SAN JOSE — Less than a day after President Donald Trump postponed nationwide immigration raids that were planned for Sunday, San Jose’s police chief and mayor reassured nearly 500 members of a Spanish-speaking church that local police won’t participate in federal immigration enforcement.
“While the San Jose Police Department is here to protect you from criminals, regardless of immigration status, undocumented families who are here in San Jose never have anything to fear from interactions with San Jose police officers,” Police Chief Eddie Garcia said after an afternoon mass at the Sacred Heart of Jesus parish in San Jose, addressing the crowd in Spanish.
The visit to the parish, which included a barbecue funded by the San Jose Police Officers’ Association, was planned weeks before Trump tweeted last Monday that immigration authorities would target immigrants with deportation orders in ten major U.S. cities, triggering panic among immigrant communities across the country. Then the president on Saturday postponed the raids for two weeks, saying it would give Congress a chance to “work out a solution.”
But parishioners said they are still on edge.
Lety Gomez, a business manager and pastoral minister at Sacred Heart, said renewed activity by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has made people fearful of coming to mass.
“They were worried ICE would be waiting at the corner,” said Gomez. “They may not have a deportation order, but the fear is still there.”
“In a city where 40 percent of us were born in a foreign country, every tweet has a reverberation and affects decisions about how kids go to school and parents go to work,” Liccardo said.
Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors also voted earlier this month to keep a policy of barring jail officials from notifying federal immigration authorities when immigrants are being released from jail. The debate was sparked by the alleged murder of San Jose resident Bambi Larson by an unauthorized immigrant from El Salvador, who had previously been arrested by local police multiple times and sought by immigration authorities.
Nearly ever speaker at a public hearing in June, more than 100 people, called on supervisors to maintain policies barring cooperation with immigration authorities, many arguing that any cooperation with immigration authorities would have a chilling effect on the willingness of immigrants to report crimes or interact with police.
That was in contrast with Garcia and Liccardo, who both support notifying ICE when people who have committed certain serious or violent crimes are released from jail.
After speaking to the congregation, Garcia and Liccardo both said they still stand by that policy, but argue it’s a view shared by many immigrants.
“Our immigrant community can distinguish the overwhelming majority of people who are here and the small minority who commit violent crimes,” said Liccardo, while eating a hot dog at the church barbecue.
In his remarks, Liccardo shared the phone number for the Santa Clara Rapid Response Network, a hotline to report immigration enforcement activity and for legal support for people facing deportation.
Garcia said the community has a “common enemy” in people who commit serious crimes, regardless of their immigration status.
Maria Esperanza, who has attended the parish for 18 years, said she appreciated the officials’ visit to her church, as people have been confused between Trump’s rhetoric and various news reports about immigration enforcement.
“I think it was very important for them to be here, when you hear a lot of stuff about the police working with ICE, to let us know they are here to support us,” Esperanza said.
One visitor to the parish, a man named Gabriel who declined to give his last name, was disappointed that Liccardo addressed the church.
“There’s nowhere in this country where we can get away from politics,” he said, adding that it was his first time at church in almost a decade.
Gabriel said he was undocumented and brought to the United States as a child. He served in the military, which allowed him to receive his citizenship in 2003.
“I’m torn because I’m on both sides. I pay taxes and I expect it to go to roads and schools, not people crossing at the border,” he said. But Gabriel said he doesn’t support mass deportations. “There has to be a better process.”
Ana Maria de la Torre has been living in San Jose and a member of Sacred Heart for 34 years. Since Trump’s election, she and other undocumented immigrants at the parish have been frustrated and fearful, de la Torre said.
“On television, you hear one thing and another thing, and it gets confusing what your rights are,” said de la Torre.
De la Torre did not want to comment on whether local officials should notify ICE when violent criminals are released from jail. But said she hearing from the police chief and mayor was a comfort given the rhetoric coming out of Washington.
“I’m very frustrated and sad. I knew there would be a storm coming with [Trump] as president,” said de la Torre.
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