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“We’re seeing a lot of fear,” Community works to reassure Latinos

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OKLAHOMA CITY - Sitting in the auditorium at U.S. Grant High School, Yazmin Esquivel and Stephanie Avalos are trying to hold back tears.

"I'm just scared for all the people that are having to go through being separated from their families and stuff," said Avalos, a student who lives in Guymon.

"I just kind of want to know if it's really going to happen and how badly it's going to affect our country and all the people," Esquivel said.

The two are listening in on a community forum and panel sponsored by the Mexican Culture and Humanitarian Association.

It's designed to put the Latino community at ease amid fears of mass deportations.

It's a feeling heightened by the Trump administration's tougher policy positions and executive orders.

"Right now, we're seeing a lot of fear," said Melissa Lujan, an immigration attorney. "Some of the things you see are nothing new but, because of the rhetoric coming out on television and the rhetoric coming out of the White House, people see action and kind of freak out."

Lujan took part in the panel, which featured speakers from the American Civil Liberties Union, the Chamber of Commerce and the Oklahoma City Police Department, among others.

"This forum gives us a chance for people to ask questions in a large setting, hear each other's questions, hear each other's answers," Lujan said. "The best thing you can do is be prepared."

The most common questions, Lujan said, are about what will happen to children or property if Immigration and Customs Enforcement brings someone into custody.

Right now, Lujan recommends immigrants contact an attorney to talk things over.

Non-immigrants should be pushing for comprehensive immigration reform, she said.

But, more than information, Lujan said the forum provided a comfortable place for the worried to get together.

"It's also good for mental health," she said. "Everybody just needs to look at each other, smile at each other, nod at each other, hug each other and know, yes, we're in this together and we're going to make it through."

Oklahoma City police frequently are asked how they enforce the immigration laws.

Capt. Paco Balderrama has told NewsChannel 4 OCPD is never specifically seeking undocumented immigrants.

The department does not have arrest authority on immigration issues, but it will assist federal authorities when asked, he said.