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Viri Agapoff

Viri Agapoff, one of the city’s Citizen of the Year Award winners in 2016, was given the award in part for her volunteer efforts during the 2015 Valley Fire. The Napa County Fairgrounds was turned into an evacuation center during the fire and Agapoff was instrumental in organizing volunteers, donations and other services to help the evacuation center run.

The fallout of DACA and the more aggressive pursuits of the Immigration and Custom Enforcement have changed the day-to-day living of Calistoga residents, creating fear and heartache.

“Hilario” is a talented stone mason and tile setter who until recently worked for a construction company in Santa Rosa.

Single, aged 39, he lived with other single men in the parish house of the “Green Church,” the Presbyterian Community Church, according to St. Helena resident Robyn Orsini. He had been living in Calistoga for some time, perhaps 10 years, she said.

“He’s the nicest guy,” Orsini said.

Orsini teaches English as a Second Language at Napa Valley College, and is president of the Napa County chapter of the League of Women Voters. She said Hilario had been her student for about four months when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers showed up at his door and took him into custody last month.

“My understanding is that Hilario, probably not wanting to miss work, missed a court date (not sure what for),” Orsini wrote in an email. If removed to Mexico, individuals cannot legally return to the U.S. for 5-10 years.

Hilario’s story is becoming more common in Napa and elsewhere. Arrests of immigrants with no criminal record have more than doubled in the first half of 2017, according to a press release this week from the office of Assemblymember David Chiu, (D-San Francisco).

Chiu is a coauthor of AB 450, The Immigrant Worker Protection Act, currently in the legislature, which would prohibit employers from allowing immigration agents to enter a workplace or view employee files without a subpoena or a warrant.

The announcement last week by the Trump administration to rescind DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) prompted at least one prominent Latino family to speak out.

“Tonight I’m here to show my support to all the DACA and Dreamers. Immigration is a human issue fundamentally about opportunity,” said Viri Agapoff at the Sept. 5 Calistoga City Council meeting.

“The hard work and contributions of immigrants is what makes America so beautiful. This morning’s decision to end the DACA program is an attack on education. The fight will continue.

“I ask the council to please show your support, because … there are a lot of people in this community that depend on DACA, there are a lot of Dreamers, I was once a Dreamer. And now I’m on the other side, and I stand united with them. The fight’s not over,” she said.

Agapoff, was one of the city’s Citizen of the Year Award winners in 2016, given to her in part for her volunteer efforts during the 2015 Valley Fire, when the Napa County Fairgrounds was turned into an evacuation center during the fire and Agapoff was instrumental in organizing volunteers, donations and other services to help the evacuation center run.

She was brought to the U.S. when she was five by her mother, Calistoga City Councilwoman and business owner Irais Lopez-Ortega.

Lopez-Ortega said that about 29 years ago she started their “journey … to come to the land of freedom and opportunity” when a lot of other parents with young children were doing the same thing.

“We crossed the border and since then we have been working very, very hard to provide our kids with an education and a better life. We are not criminals,” Lopez-Ortega said.

“Many of those kids are confronting now the hate and having betrayed by the system that asked them to come out of the shadows. In Napa Valley since 2013, 429 applications have been filled, 140 of them are between St. Helena and the Calistoga area. These kids who applied for this program, have proved they are good kids. They are hard workers, they have full-time jobs, they attend our local colleges and they are getting degrees and are contributing to our economy and society,” she continued.

“This is very personal to me,” Lopez-Ortega said. She encouraged some in the community to apply for the DACA program and now they are calling her asking what is going to happen to them, “because we don’t know what the future holds for them.”

“I can simply say that all these Dreamers are committed Americans. America made a promise to them and a truly great community and country keeps its commitment. What happened today is not what represents this country. We will continue this fight for our kids,” she said.

Fellow councilmembers and the mayor echoed their support for Lopez-Ortega, Agapoff and the rest of the immigrant community.

According to the Public Policy Institute of California, a nonpartisan research organization, undocumented workers make up 45 percent of California’s agricultural workforce and 21 percent of construction. Almost 1 in every 10 workers in California is undocumented, and more than 2.6 million undocumented immigrants reside here.

A government report issued by ICE in May, said immigration arrests in the first 100 days of the Trump administration were up almost 38 percent over the same period last year (41,318 vs. 30,473 ). Arrests of non-criminal immigrants during the period increased from about 4,200 to more than 10,800, a 150 percent increase, the report said.

Orsini said she believes 10-12 men (no women) have been picked up in Calistoga this year, some with families. She’s convinced there’s been a large increase in removals from the local community this year.

St. Helenan Don Farrar also believes arrests have increased. He said he’s heard of 14 ICE apprehensions in the county in the first three months of the year.

Like Orsini he has personal experience with an ICE arrestee. Farrar says he was one of a number of clients who employed a man named Julio for many years for landscaping services. Julio, said Farrar, is married with three children. At 6 a.m. one recent morning there was a knock on Julio’s door in Napa. Men announcing themselves as “police” asked him to step outside and identify his car. He was seized as he stepped out the front door and taken to a detention center in Fremont. Reportedly Hilario’s arrest occurred using the same ruse.

