Lucie Monell’s free English class for immigrant mothers at the Mesa Royal Trailer Park attracted 20 people last year.
Ten of them completed the yearlong course and graduated at an informal ceremony inside the trailer park’s small clubhouse.
But last fall’s passage of Proposition 300 has changed the tone of the barrio where Monell teaches. The voter-approved measure bars illegal immigrants from participating in publicly funded English language courses.
Logic might tell you that Monell’s class, which is free and does not use any tax money, would be filled to the hilt this year.
Instead, the bulk of her students disappeared, even though her class isn’t one of the publicly funded courses regulated by Prop. 300. At the annual graduation ceremony on Wednesday, only five of seven students received their diplomas, all of whom are here legally. The ones who stopped taking classes did not have their papers, Monell said.
“They were afraid,” she said. “It was very disappointing that I couldn’t reach any more people. Believe me, they moved. Physically moved.
“One girl that was here for six months didn’t come (anymore),” she said. “I went to her house. It was empty.”
Growing national hostility toward illegal immigrants has stirred a great deal of fear in many communities in Mesa. To address some of these fears, Monell decided to invite Mesa police Chief George Gascón to speak to the students about immigration issues and policing.
At that meeting, Gascón explained that his department does not enforce immigration laws and won’t ask about legal status unless a person is suspected of a crime and booked.
He urged students to come forward and speak with police if a crime is committed in their area.
He acknowledged language and cultural barriers can exist between police and the Latino community, but he asked students to consider participating in the monthly Hispanic forum he launched last year.
“It’s one thing to complain there is no communication, and it’s another to start participating so we can resolve the problem,” he said in Spanish. “It’s really easy to point out a problem, but it’s much more difficult to solve a problem. We’d like people to be part of the solution.”
Monell said she hopes Gascón’s message will resonate throughout the community to help reduce the fear, and she wants to promote her class more so that immigrants ineligible for publicly funded classes may come to the Mesa Royal Trailer Park to learn English.