RICHMOND, Calif.—Immigration issues, such as President Obama’s program to defer deportation for undocumented youth pending wider reforms, usually aren’t associated with Richmond, Calif. Across the Bay from San Francisco, Richmond has long been seen as a largely African American city in an otherwise conservative county doted with bedroom suburbs serving Oakland and other urban communities. But a new reality has dawned in town.
Recent activity helped sharpening the area’s focus on it growing Hispanic community. For one thing, energized Latino community groups working with black churches and other African American organizations got out enough voters in the county to reverse the typical anti-tax atmosphere by delivering enough voters Nov. 6, to give Gov. Jerry Brown one of his biggest county victories in passing Proposition 30, the new tax measure for state education.
The rising Latino presence in Richmond was evident on a recent Monday evening in November at the office of Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization (CCISCO). Meeting there were members of Community Leaders Organizing Undocumented Dreamers (CLOUD), who gathered to assist those interested in submitting an application for the president’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
The landmark DACA program, announced by President Obama last summer, allows undocumented young people who, among other requirements, arrived in the United States before they turned 16 and were still under age 31 as of June 15, 2012, to apply for a temporary work permit.
Carlos Martinez, 23, who describes himself as “undocumented and unafraid,” is one of the founders of CLOUD. At the Monday evening gathering, he sat at a table, ready and waiting for people to arrive. CCISCO helped to form CLOUD to educate the city’s immigrant community about the details of the new federal program, and to assist them in their applications.
Martinez fell in love with the community after moving to the Bay Area three years ago for college and moved to Richmond last year.
“I used to live in San Francisco and Daly City, but I didn’t feel connected to the community,” Martinez said. But a friend of his lived in Richmond and recommended it as a place he could call home. Following his friend’s advice, Martinez soon went to check it out.
“On 23rd Street, I saw the taco trucks and the Mexican stores and I was like, I wanna live here. [These are] my people.”
Seeing Richmond’s Potential
He ended up relocating, and soon began to feel like part of the community. Early on, Martinez began noticing the city’s potential.
Already active in the Bay Area’s undocumented rights movement, Martinez was impressed by the many “really humble people” he came across in Richmond. One such person was Jose Juan, another undocumented youth.
“We’re both undocumented and we both founded CLOUD,” Martinez said.
Both, too, had experience with community organizing. Martinez previously had a hand in the creation of a resource center at City College of San Francisco for students affected by AB109 – California’s prison realignment measure.
Meanwhile, Jose Juan had been active in the Richmond community with such groups as Building Blocks for Kids, where he developed an understanding of the needs of the community. Martinez calls it a perfect formula that led the two to co-found CLOUD.
“We both are going to benefit from deferred action,” Martinez said. “We knew Richmond needed this. We want to let people know that we are here to answer any questions that the community has.”
CLOUD’s main goal is to provide information about Deferred Action, such as who’s eligible and who qualifies, as well as to help community members apply for it. They also want to organize the undocumented community in Richmond, beyond deferred action.
“We see the bigger picture. We see that a lot of the population that lives here in this county is undocumented. Unfortunately, they don’t qualify [for deferred action], so we also want to pass comprehensive immigration reform that includes all of us, not just a few,” Martinez stressed.
To date, CLOUD has hosted two events and volunteered for another sponsored by Catholic Charities. The group gave out information and screened people to see if they qualify for DACA, services they provide to the community for free.
Jackelin Valencia, 20, has lived in Richmond for 14 years, and graduated from Kennedy High School. She got involved with CLOUD at their first event, quickly recognizing the importance of the work they were doing.
“When I was in high school, I was organizing at my school. When I came on to CLOUD,” Valencia said, “ I wanted to get involved and help the undocumented community because I knew there wasn’t another group like this here in Richmond.”
“We’re definitely starting something,” Valencia said. “People are excited, just being part of a group -- they say it feels like a family. As undocumented Dreamers, most of us, we value education--we value family because of the struggle” they’ve all been through.
Deferred Action will allow young undocumented immigrants who meet the age requirements, to apply for work permits, a driver’s license, and avoid deportation for a renewable period of two years. To qualify they must not have a felony or significant misdemeanor on their record, and are either enrolled in school or have the equivalent of a high school diploma,
Understanding that DACA benefits are only temporary, CLOUD plans to stay in touch with the Dreamers they help to apply. “You have a work permit for two years,” Valencia
said. “What about after that? We need immigration reform for everyone. What about our parents? They struggled so much. What can we do for them?”
The Interfaith Impact
Being connected to CCISCO’s deep community network of various interfaith groups across Contra Costa County has enabled CLOUD to make a big impact.
“[CLOUD] was formed by youth leaders from our different congregations and high schools, working with Carlos who was our Dream summer intern and our organizer Claudia Jimenez,” explained CCISCO director Adam Kruggel. He credited The California Endowment with funding Martinez’s position.
Kruggel described CCISCO as a multiracial, multi-generational, interfaith federation of 25 congregations and youth organizations in Contra Costa County. She said they established it to building civic engagement and increasing public participation by those most affected by injustice and inequity in the county.
“Welcoming the stranger and the immigrant is part of our faith traditions,” Kruggel emphasized. “We see the critical importance of standing with immigrant youth, so they can have a seat at the table of opportunity in this country.”
Kruggel quotes the Scriptures: “The stone that the builders refused will be become the cornerstone.”
CLOUD’s civic-engagement work with CCISCO recently made a huge impact in Richmond. On Election Day, their members knocked on 1,000 doors, targeting voters under 30, people of color and other voters with low turnout rates – all of whom contributed to Contra Costa County having the fourth highest voter turnout in the state and the third highest “Yes” vote for Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax measure.
“That’s a real shift in a county which has been more conservative, especially on fiscal issues; as well as in Richmond, where voter turnout is [traditionally] low,” Kruggel observed. “CLOUD helped lead the largest volunteer civic-engagement effort in this election cycle. They played a critical role in the region in reshaping what it means to be a multicultural society.”
Martinez said one of the reasons why CLOUD has enjoyed the success it has in Richmond, is the strong role of the church in community life.
“Most of our undocumented community is either Catholic or Christian. So if you want to outreach for an event, you can ask the priest to make a quick announcement,” he said.
That’s how CLOUD was able to get over 300 people to attend their first program at St. Marks Church -- the announcements at the church made all the difference.
Through CCISCO, Martinez added, “We have also built a collaboration with Catholic Charities of the East Bay, located here in Richmond. They provide legal services for our events. It’s really important. We can provide information but some folks may have a difficult case and we can refer them to Catholic Charities.”
Martinez also noted that the beauty of CCISCO is they don’t just focus on the Latino community -- they also focus on the African American community.
“We need allies [and] CCISCO has been doing a tremendous job. Just connecting those two communities that live here,” Martinez said. He went on, “It’s something that’s new to me and I think [both communities] can do amazing work [together] -- like the campaigns to end mass incarceration and mass deportation. It’s something very powerful.”
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