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Immigrants’ fear is real in St. Louis as ICE sweeps U.S.

GRAVOIS PARK – We have seen the clips and heard the headlines. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, is coming to a neighborhood near you, in search of undocumented immigrants with deportation orders.  They are to be swept up and kicked out of the country.

The real story, however, is not nearly so simple. And those in St. Louis who feel as if this is a story that affects people only in places hundreds of miles away are wrong. We have assembled a group of experts who will tell you this is very much a local story in St. Louis.

MetroSTL.com took on this project, a forum on immigration, in conjunction with Diario-Digital, our city’s Spanish language news source, because there is a large, often voiceless population in St. Louis that is feeling the heat right now.

There is debate as to whether it’s right, and there are questions about how many people who should not be affected will be anyway. Our guests will dissect these questions.

Sal Valadez of the Laborers International Union of North America is a naturalized American citizen of Mexican descent. He’s a 100 percent legal American, but he sums up what many are feeling. He talks about his wife’s walking him to the door as he leaves for work.

“Every morning she asks me, ‘Do you have your wallet?’ I say, ‘Yeah, it’s right here in my back pocket.’ Because her fear is that I’m going to be out somewhere and I’m going to be stopped by law enforcement or someone, and I’m not going to have my documentation.

“I’m a naturalized U.S. citizen, but the reality is, people are being stopped whether they’re citizens or not simply because they are people of a certain color. So the fear is there, and the fear is real.”

But when it comes to those who are in this country illegally, many think there are rules that simply need to be followed.

Ness Sandoval, a demographer at St. Louis University, points out that about 70 percent of Latinos here in Missouri are legal. So what about the group that is not? After all, if someone sneaks into Busch Stadium without a ticket, they get kicked out.

Sara John, executive director of the Inter-Faith Committee on Latin America here in St. Louis, says that is an apples-and-oranges comparison.

“We can’t talk about immigration right now and we can’t talk about undocumented immigration without talking about decades of U.S. intervention in Latin America and the ways our government through economic, political, social, cultural, military, corporate reasons and methods have shaped the way countries in Latin America have developed,” she said.

Though the issue seems to be more prevalent in the public eye and the news cycle under President Donald Trump’s administration, attorneys will tell you the laws have hardly changed at all.

But Nicole Cortes, the immigration attorney on our panel, says that although the laws are the same, other things are very different.

“I do believe that the way the public discourse about immigration, and the administration’s use of this terror tactic of announcing enforcement and using that as a way to scare communities, it does take a toll,” she said. “I’m not going to stand up here and say people feel great about it, because they do not.

“It’s not only undocumented immigrants who are afraid when they hear this news. It is people of all shades of brown and black. It’s people of all documentation statuses and legal statuses.”

You can watch the entire conversation in the attached video.  If you’d like to hear a discussion about this in Spanish, you can watch it here.

George Sells

george.sells@metrostlcom.wpcomstaging.com George Sells is an Emmy Award-winning journalist with more than 25 years of experience in news. He has spent the last decade on the St. Louis media scene, working for KTVI Fox 2, HEC Media, and more recently as a host for KMOX Radio. His wife of twenty years, Julie, was born and raised in St. Louis. They have two kids and a dog.

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