AFSCME Local 829 member Kay Khan and her husband had been planning their vacation to India for months when the President’s administration implemented its “Muslim ban,” which targeted immigrants from several countries in the Middle East.
A federal judge eventually struck down the draconian executive order. But when Khan and her husband—both Muslim and from Fiji, which wasn’t on the Muslim ban list—returned from their trip and tried to get through airport customs, the fear and consequences from the ban were already taking effect.
“They told my husband to take off his hat—which he wears for our religion—and they told me to take off my hijab,” Khan said, recalling the episode. “My husband had to take his hat off, but I refused. It was so scary because all I could think about was, ‘I have kids here in America, and I have grandkids here.’”
Fortunately for Khan, she knew that, no matter what was going to happen, the Union had her back.
“Before I left for my trip, when I was telling them about my anxiety (because of the ban), my fellow Local members were saying they would all sign up as Muslims if the Trump administration started a registry,” Khan said. “That made me feel comfortable because I knew that being in the Union meant that I felt supported.”
Khan’s traumatic episode in February is probably a familiar tale for some of AFSCME’s members. Out of AFSCME’s 1.6 million members, many are immigrants and our Union has always proudly stood behind those members who have unfairly become the target of society’s ills.
Now our members from immigrant backgrounds are starting to stand up. While it appears the President’s administration will continue its political attacks on immigrants, some Council 57 members—including Khan—are using their jobs and their immigrant backgrounds to fight back against the hate.
The irony of Khan being detained at airport customs for being a Muslim is that, at Fair Oaks Health Clinic in Redwood City where she works as a licensed vocational nurse, she sees immigrants every day and the clinic never turns away a patient. In fact, much of the population surrounding the clinic is Latino, so the clinic is bound to see immigrant patients on a frequent basis.
Khan said she has felt emboldened to help more immigrants who come into the clinic since the new administration took office.
“The reality is that this country cannot run without immigrants,” she said, “so I’m going to keep helping everyone who comes into this clinic—no matter their legal status—because we are a resource to the community and, without us, they would have nowhere else to go.”
In Daly City, where Local 829 member Diana Gomez works as a psychiatric social worker, she has seen the fear created by the hate-filled immigration policies manifest in similar ways.
Since the beginning of the year, Gomez has seen a decrease in patients coming into the North County Mental Health Clinic for mental health services. For those who do come, their anxiety and paranoia is often heightened because many patients feel like getting mental health services might negatively impact their citizenship.
Even patients who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents are more anxious, Gomez said, because of the fear surrounding the current immigration debate.
“There’s just a general anxiety about what’s going to happen,” Gomez said.
As a public service worker, Gomez realizes she still has a job to do and a community to serve. So instead of letting her clients slip through the cracks, she and some of her colleagues have started to take more initiative to quell her clients’ fears.
Gomez said San Mateo County has started to hold more immigration forums this year so that people are educated about their rights as immigrants.
Whenever she meets with a client, Gomez said, she now asks every one of them if they have any questions about immigration—just in case someone is thinking about waiting to bring up the issue.
“The way I see it, the fear created by these immigration policies is not good because people could end up in the emergency room or require psychiatric services when they could have just come to a facility like ours and gotten help,” Gomez said. “As a result, the cost of care increases when it could have been carried out more efficiently.”
Beyond her job, Gomez knows that immigration is a personal issue.
Her grandparents were part of the bracero program. Despite having a daughter born in the U.S., she said, they were sent back to Mexico and had to restart their entire immigration process again.
There has been a positive outcome, however, since the new administration took office, Gomez said.
Despite seeing more people worried about what lies ahead for their own lives and their families, Gomez has seen droves of people—including many of her own family members—turn the federal immigration policies into an opportunity.
In the last year alone, Gomez said, she has seen more family members become U.S. citizens than in her whole lifetime.
“That’s pretty awesome to see because it shows that we can change things moving forward,” she said. “What better way to change attitudes fueled by fear and hate than to become a U.S. citizen.”