Louisiana Immigrant Rights Groups Organize Against Trump Policies
As the Trump administration moves to step up deportations, immigrant rights groups are organizing a resistance.
"No papers, no fear" is the message at a meeting of the Congress of Day Laborers in New Orleans. A mostly Latino crowd is packed in the sanctuary of a church. They encourage one another to stand up for their rights.
"Fear is our fuel," says speaker Leticia Casildo as the audience cheers.
She says they're fighting for their families.
In several cities Thursday, people stayed home from work and school as part of what was billed as "A Day Without Immigrants."
The climate has energized the activists in New Orleans.
"We will not be intimidated," Casildo says.
She and her husband Mario Mendoza are leaders in the Congress of Day Laborers. They have three children and are in the country illegally. Through an interpreter, Mendoza says they moved to the U.S. because his life was in danger back home in Honduras.
"I actually worked as head of a police department in Honduras," Mendoza says. "There were multiple assassination attempts on me. The lives of my wife and my children were in danger."
His wife was also a police officer. They say they've always sought justice. But because they were denied asylum yet remained in the country, they could be a priority for deportation under President Trump's immigration policy.
It's taken a toll on the family. Casildo says the childrens' grades have suffered.
"Really, before this even happened, I was fine — I was fine, living life happy as possible," says 9-year-old Sarah, the youngest, who was born in the U.S. " But right now, my worst fear is losing my family."
Her older brother Maycoll Mendoza, 17, also feels the effects of the policy.
"People look at me like I'm some sort of creep or like I'm not a human," he says.
"The president now says we're criminals and that we come to do bad things to the country," he says. "But we don't actually come here to do bad things. Everybody wants an opportunity to be better. For example, me? I'm a senior in high school right now, and I've been there for three years already."
Immigration roundups around the country have people on edge and taking the legal steps they can — naming power of attorney, for instance — to provide for their families should they be separated.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu recently came to a Congress of Day Laborers meeting with the city's police chief to reassure the community.
"Our police department will not be used as a deportation force for the federal government for the United States of America," said Landrieu.
The two-term Democrat said the city would not have been able to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina without the work of immigrants.
Landrieu's position could jeopardize some federal funding under President Trump's sanctuary cities order.
"Municipalities or elected officials who disregard the rule of law should have funding withdrawn from them," says Louisiana's Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry.
He's pushing legislation that would deny state funding to local governments that don't actively enforce immigration law.
"Local law enforcement officers and state law enforcement officers have a duty to collaborate with the federal government in carrying out those laws," Landry says.
As for people in Louisiana illegally, Landry says they should be deported.
"We are talking about people who are engaged in illegal activity from the beginning," he says.
President Trump's policy targets a broader group for deportation, including people whose only offense is an immigration violation.
"We're feeling very afraid because now both of us are priorities," says Irma Martinez-Delarca through an interpreter.
She and her husband are in the country illegally from Honduras, and have deportation orders.
"We're not sure what we would do with our kids if they were to come to arrest us," she says, fighting tears.
Martinez-Delarca is helping organize immigrants in New Orleans to know their rights should that moment come. Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.