By Erich Wagner (File photo)
When Alexandria resident Glancy was 12 years old, her parents brought her from their native Guatemala to the U.S. illegally. She graduated from local schools, went to Northern Virginia Community College for two years, and was ready to head to George Mason University to finish her degree in January.
But the prospect of President-elect Donald Trump’s administration — and promises of mass deportations — has her frightened. The Times has agreed not to print her last name because of her undocumented status.
“The future just seems bleak,” Glancy said. “I had a plan. I was going to finish at NOVA and then work and then go back to school. But now I just don’t know what to do. Am I even going to be safe?”
Glancy was one of around 30 people to attend a community meeting hosted by local advocacy group Tenants and Workers United Monday night intended to reassure residents in the aftermath of Trump’s election and to remind them of their constitutional rights.
Jon Liss, executive director of the group, said the meeting was one of several across Northern Virginia, intended to assuage fears and connect residents with support resources ahead of Trump’s inauguration. Those same fears — and national media reports of racist and anti-Semitic acts — prompted city council to declare Alexandria a “no hate zone” in a statement last weekend.
“In recent times, many of our neighbors, families and children have expressed fear and apprehension, and there has been an increase in hateful and dangerous speech and acts nationwide,” the statement reads. “Recognizing everyone’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech, we are also dedicated to freedom from fear.
“People of diverse culture, race, color, nationality, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity and persons with disabilities live and work together in Alexandria and bring pride and prosperity to our community.”
Although Alexandria is not officially a sanctuary city, local officials and law enforcement officers do not question residents’ immigration status during their course of duties, although they comply with federal enforcement efforts like fulfillment of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement warrants of prisoners at the city jail.
“I guess it all depends on your definition [of a sanctuary city], but my definition is a city that does not comply with federal immigration law, and that’s not what we are,” said Vice Mayor Justin Wilson. “We fully comply with federal law. … Folks who are in our jail and are in trouble, who are found to be undocumented, are turned over to federal authorities.
“Our view is the feds should do their job and we’ll do ours.”
Mayor Allison Silberberg, who attended the community meeting and read council’s statement through an interpreter, said in an interview that she and council wanted to stress that Alexandria is an inclusive and accepting city.
“It’s a core value here, and there’s no place for intolerance in Alexandria,” she said. “Alexandria is a city of kindness and a city of compassion. Our diversity is a strength, so we denounce hate crimes and hate speech.”
At the meeting, immigration attorney Jamilah Espinosa encouraged residents to stay positive, as Trump will not be in office until January and there is no guarantee he will follow through on his more divisive campaign rhetoric like promises to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border or to engage in mass deportations of undocumented immigrants. And she implored them to remember their Fourth Amendment right against illegal search and seizure and Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination if approached by immigration officials.
“The big thing is to just stay optimistic, and stay informed,” she said. “We just want to tamp down on people’s fears, because when people are afraid they’re vulnerable and much more likely to be victims of fraud.”
Glancy said the meeting was helpful, although she still fears for her family. With two younger siblings born in the U.S., a mother without documentation and a father on a work visa, she is afraid they could be separated.
“I’m very concerned about where we’ll end up, if I can finish the two years of college I have left, and just what will happen to the rest of the DREAMers and the rest of the undocumented immigrants,” she said, referring to President Barack Obama’s DREAM Act proposal and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals executive actions protecting undocumented immigrants brought into the country as children.
“It’s a scary feeling, and it’s something a lot of students and a lot of families are going through.”
Heidi, another undocumented student, said it’s important for groups like Tenants and Workers United to host meetings and bring the immigrant community together.
“I’m not scared so much anymore — I’m encouraged to be able to talk about it and take action,” she said. “I think it’s important to make sure that people in Alexandria don’t forget about the immigrant community here. We provide so much to the community, from working in restaurant kitchens to doing construction work. We support the economy here.”
Heidi said solidarity is especially important for children still in school.
“I’m undocumented, and I’m a college student, but I didn’t tell anyone in school until my senior year [of high school],” she said. “Don’t be afraid to speak out, because the support is there. We shouldn’t have to feel alone because of this.”
Wilson said he would be open to re-examining whether Alexandria should become an official sanctuary city, depending on what Trump proposes and what Congress approves.
“We’ll have to wait and see what happens at the federal level,” he said. “There are some disturbing things certainly that are out there. But to the extent that they’re looking for local authorities to execute those things, we’ll have to have a conversation locally about what we want to do there.”