On a recent Wednesday at about noon, Aldo’s Mexican Restaurant in Delano was empty. There wasn’t any chatter or the sounds of sizzling carne asada on the stove, just the song Mejor Recuerda by Julión Álvarez playing in the background.
“During the lunch hour, we used to always be busy, running back and forth, back and forth,” said waitress Araceli Mendez in Spanish. “That’s why you now can see the difference. It’s been empty for almost a month.”
Mendez said she and her coworkers think it’s because of the recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids and arrests. Even the sheriff’s cars going up and down the street make people uneasy, she said.
On Aug. 5, the Delano City Council may take a stand against local ICE activity. The council will vote on whether to make Delano a sanctuary city. This means it would limit its involvement with ICE and adopt policies to protect undocumented immigrants. Currently, Livingston is the only sanctuary city in the San Joaquin Valley.
Delano Councilmember Bryan Osorio brought the resolution to the council during the last regular meeting on July 15. The council agreed to move the vote to Monday to make sure the resolution is within the parameters of SB-54, the state bill that prohibits state and local law enforcement agencies from working with ICE.
Last Thursday, ICE arrested Armando Garcia-Mercado at the Kern County Superior Courthouse in Delano. He had a prior DUI and has been deported before, ICE spokesperson Paul Prince said in an email. The safest way to make ICE arrests is directly from prisons or jails, he said, but when there is limited cooperation from local and state authorities ICE has “no choice” but to arrest undocumented immigrants in neighborhoods, worksites, and courthouses.
“It is also inevitable that additional collateral arrests will occur,” Prince said. “Local and state politicians, whether they will admit it or not, play a major role in establishing immigration law and how it’s enforced.”
The recent ICE arrest coupled with President Donald Trump’s announcement of ICE raids in early July has made the small rural town of Delano quieter.
“Even I would be fearful of going out to work because I have my kids at home, and if they (ICE officials) were to grab you, your kids are still here,” Mendez said. “People are scared.”
ICE has arrested people at the Kern County Superior Courthouse in Bakersfield in the past, and last year ICE also made arrests at the Fresno County Superior Courthouse. Valley attorneys have had concerns that courthouse arrests will lead to people not cooperating as witnesses or reporting crimes.
Businesses around the courthouse have been taking a hit because of recent ICE activity, including the Delano Women’s Medical Clinic that’s a few doors down from Aldo’s. Both businesses are just a five minute walk from the courthouse.
“Even us at the clinic, we have had a low rate because a lot of our patients are undocumented field workers and they’re scared to come out,” said Nely Sagraro, a receptionist and assistant at the clinic. “Some of them just want the later appointments. They don’t want to come later in the morning or the afternoon because they’re scared ICE is going to be around or waiting to pick (them) up.”
Sagaro said usually there are more people out walking in the town, but lately, it’s been very quiet. Elissa Lara agrees. She works at Rufy’s which is just a few blocks away from the courthouse. It sells ice cream, shaved ice with fruit, elotes, and other snacks.
Rufy’s has only been open for a month, Lara said, but the first two weeks were a lot busier compared to the last two. In the last two weeks, she said, sales dropped 40 percent.
It’s not just businesses that are affected by ICE activity. Kids in the community are worried, said Valerie Gorospe, the community coordinator with the Center for Race, Poverty and the Environment. Lately, she said she’s been receiving concerning text messages from high schoolers.
“One of the text messages asked me to go drive on Cecil Avenue and High Street to see if people were being deported and if there were ICE cars pulling people over,” Gorospe said. “She wanted to know if ICE was out on the streets of Delano because her mom wanted to get groceries for dinner that night. I dropped everything that I was doing and I drove over there.”
Gorospe said she didn’t see any ICE activity that day. She said another teen texted her about her anxiety. “She couldn't sleep, she was restless because of Trump's tweets,” Gorospe said.
Since 2017, Gorospe said the fear and anxiety in the community have been constant, but it’s “always” maximized when Trump tweets something about immigration or there are reports of ICE raids and arrests.
“... What does it mean for America to have free Healthcare for Illegal Immigrants, no criminalization of coming into our Country - See how that works for controlling Immigration!,” Trump tweeted on July 15.
The day before Trump tweeted, “..... Sorry, can’t let them into our Country. If too crowded, tell them not to come to USA, and tell the Dems to fix the Loopholes - Problem Solved!”
Mixed status families are common in Delano, Gorospe said. Often parents aren’t documented or only some members of the family are citizens. The oldest siblings often end up with a lot of responsibility on their backs, she said.
“They’re responsible if their parents get deported to put into action the family plan,” she said. “What uncle are they going to call, what grandparent are they going to call if their parents get deported? I think that we just forget about our high school students. A lot of that stress that we’re putting on them is directly coming from federal decisions that have a very real local impact on us.”
The Delano Union School District passed a resolution opposing ICE presence on campuses in 2016. It was a unanimous vote. In March 2019, the Delano Joint Union High School District unanimously passed a resolution to create more partnerships with community organizations that provide immigration resources. The resolution also said any requests they receive from ICE to enter campuses will be sent to the superintendent for review.
If Delano becomes a sanctuary city, Gorospe said, “that would send a clear message to our kids and to our families that you’re not just protected at school but you are protected after school, on your way home from school, when you go out grocery shopping with your family, when you go get school supplies with your family, and you’re shopping at local businesses.”