December 28, 2016 “She came to the U.S. as a young child. Now she fears that knock on the door.”
On a cold Friday in December, Jose Salcido, a deputy police chief, sat with his family as a parade of performers honored him at a community center in northwest Wichita.
In September, Salcido had been sworn in as Wichita’s first Hispanic deputy chief, and members of the community had come to celebrate.
Boys in black sombreros and poofy neck-bows twirled young girls in pleated skirts and embroidered blouses as mariachi music played.
Jazmin and Jaylin Jaquez, 4 and 5, had been running around the room playfully and mischievously, but now they stopped and sat rapt, with their heads resting on folded arms.
In the back, Miriam Nunez, 28, their mother, stood with a few of the other women who had helped decorate the place settings at the banquet.
Nunez had, in many ways, a parallel story to Salcido’s. Both had been brought to the U.S. as children by their parents, Salcido at 9, Nunez at 7, and both had since then come to work as public servants, Salcido for the police, Nunez for the schools.
Salcido was the beneficiary of an immigration law in the late 1980s that allowed him to earn his citizenship in 1995. Salcido worked his way up to become a pillar of the Wichita community.
Nunez’s family brought her to the U.S. in 1995, too late to qualify. Congress has not passed a major immigration law since.
Her three daughters, 4, 5 and 10, are American-born citizens, but her and her husband’s immigration status is now in limbo.
So while it was a proud moment for Salcido, it was a nerve-wracking time for Nunez: She is afraid that, without the protection of law, when Donald Trump takes office in January, her family could be split apart….Continue reading
Late last week rumors were circulating on Facebook that officers were stopping cars near 21st and Arkansas and asking drivers for papers to prove they were U.S. citizens.
“IF YOU’RE UNDOCUMENTED AVOID THE AREA AT ALL COSTS,” stated one widely shared post.
Wichita police Officer Paul Cruz started receiving calls that morning from community members asking what was going on. He quickly determined that it wasn’t the Wichita police. So he put out a statement on the police department’s new Facebook page in Spanish that was shared more than 150 times.
“I want to clear up a rumor,” Cruz wrote. “We are not in the area of 21th street and Arkansas, there’s no reason to be scared or cause alarm in our community.” Cruz gave out his direct phone line and told people to call.
Cruz later issued a similar statement live on video in Spanish that was shared 450 times. His post received several hundred more shares than any posts on the department’s English-language Facebook page that week.
“Thank you to the police for this video,” one woman wrote in Spanish. “So we can go out without fear to get bread every day. May God bless you.”
The incident highlighted the increasing effort the Wichita Police Department has made and the success it has had in reaching out to Spanish speakers in Wichita.
But it also shows some of the challenges it will face in the coming year, as President Donald Trump changes how immigration is enforced.
Wichita police do not enforce federal immigration laws, but not all community members, especially those with limited English proficiency, understand the difference. Police say that building trust with citizens and non-citizens is important for them to get crucial information and fight crime….Continue reading
“Father, husband returns home two days before Christmas”
BY OLIVER MORRISON
As Claudia Amaro waited with her son, Yamil, on Wednesday at Wichita Eisenhower National Airport, several friends showed up to wait with her.
Amaro and her husband, Hector Yaujar, had requested asylum in the U.S. in 2013. But while she had been released in weeks, Yaujar was locked up in a detention facility in Eloy, Ariz., for 2 1/2 years. She had seen him for a total of four hours during that time.
But Yaujar was finally released on bond Tuesday, boarded a plane Wednesday and would be home just in time for Christmas.
Or that was how it was supposed to go.
It had been such a long journey, with so many false promises of his return, that even when Amaro learned that Yaujar had received a temporary passport, she could not yet celebrate.
Maybe his flight would be canceled. After all the disappointments she had faced, nothing seemed too out of the question.
All she could do Tuesday was focus on the next thing she had to do: the laundry. Get her hair done. And avoid her son.
She doesn’t like to keep secrets, but her husband had asked her to keep his return home a surprise. Yaujar had missed his son’s teenage years when he grew from a chubby child into a tall, 15-year-old goalkeeper, just like his dad.