According to someone Farrar spoke with at the detention center, such trickery by agents is standard procedure. Arrest warrants, said Farrar, are apparently difficult to get.

Calistoga Police Chief Mitch Celaya is aware of the ruse and called it “disingenuous” and “misleading.” The tactic creates fear of local law enforcement, he said. He said ICE officers should identify themselves as agents.

“To imply you are the local police erodes people’s trust in local police,” he said. “We work hard to earn the trust of our community.” In a community with a sizeable immigrant population, fear of police escalates the danger in even routine interactions with the public, he said.

“People do not behave rationally when they are afraid,” Celaya said. The only people who should be afraid of police are criminals, he said.

Celaya said ICE communication with his department on planned actions has been spotty. He said he’s aware of four instances of ICE’s presence in his area, but on at least two occasions they targeted multiple locations, as many as five on one trip.

Tracking local removals is problematic, despite an understanding between ICE and local law enforcement, according to Napa County Sheriff John Robertson.

“When they come in they are to notify central dispatch what area they’re in and where they’re working. When they leave they notify us if they have a person in custody,” Robertson said. “We give them no assistance. When they get back to (the San Francisco field office) they notify us of the individual’s name.”

But Robertson stressed he’s not sure the informal agreement is unflaggingly observed.

“Are we always notified? I can’t say that with 100 percent confidence,” he said. “I would love to say I’m confident of that. I hear stories.”

According to the Sheriff, the number of apprehensions seems to be higher in recent months than in the last several years.

“As of last count (Aug. 24), there have been 17 removals this year I’m aware of, lower than in previous years, although in the last few years there has been little activity,” Robertson said.

While he stressed his office plays no part in identification, apprehension or removal, Robertson believes communication is vital between the local and federal agencies.

“It’s up to us (heads of law enforcement) to provide a safe community; the more information we have the better it is for people,” he said.

With Assembly Bill SB54 working its way through the legislature in Sacramento, the trend is moving toward less, not more exchange of information, Robertson said. That legislation would essentially restrict local agencies from providing any information to immigration officers. That would effectively end even sporadic notification, he said.

“If we’re not communicating with them, they certainly won’t communicate with us,” Robertson said.

He and the local police chiefs have made a concerted effort to connect with the community, attending meetings sponsored by Puertos Abiertos Community Resource Center and other local advocacy groups, he said.

“All of us (in local law enforcement) have spent a tremendous amount of time going to public meetings in any number of forums. Communication is vital,” Robertson said.

An email from ICE spokesperson Virginia Kice said the agency doesn’t track on a community or county level.

“Part of that is a practical consideration given that our field offices typically encompass dozens of counties and in some instances multiple states,” she wrote. “The jurisdiction of ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations’ San Francisco Field Office includes more than 50 northern California counties, extending from Bakersfield north to the Oregon border, along with Hawaii and Guam.”

Total ICE immigration arrests made out of San Francisco in June totals 753, including 597 criminal aliens, her email said.

Like his counterpart in Calistoga, St. Helena Police Chief William Imboden attends monthly meetings with UpValley Family Centers, a nonprofit service provider for families in St. Helena and Calistoga, to inform people of their legal rights.

Imboden said he is only aware of the ICE’s presence in St. Helena only once this year, in June.

“I don’t believe they got anybody,” Imboden said.

Jenny Ocón is the executive director for UpValley Family Centers, and has been with the agency since January 2014. The service provider offers citizenship application workshops, citizenship classes, and training for people who want to volunteer to help with citizenship legal services work.

“Since my time here I’m aware of more activity in the last year,” Ocón said. She said she relies on the police department for current information.

“On the whole, the real challenge is the rhetoric and uncertainty and continuing changes in messaging,” she said. Ocón said it’s important local people feel safe calling the police.

Farrar is retired and has been a St. Helena resident for many years. He and some of Julio’s other clients got together and got him legal representation and raised bail. Attorney fees for a bail hearing are in the range of $3,000-$5,000, Farrar said. The amount of bail is at the judge’s discretion, a little as $1,500 up to $40,000, ostensibly depending of the severity of the offense which triggered the arrest. Based on his research, Farrar believes the average total for bail and an attorney to be about $10,000.

Without legal representation, a man (those seized are usually male) may be deported within a few days.

Julio made bail and was released. A key element, Farrar said, were letters of support written by him and others, asserting he would be employed upon his release.

Julio’s hearing is currently scheduled for next March, Farrar said. According to an April announcement by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Justice Department intends to add at up to 150 more judges by next year in order to deal with the backlog of hearings.

Farrar, a self-described “well-to-do Anglo,” along with a group from St. Helena’s Grace Episcopal Church have met with immigrant support providers, and are working to establish a fund for immigrants facing deportation. Farrar said immigrants are a vital – and large – part of the community.

“We need these people,” said Farrar of Napa’s immigrants. “Napa Valley would be nothing without them.”

Anne Ward Ernst contributed to this report.