycott the state of Arizona after the passage of the draconian SB 1070 there last spring. The boycott vote was largely symbolic since the county was at the very same time building up its immigration dragnet. The distribution of the "know your rights" guide may prove more concrete.
Mauricio López, a spokesman for Casa De Maryland, told the paper that the pamphlet, "reflects clearly the fear that the immigrant community faces. It was because of these uncertainties and fear of abuse that these pamphlets were drawn up by our legal department."