As passenger after passenger departed the plane Wednesday in Wichita, mother and son stood next to each other and waited….Continue reading
A full slideshow of photos for this story from July to December 2015 here: http://www.kansas.com/news/local/article51484690.htmlVideo produced by Oliver Morrison and John Albert
February 16, 2017 “400 take off work and school to rally in support of immigrants in Wichita”
Luis Garduno skipped work Thursday so that he could support undocumented immigrants like himself and to dispel the rumor that people like him came to the U.S. to commit crimes: He came to work, he said in Spanish.
Garduno was the only worker at his restaurant who went to a protest at Nomar Plaza on Thursday, so his restaurant didn’t have to close.
But he was joined by around 400 other people, mostly Latinos, who participated in “A Day Without Immigrants,” a national protest that shut down restaurants across the country, including several in Wichita. Wichita public schools also reported an unusually high number of absences, and many protesters vowed not to do any shopping….Continue reading
August 30, 2015
“New Wichita State sorority aims to make Hispanic women comfortable on campus”
BY OLIVER MORRISON
The Wichita Eagle
When Nataly Montes de Oca, 25, showed up at Wichita State in the fall of 2013, her life was divided into two activities: going to work and making a home for her 2-year-old son.
It had been five years since she graduated from high school, and she had to relearn how to be a student. She found the grind of college work and a full-time job difficult.
But toward the end of her first semester, she met a group of Latina students in the Hispanic American Leadership Organization on campus and formed a bond. It was the first time, she said, that she felt like she had real friends outside her family in six years in Wichita.
“They make me feel welcomed,” Montes de Oca said. “Part of something else besides being a mom and an employee.”
Now Montes de Oca and 11 of her friends are on the verge of starting the first Hispanic sorority at Wichita State in a decade. They’ve spent the past year leading community service events and, after they finish their paperwork this fall, expect LATINA, which stands for Latina Interest Association, to become a chapter of Kappa Delta Chi. They say the group is needed to help women like Montes de Oca fit in on campus and express their Hispanic heritage….Continue reading
February 13, 2017 “31 people picked up in Kansas during nationwide immigration sweep”
Thirty-one of the more than 600 people arrested by immigration authorities last week were picked up in Kansas, according to a representative for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
About three-quarters of those arrested were picked up in southwestern Kansas, near Dodge City, Garden City and Liberal.
Four were picked up in Wichita. Those arrested in Wichita included two people who had either an arrest or a conviction for a drug crime.
The four arrested in Wichita were part of last week’s nationwide sweep. Two weeks ago, immigration authorities arrested at least three others in Wichita as part of its ongoing immigration enforcement efforts.
President Trump recently signed an executive order on immigration that included, among its changes, prioritizing individuals arrested for crimes, not just those that had been tried and convicted of crimes. In the past, immigrants typically became a priority for deportation only after a conviction had been secured.
“Now everybody who has any contact with law enforcement is a priority,” according to Michael Sharma-Crawford, an immigration lawyer outside Kansas City….Continue reading
February 9, 2017 “Wichitan refused to be ‘just a girl from Kansas’ 2nd time in talent final”
The first time she made it to the finals, she was 17 and had to travel with her mom. The judges called her “too green.”
So this past fall, Reyna Avelar, 21, refused to be pigeon-holed as the sweet young girl from Kansas when she tried out a second time for “Tengo Talento,” a Spanish-language show similar to “America’s Got Talent” and watched by hundreds of thousands in the U.S.
So Avelar strolled on stage for the first round wearing black boots and bright red shorts that left most of her legs exposed.
As she sang, Avelar strutted toward the judge who was known as the toughest, most pugnacious of the four. After the song was over, she asked for a picture with a young Mexican heartthrob, whom she kissed on the cheek.
The comedic sidekick on the show joked that Mickey Mouse called and wanted his red shorts back. So Avelar was dubbed “La Mickey” for the rest of her run on the show.
Avelar is performing Friday with a local band at 54 West, a performance venue at Towne West, in part as a celebration of her repeated success as the only contestant from Wichita.
Avelar was discovered on YouTube, the same place she learned to play music. She plays four instruments, including the accordion and guitar, but neither of her parents played music, and only one of her seven older brothers did.
Avelar decided to re-enter the competition as a songwriter. At 17, she’d done only covers of songs.
Avelar performed one song titled “Ni de Aqui, Ni de Alla,” meaning “not from here nor there.” Avelar was born in Zacatecas, Mexico, but was brought to the U.S. by her parents when she was 3. She wore a red, white and blue top, and four scantily-clad dancers waved red and white flags in front of signs that said “home” and “casa.”
