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Elayne Klasson: An immigrant’s story

Magazine, The Immigrant

This past week two community organizations, InclusionSYV and the SYVCommunity Action Alliance, co-sponsored a conversation at St. Mark’s Church on the implications of immigration in our community.

Immigration is an emotional issue, and one that tends to polarize people. Few of us feel neutral about immigration and border issues. Yet the problems of immigration are not going to go away as long as we live in a world where there is extreme poverty and violence in some places and relative safety and material wealth in others.

I’ve written about why I love to travel. Besides the fun of adventure, whenever I visit other countries, I am exposed to the common threads of humanity. What we all want for our families is the same: to see our loved ones exist without the fear of hunger, disease and violence.

I know that this is a simple way of looking at things. Can letting unlimited people into our communities solve the terrible suffering of our world? How much are we responsible for people who don’t look or act or behave as we do? Are they a risk to our safety?

Hoping to learn more, I attended the discussion at St. Mark’s. The speaker was Clara Long, a graduate of Harvard Law School and the London School of Economics, and a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch. Her job, she said, is to watch and observe. She examines data about immigration and deportation and reports on them.

She wasn’t speaking simply for or against immigration, she was speaking about harmful deportation of deeply rooted long-term U.S. citizens. These are not criminals, but people who may have been in the United States most of their lives.

They have families, husbands and wives and children dependent on them. Then, suddenly, they are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Because of a traffic violation or another minor infraction, they can be picked up and held in detention facilities.

Last year, over 250,000 people were deported from the United States. These were not, except in a minuscule number of cases, dangerous criminals. And, surprisingly, the majority were picked up NOT at the border, but in the interior of the United States.

Immigrant children or high school students or fully employed adults who have come to the United States illegally live with impossible anxiety about deportation.

They report not going for medical care they or their children require; not accepting food assistance to feed their families for which they qualify, or not going to the police to report crimes where they may have been abused or exploited. Anything that brings attention to themselves, means a greater risk of being picked up by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement.)

Everyone knows an immigrant in our community. Hilda Navarro, who works for my husband and me, agreed to be interviewed for this story.

She told me about her journey as an immigrant to the United States from Mexico. Hilda came to the United States in 1986. She reports that soon after she came, under the Presidency of Ronald Reagan, there was a brief period of amnesty for immigrants. She received her green card during that time, and after five years, in 1996, she proudly became a United States citizen. I’d like to tell you a little about Hilda Navarro.

She has raised three kids here in the Santa Ynez Valley. All have gone through our schools and have gone to university. Her oldest, a teacher, is now married and recently had her first child. Hilda’s second daughter graduated from Cal Poly and works for a medical supply firm in Goleta. Her youngest, a son, attends Cal State Northridge.

Remarkably, besides working hard as a housekeeper and raising these three productive children, Hilda finds time to give to others. She is on the board of People Helping People and active in her church. One of Hilda’s great concerns is for those she knows in the Santa Ynez Valley who were not as fortunate as she in receiving a green card and then citizenship.

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 Elayne Klasson, PhD in psychology, is a writer and recent transplant to the Santa Ynez Valley. She was previously on the faculty at San Jose State University teaching writing and health-related subjects.  She can be reached at

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