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Riverbank Forum Helps Calm Fears
St. Frances
St. Frances of Rome Catholic Church in Riverbank. Photo By: VIRGINIA STILL/THE NEWS

Post-election worries and concerns have been voiced in many parts of the country after Donald Trump won the Presidential election, and although the President-elect was known in November, the discussions have continued well into December. The fears have spread into some parts of the City of Action, which led to a community forum at the end of November held at St. Frances of Rome Church in Riverbank with several dignitaries including Riverbank Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Daryl Camp, City Councilmember Darlene Barber Martinez, Riverbank Police Services Detective Eric Torres, and immigration attorneys in attendance, the gathering organized by Father Misael Avila.

With approximately 100 people in attendance at the forum, the presentations included current immigration laws and constitutional rights with a question and answer session at the end.

“None of our schools have experienced any major incidents; however, the Southern Poverty Law Center reports an increase in hate crimes,” stated Camp. “Additionally, there have been various “hate” type of student activities throughout the state.”

Earlier this month Sacramento City Unified School District declared that it would become a “Safe Haven” for undocumented students. This would require immigration officials to notify the district superintendent before they arrive on campuses and allow them to take a non-cooperation stance when requesting school files to find undocumented students and families.

Shortly after the November election results, Camp began hearing that a number of students were concerned about deportation and keeping their families together as well as maintaining access to scholarships for higher education. He also pointed to the recommendation of the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education, urging school districts in that county to implement a ‘zero-tolerance policy’ regarding harassment and hateful behavior.

“I did share that my priority as the superintendent of schools is to ensure that schools are safe places for students so learning could take place,” said Camp. “Father Misael Avila from St. Frances of Rome and I spoke about the need to support our shared community in a time of uncertainty. The meeting focused on providing information to and clarifying questions from attendees.”

The community had questions regarding the future of the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program which is also known as “dreamers.”

“Overall it went very well,” said Avila. “We had a very good response from people. In general people were very concerned about their future in our country. Many of them are undocumented and they don’t know what the Trump administration is going to do about it.”

Detective Torres addressed the public and reassured them that Riverbank Police Services will continue to protect and serve the community as it always has with no other changes.

“The guests that attended felt like they could trust us and they should trust us and call anytime they need us,” stated Torres. “I think the public was content with the forum; they asked several different questions.”

Finding it very important to have had the forum to address several questions and to inform the community, Avila made sure to have several guest speakers on hand like Megan Fulenchek, immigration lawyer; Juana Aguilar, clinician; Jose Lopez, counselor from Catholic Charities; Homero Mejia, PICO; and Virginia Madueno, former mayor of Riverbank.

“The most important thing is that this forum gave people some hope and peace because even though they don’t have documents, they have rights and people who will support them,” added Avila. “We are going to provide them with a list of immigration lawyers they can consult. We are going to see the possibility of Riverbank becoming a sanctuary city. We are also going to provide counseling services.”

“I am pleased that St. Frances of Rome hosted this forum for our community,” expressed Camp. “I realize that it will be difficult for kids to learn if they enter school worried about the future for their family. Ensuring that families have accurate information can reduce anxiety.”

“The Catholic Church with other organizations is going to continue working diligently for a comprehensive immigration reform,” concluded Avila. “We will also have other community forums to address people’s concerns. People who don’t have documents need to know that they are not alone and that they are very valuable members of our society. It’s important that we all come together to achieve an immigration reform.”