She predicted correctly that one of the judges would say her song “is very appropriate for these times.” The show aired last fall during the middle of the presidential election.
Although she didn’t win the $100,000 prize, she received free accommodations and travel to and from California. The producers traveled to Wichita and interviewed her by Century II and the “Keeper of the Plains” statue, exposing Wichita to hundreds of thousands of Spanish speakers across the country.
February 7, 2017 “Wichita East High grad argues Trump immigration case”
A series of unexpected events has thrust an East High graduate to the center of a national political firestorm this week.
August E. Flentje will argue on behalf of the Justice Department that a federal judge in Washington State incorrectly overturned President Donald Trump’s effort to ban immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries.
After Trump fired the acting attorney general last week, Flentje rose to the top of the appeals lawyers in the Justice Department. His father, Edward Flentje, a professor at Wichita State University, said his son has argued appellate cases before but has never argued a case before the Supreme Court.
Flentje has worked previously on high-profile cases, such as the legalization of gay marriage and the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, but his father said that luck played a significant role that landed him at the center of this case that is scheduled to be broadcast live on CNN.
Sen. Jeff Sessions’ confirmation as Attorney General was delayed so that he could cast a deciding vote for Betsy DeVos to become education secretary. And the acting attorney general, Sally Yates, was fired by Trump after she said she would not instruct the Justice Department to defend the immigration ban.
Then the justice department wrote, in a footnote to its legal brief, that its two top lawyers, Acting Solicitor General Noel Francisco and Acting Associate Attorney General Chad Readler, would not participate in the case either because of a conflict of interest. The two lawyers left Jones Day law firm, one of the largest firms in the country, a few weeks ago to take positions with the Justice Department. But Jones Day filed a motion opposed to Trump’s executive order.
That left Flentje, as the special counsel to the assistant attorney general, as the highest ranking lawyer on the case….Continue reading
FEBRUARY 25, 2016: “The secret of Paola Ramirez-Pena”
BY OLIVER MORRISON
Paola Ramirez-Pena, 17, is in two Advanced Placement classes this year. Her junior year she was in five. She is senior class president, is a member of two leadership clubs and sings in the choir.
She was North High School’s sole ambassador at Riverfest and is one of three students to represent her school on the Mayor’s Youth Council, a leadership body for the top student leaders in the city.
In November she was one of four student leaders chosen to travel to Nashville, Tenn., for the National League of Cities convention, where she had her picture taken with Vice President Joe Biden.
In the fall she visited the University of Kansas, where she’s planning to accept a scholarship.
But she has a secret that, until recently, she had not told her friends.
Although her family has lived in the U.S. for two decades and she was born here, Paola’s parents don’t have permission to be in the country.
“You’re trying to live a normal life because you don’t want to let people know that there is something different about your family,” Paola said. “But I mean, there is.”
That means that when she buckles the seat belt in her mom’s minivan, she’s always a little afraid.
When she was 9, she and her dad were pulled over for speeding on the way to the movies. Three police cars showed up, searched the car and arrested him. At the time she believed it was because she didn’t have her seat belt on. She thought her dad would be deported and didn’t want to ask the police to take her home because she was afraid they would take her mom too.
“I (had) nowhere to run to because the one is just as much of a target as the other,” Paola said.
Her parents’ status is in the back of her mind every time she invites a friend to the house. It pops up during class discussions. She thinks about it before vacation trips and changes stories she tells when she gets back. Her parents’ status has influenced what she wants to study in college and the career she imagines when she grows up.
Immigrants like her parents are such a controversial topic that there isn’t even a consensus on how to refer to them: illegal aliens, illegal immigrants, undocumented immigrants or a handful of other terms.
Earlier this year Paola’s mom, Gisela Pena, began doing something many immigrants here without permission are afraid to do: speak up. She helped bring immigration lawyers to Wichita and started a radio show about issues that affect immigrants.
One recent day at her mom’s shop, Paola said she was scared that all this new activity could mean that her mom could be torn away from her before graduation.
“Everything that I worked for has come to this point until now,” Paola said, wiping away tears that smudged the black paint she’d put under her eyes for spirit week at school. “And every morning she’s dropped me off, and every breakfast she has ever made me, and every field trip she has ever helped chaperone, every permission slip she’s ever signed, she won’t be able to see the end of it.”….Continue reading