As more than 100 Tulsa-area residents of all ages passed through the doors of the St. Thomas More Catholic Church sanctuary, many stopped to make the sign of the cross before taking their seats.

They were at the east Tulsa church for a forum, organized by the Greater Tulsa Area Hispanic Affairs Commission, at which area residents could ask panelists about their rights as immigrants in the wake of a series of tweets from President Donald Trump.

Trump tweeted on June 17 that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement would begin removing millions of undocumented immigrants the following week but then tweeted on June 22 that the deportations would be delayed for two weeks.

“Since it looked like these sweeps were coming pretty quickly, we wanted to throw something together fast,” Commission Chair Sara Martinez said.

Panelists at the event included Municipal Judge David Shapiro, Chief Public Defender Jim Saunders, court administrator Kelly Brader and Tulsa Police Department Officer Nereyda Villa and Sgt. Richard Meulenberg. The event was translated and moderated by Christina da Silva, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum’s deputy chief of staff.

Fliers passed out at the event detailed what rights are available to undocumented immigrants in situations with police or ICE officers, including the right to speak with a lawyer and the right not to open the door.

Martinez said it was important to provide the information in Spanish so that “people can have access to it in their language.”

Another goal of the event, she said, was to “try to get the immigrant community more comfortable with Tulsa police” and not be afraid of being deported if the police are aware of their presence.

“They want to solve crimes,” Martinez said of the police. “If you’re a victim of a crime, you need to be able to go to the police.”

During the event, Meulenberg stood in front of the attendees and showed them his uniform to explain how it differs from that of an ICE officer.

“If they don’t call us, we’re not going to catch people,” Meulenberg said of crime victims and witnesses. “If bad guys are out there basically preying on people who are undocumented or here maybe illegally, then they’re going to continue doing that. They’re going to continue attacking this group of the population, and we’re never going to know about it.”

An immigrant named Veronica, a Broken Arrow resident and mother of four who did not give her last name out of fear for her family’s safety, attended the event to learn more about ICE and the Tulsa police and how she can keep herself and her family safe. After what she has heard from friends and family about ICE and Trump, she has been afraid sometimes even to go outside, she said.

She said she hopes more events like this are held because she thinks it is “very, very important to be informed” no matter how scared you are.

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Chase Reavis


Twitter: @DCReavis

Jericka Handie


Twitter: @jerickahandie

Chase is an intern at the Tulsa World. He is a senior at the University of Arkansas, where he is majoring in journalism and Spanish. Phone: 918-581-8457

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