When Katelyn Ogawa looks at Orange County today, she sees troubling parallels to the Orange County her grandparents lived in more than 70 years ago.
Her grandparents were first-generation Japanese Americans living in Cypress, where they worked for their family’s gardening business. In 1942, the newlyweds were among 120,000 people of Japanese descent sent to internment camps across the United States.
“I could only imagine the hostility and tension that they had experienced before they got picked up,” Ogawa said of her grandparents, who were sent to Arkansas.
That is, she said, until this past month, when a wave of anti-sanctuary proposals swept Orange County, as cities including Los Alamitos, Huntington Beach, Fountain Valley and Westminster — as well as the Orange County Board of Supervisors — moved to exempt themselves from the California Values Act, or “sanctuary state law,” which prohibits local law enforcement from coordinating with federal immigration authorities. Costa Mesa on Wednesday became the latest O.C. city to oppose the sanctuary state law.
As an Orange County native, Ogawa said she had never before seen so much anti-immigrant rhetoric. In March, she offered public comment to the Board of Supervisors in support of the sanctuary state law while some in the audience shouted, “You’re a liar!” “You don’t know what you’re saying!” and “You don’t belong here!” A woman who testified after her was greeted with chants of “ICE, ICE baby” and “You’re all illegal.”
For Ogawa, this experience called to mind the racism her grandparents endured before internment — a connection that is motivating her to take action.
Now, Ogawa, policy coordinator for the nonprofit Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Orange County, and other local advocacy organizations for immigrants, refugees and communities of color are building diverse coalitions to push back against the anti-sanctuary movement, which they say is fueling hatred across the county.
Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Orange County, for example, started a petition calling on the Board of Supervisors to speak out against anti-immigrant rhetoric.
“We demand that you condemn the hateful attacks leveled against those of immigrant backgrounds at your March 27 public hearing and urge you to assert your refusal to tolerate such conduct at future public hearings,” said the April 4 letter, which gathered about 250 individual and 30 organizational signatures, including the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, the UC Irvine Immigrant Rights Clinic and the Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development.
The petition was delivered to the Board of Supervisors on April 24.
“There was definitely a spike in hate crimes and hate incidents after the 2016 presidential election, so we’re worried that this kind of rhetoric, and not explicitly condemning this kind of rhetoric, will lead to a similar increase,” said Sylvia Kim, regional director for Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Orange County.
However, Troy Edgar, mayor of Los Alamitos, the first city in the state to pass an anti-sanctuary ordinance, said it’s not about hatred for immigrants.
“This has nothing to do with immigrants, and when I hear that I’m racist or anti-immigrant — no, four-fifths of our council is an immigrant or married to an immigrant,” he said, noting that his wife is from Iran. “There shouldn’t be people who are true immigrants living in the community who are concerned.”
But Carlos Perea, policy director for the immigrant youth group Resilience Orange County, said this doesn’t match what he’s seen on the ground. His organization has been working to turn out large numbers of immigrant youth at the city council and Board of Supervisors meetings where anti-sanctuary ordinances are being debated to ensure that their voices are heard, and has been met by what he called a “hate circus.”
“They’re trying to replicate messages that immigrants are criminals,” he said. “But immediately when something happens, we overpower them with messages of love and inclusiveness. We will hold their hands or link arms in a circle to make sure that the other folks are safe inside because sometimes these folks get aggressive.”
Resilience Orange County also works to empower immigrant youth in the community through rallies, know-your-rights training, deportation defense clinics and civic engagement campaigns to register young people of color to vote.
“This is not 2000 or 2005,” Perea said. “This is 2018 and we are fighting back now. We’re not afraid. We have allies and we have solidarity with the community.”
It’s solidarity that’s key to combating hate in the community, said Rashad al-Dabbagh, executive director of the Orange County-based Arab American Civic Council, explaining that his group has played a supporting role in responding to the anti-sanctuary ordinances.
“These are times that all of us feel vulnerable and unsafe, so we want to make sure that Arab Americans, Latinos, African Americans, Asian Americans, all people feel safe — so when they need us, we’ll be there for them,” he said. “And the same goes when our community is targeted. Last year, with the Muslim ban, people were out there standing side by side with refugee families at airports all over the country, including LAX.”
Asian Americans Advancing Justice’s Ogawa agreed.
“How can we remember the atrocities our ancestors went through and not stand with the atrocities our brothers and sisters are going through now?” Ogawa said.
CAITLIN YOSHIKO KANDIL is a contributor to Times Community News.