Hilario, a stone mason and tile setter, had been living with other single men in the parish house of the Presbyterian Community Church of Calistoga, according to St. Helena resident Robyn Orsini.
“He’s the nicest guy,” said Orsini, who teaches English as a Second Language at Napa Valley College, and is president of the Napa County chapter of the League of Women Voters.
Hilario had been her student for about four months when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers showed up at his door last month and took him into custody, she said.
“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, Hilario, who could not be contacted by the Star, would not be able to legally return to the U.S. for five to 10 years.
Orsini said she believes 10-12 men, some with families, have been picked up in Calistoga this year. She’s convinced there’s been a large increase in removals locally this year.
St. Helenan Don Farrar believes the same thing. He said he’s heard of 14 ICE apprehensions in the county in the first three months of the year.
Farrar said he was one of a number of people who employed a man known as Julio for many years for landscaping services. 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.
Julio, who is married with three children, was seized as he stepped out the front door and taken to an ICE detention center in Fremont, Farrar said.
Such stories are 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 under review in the Legislature. It would prohibit employers from allowing immigration agents to enter a workplace or view employee files without a subpoena or a warrant.
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.
Calistoga Police Chief Mitch Celaya is aware of ICE officers presenting themselves as “police” when they come knocking. He called this identification “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 town 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.
According to the Sheriff, the number of apprehensions seems to be higher in recent months than in the last several years. As of Aug. 24, there had been 17 removals this year that he was aware of, he said.
In recent years, there had been little ICE activity in Napa County, Robertson said.
“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.”
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 a bill 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 keep track of activities 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 number 753, including 597 criminal aliens, she said in an email.
In the past, ICE has defended its use of the word “police” when making detentions, saying that its officers can be broadly defined as such.
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 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, a long-time St. Helena resident who is retired, said he and some of Julio’s other employers got together and got him legal representation and raised bail.
Attorney fees for a bail hearing are $3,000-$5,000, he said. The amount of bail is at the judge’s discretion, as little as $1,500 up to $40,000, largely depending of the severity of the offense that triggered the arrest. Based on his research, Farrar said 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.”