Residents and grassroots community organizations met with the Chula Vista chief of police and city leaders Monday evening to offer suggestions on how to reach out to the city's immigrant community to inform them that they should not be afraid to call police for fear of deportation.
The event hosted by Councilwoman Pat Aguilar and Mayor Mary Casillas Salas drew 26 attendees as it focused on getting the word out to immigrant residents that they should not be worried about their immigration status when reporting a crime to authorities.
“The police in Chula Vista do not enforce immigration laws,” Aguilar said. “So if they (undocumented immigrants) are a witness to a crime, or if something is going on in their home, we want them to feel free to be able to call the police and report that activity without fear that the police are going to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement or the police are even going to ask them about immigration status. That question is not even asked.”
The public discussion was brought up after the City Council on April 25 unanimously approved a seven-point resolution regarding immigration enforcement.
Point No. 5 in the resolution requires city staff to develop and implement a program to better communicate official city policy on immigration enforcement to the public.
Aguilar suggested that officers carry little cards with one side in English and the other in Spanish. She said the cards would contain information about how immigrants won’t be deported for reporting criminal activity.
Chula Vista Police Chief Roxana Kennedy said she is worried that if immigrants are not calling police, internal data may be wrong.
“One of my fears is, if it really is true that some individuals aren’t coming forward then maybe our crime stats aren’t completly accurate,” she said.
San Ysidro resident Vivian Dunbar, a member of South Bay People Power, said a way for the city to spread the word to immigrants is by having police officers man a booth at city events like Chula Vista’s Lemon Festival.
“This is a very friendly, relaxed way for officers to communicate with the public, especially immigrants,” she said.
Her other suggestion was for city official to hand out and post information at the city’s libraries, which has high amounts of foot traffic.
Dunbar said solely posting information on the city’s website is not the way to go as it is impersonal. She said the best way to fully get their message out is for officers to meet people out on the street.
Leticia Cazares, director of outreach at San Ysidro Health Center, recommended that the city partner with established agencies that are trusted by the immigrant community such as San Ysidro Health Center and South Bay Community Services.