There was music and dancing and candy for the children and food — so much food.
But there was something else at the fiesta Saturday afternoon at the Evergreen Recreation Center in north Wichita: an undercurrent of fear. About 100 people showed up to listen to immigration attorney Trinidad Galdean explain what their rights are if Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents come to their home.
They heard other speakers try to reassure them about immigration issues.
“I think everyone’s really concerned,” said Gabriel Costilla, vice chair of the Sedgwick County Democratic Party and a teacher at West High, who spoke at the forum. “I know that I’m concerned.”
Misinformation and uncertainty over changes in immigration law that will be coming from the Trump administration are widespread, Galdean said.
“There is a lot of confusion,” he said. “One of the things I have to say is that the Wichita Police Department has done an excellent job of communicating to the community.”
Galdean said he is optimistic that effective immigration reform is possible. President Trump “seems to understand that people who have been here and have not committed crimes have contributed to the community,” he said, and “there should be something to work out there” that would allow them to stay in the United States.
But the point he stressed to the crowd was a basic one: “Go out and get informed: ‘What are your options?’
“People need to be informed about what’s specific to them.”
James Thompson, who is running for the 4th District seat in the U.S. Senate, drew applause when he said, “You are productive parts of our community and are very important.”
“A lot of people are scared right now,” Thompson, a Democrat, told the crowd. “I want to go to Washington to make sure the people in my community that are scared about the laws that may be coming down are protected.
“Even if you don’t have a piece of paper that says you are an American, you are an American in my mind.”
Questions about immigration policy and how the police and Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office handle immigrants also were voiced at a forum Saturday morning hosted by Sunflower Community Action.
Sheriff Jeff Easter repeated a point that has been made before: Deputies aren’t an extension of ICE.
“We can’t enforce federal law when it comes to immigration,” Easter said.
Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsay, who was also at the forum, said later that building relationships with and earning the trust of immigrants is vital.
“One of the big issues is we solve crime by people calling us and reporting stuff to us,” he said. “People are concerned about whether they’re going be harassed about ‘Are you here lawfully or not?’ ”
If they’re worried about being reported to federal authorities by the police, Ramsay said, “they’re going to not bother helping us out when crime is happening.”