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Christian Center Of Park City Sees Decline In Latinx Clients After News Of ICE Arrests

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Christian Center of Park City
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After information spread through the media a couple weeks ago about possible Immigration and Customs Enforcement operations targeting 2,000 immigrants in 10 different cities, Christian Center of Park City Program Manager Pete Stoughton noticed something strange with the center’s food pantry operations.

 

“On a daily basis, we usually see 30 to 60 families a day in our pantry—roughly about 1,200 a month," Stoughton said. "That number sharply decreased just last week.”

Stoughton noted the same thing with a program the center hosts with EATS Park City.

"A program that we were having six Latinx families, as well as two or three Caucasian families, coming together to eat and get to know each other; on the last week, only one of the families came to join in that kind of celebratory event."

Especially concerning was hearing from families in the country with legal documentation, whose children were afraid to go outside.

"These were two students, two children, who have every right to walk the streets, just like my children and any children in our community," Stoughton said. "But so much hesitation in their willingness to walk downtown, to walk in their neighborhoods, because of  this culture of fear that we're trying to understand better."

2019 Summit County population estimates for people of Hispanic origin in Park City are 23%; in Summit County, 11%. Based on the Christian Center’s overall programming numbers, Stoughton estimates over 90% of participants the center serves are Latinx, which is why it was easy to notice the drop in participation these past few weeks.

Park City Community Foundation Social Equity Director Diego Zegarra says national rhetoric has amped up immigrants’ reluctance to be in public, due to their fear of being apprehended by immigration enforcement. That plays into one of the top issues outlined in the Community Foundation’s social equity survey results—a lack of feeling included.

“If you’re undocumented in the States, there's always this desire to not rock the boat and want to stay in the shadows a little bit, and what's happening at the national level isn't helping that," Zegarra said. "So one of the things that we're discussing through the social equity initiative is how to make spaces welcoming and inclusive, and how to make sure everyone in the community feels like they belong."

In the days following news of the ICE operations, Stoughton says the Christian Center has continued its programming as usual, and Christian Center staff has reached out to families who utilize the food pantry.

“They're making individual phone calls to our recipients and saying, 'this is a resource, we know that things are kind of challenging right now, you may or may not be going to work, we have additional food for you and your children,' and so just really making those touchpoints with our clients.”

Going forward, Zegarra says the Community Foundation may host programming to prepare immigrants in the community for what could happen if a family member is deported and inform them about their rights during an encounter with ICE. But as the city engages the community in its social equity efforts, Zegarra believes when elected officials say something, the community listens.

“They have been really good at setting the tone and establishing the direction we want to move in as well as moral leadership," Zegarra said. "When leaders of our city and county step up and say something, it really moves folks in that direction."

Both Zegarra and Stoughton agree the community is generally welcoming, and they’ve received that feedback from individuals and families served through their organizations, but Stoughton says there’s still work to be done.

“I think one of the powerful things that we’re trying—all of us are trying—to accomplish is to understand and have compassion in our community," Stoughton said. "That's one of the first steps for us, is to share and understand the story of families who are here, whether legally or illegally.”

KPCW has reached out to ICE for confirmation on whether operations have happened in Summit County recently and has not received a response. Park City officials are unaware of any ICE operations in the area.

Emily Means hadn’t intended to be a journalist, but after two years of studying chemistry at the University of Utah, she found her fit in the school’s communication program. Diving headfirst into student media opportunities, Means worked as a host, producer and programming director for K-UTE Radio as well as a news writer and copy editor at The Daily Utah Chronicle.
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