Hiding in plain sight in Arvin, California

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Arvin is 20 miles south of Bakersfield and nearly all of its residents – 93 percent – are Latino. Many are undocumented field workers. Rumors of immigration raids have had a chilling effect on the city’s main street, Bear Mountain Blvd. “They used to have a lot of parties , gatherings and they don’t anymore. they’re afraid,” said Blanca Benavides, owner of a clothing shop on Bear Mountain Blvd.

Immigrant communities across California have been rattled by news of increased raids and detainments by the Trump administration. In Arvin, an agricultural town near Bakersfield, the fear is particularly intense. Locals there say everyday life is all about hiding in plain sight.

“They used to have a lot of parties, gatherings and they don’t anymore. They’re afraid,” said Blanca Benavides, who owns a clothing shop on Arvin’s main street, Bear Mountain Blvd.


Photos: Fear and anxiety in Arvin

Arvin is an agricultural town south of Bakersfield. Ninety-three percent of its residents are Latino, and many are undocumented field workers.
Cotton, potatoes and carrots are some of the products grown in the area. Some shopkeepers along Bear Mountain Blvd., the main street in the town, say that fewer people are shopping or appearing in public since January out of fear of immigration raids.
“Yes, everybody is sad and afraid, but they have to pay the rent and the bills,” one resident said when asked if Arvin has changed since Trump took office. He is an undocumented field worker who has been in Arvin since 2000. He and his wife work separate fields so that if one is arrested by ICE, the other can watch their four children.
Cotton, potatoes, carrots and peppers are some of the products grown in and around Arvin. Many of the residents in the city work in the nearby fields. Rumors of immigration raids and checkpoints have heightened anxiety and fear among the residents, although there has not been an increase in activity by ICE, according to a public information official.
Help wanted flyers over a poster board outside of the local market on Bear Mountain Blvd in Arvin. “There are some growers who are having problems because they don’t have enough workers so they are starting to asking foreman and others in the community if they know someone who wants to work with them. and this is very unusual,” said Fausto Sanchez, a community worker at California Rural Legal Assistance, which has an office next to the grocery store.
Boards outside the a local grocery store in Arvin advertise job openings and rooms for rent.
Fausto Sanchez is a community organizer for California Rural Legal Assistance, a nonprofit legal service organization. He works in the Arvin office on Bear Mountain Blvd. Since January he’s had dozens of parents ask about temporary custody papers. Sanchez sends them to the notary down the street.
“They are coming in here scared,” said Araceli Acevedo. Acevedo works at one of the notary offices on Bear Mountain Blvd. Before Donald Trump became president, she’d receive one or two calls a year from locals asking about temporary custody papers. Since January, it’s one or two a week.
At Nena’s Fashions on Bear Mountain Blvd, locals can also wire money. The owner, Blanca, says many of her customers fear being arrested by immigration and don’t want to leave any money in U.S. banks, so they are sending it all back home. She’s never seen anything like it in her 19 years living in Arvin. “I’m amazed at how much they are sending.”