Immigration debate heats up nationwide and on the Central Coast

Posted at 6:55 PM, Jun 21, 2018

With immigration once again in the national spotlight, protests organized by Women’s March SLO were held in several cities across the Central Coast on Thursday.

Protesters say the executive order to keep families together at the border, which President Donald Trump signed on Wednesday, is not enough and more must be done to reform U.S. immigration laws.

"I think raising people’s awareness, not just emotion but also the legal challenges, I think that people need to educate themselves on immigration law and stop criminalizing refugees," said protester Liliana Escobar Ortiz, who is also a doctor of clinical psychology.

"They’re not supposed to be in the country, they’re not supposed to be," Trump said during a speech in Minnesota on Wednesday after signing the order. "Now, they can enter at your point of entry, and that’s fine, but we have to have control of our borders. Once we lose our borders, we lose our country, we don’t have a country. Once we ease up and say, ‘oh gee, everybody please come up,’ we’ll have millions of people flowing through."

The executive order ends the separation of migrant children from their parents at the U.S./Mexico border. While signing it, the president added that the "zero tolerance" policy against people caught trying to enter the country illegally will continue.

In Santa Barbara County last week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents took 22 people into custody. ICE officials say those targeted were considered threats to public safety, including convicted criminals and gang members.

While ICE says they are focused on people who are considered dangerous, operations like the one last week have left some local families frightened.

"There is a lot of fear of us as parents being taken away," said one Santa Maria woman who wanted to remain anonymous. She is in the country illegally but says her children are U.S. citizens.

"The kids are also scared. My children are scared for me to answer the door. They are scared an ICE agent might knock on our door," she said.

One Creston woman says she’s worried for her family, too, but for a different reason.

In 2009, a drunk driver hit Christina Gent’s car head-on. The driver was an undocumented immigrant. A judge ordered he pay the Gent family thousands of dollars in damages but he never paid. He was deported after spending time behind bars and Gent had no recourse for recovering that money.

Gent says she and her daughters have anxiety every time they get into a car. Still, she forgives the man who hit them.

"But I would just want (immigrants) to want to be here because they want this to be their country and they want to make this their place and they would want to do this the right way," Gent said. "It’s costing us to do the right thing."