In the days following the presidential election, Laura Fierro's only daughter couldn't sleep. The 7-year-old, a U.S. citizen, was anxious and cried a lot, said Fierro. Reassurances did little to stem the second-grader's torrent of questions about what would happen to her mom and other Mexican immigrants under President-elect Donald Trump's administration.
"She has been very scared," said Fierro in Spanish. "I realized I had to figure out how to manage this and answer my daughter."
So when Fierro found out through the Berkeley Unified School District about a public forum on immigration rights that offered free consultations with attorneys, she jumped at the chance.
"I needed to learn about our rights so that my daughter feels less anxious," said Fierro. "I needed to know what my options are for staying here legally."
Immigrants fearful of an increased risk of detention and deportation under Trump's administration are flocking to "Know Your Rights" events popping up throughout California. These forums are often organized at schools, churches and other safe zones. They aim to provide undocumented residents with guidance on how to navigate potential changes in immigration enforcement, beginning next year.
The Obama administration carried out 2.4 million deportations between fiscal years 2009 and 2014, according to the most recent Department of Homeland Security figures. That's 45 percent more removals than those under President George W. Bush during his entire eight years in office. But Donald Trump's campaign rhetoric -- and a pledge to incarcerate or deport up to 3 million immigrants "with criminal records" soon after he takes office on Jan. 20 -- have intensified the demand for legal advice on immigration.
"The demand for information is great because fear goes all the way up to panic for some undocumented immigrants," said Mark Silverman, a senior staff attorney with the Immigrant Legal Resource Center in San Francisco. "So we've got to calm it in a realistic way. The overall message is to stay calm, but be informed and prepared."
During the recent forum at Berkeley's Longfellow Middle School, Silverman addressed an audience of about 250 people packing the auditorium's stands. He talked about different types of visa applications, and urged the crowd to speak with an attorney to find out if they qualify for a green card or citizenship. Then he asked the audience about their kids.
"How many of you have U.S. citizen children?" said Silverman in Spanish. Most attendees raised their hands.
Silverman told undocumented parents especially to take steps in the event that immigration authorities detain them, including making a list of contacts who could pick up their children from school and care for them temporarily. If Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents visit their home, he said, they can exercise their right to not let anyone in without a warrant, and to remain silent.
"Everybody in this country is protected by the U.S. Constitution, whether they are a citizen, legal resident or undocumented," he said. "People don’t have to open their doors to ICE, people don't have to speak with ICE."
Instead, Silverman recommends sliding a written note under the door to the agent. For years, the Immigrant Legal Resource Center has been distributing red pocket-size cards outlining these rights in English and Spanish. But Silverman said the organization recently began ramping up its "red card" campaign.
After the presentation, dozens of volunteers and attorneys with the East Bay Community Law Center and East Bay Sanctuary Covenant huddled in classrooms answering attendees' questions and referring them to legal help. Some parents came out from those sessions with teary eyes, while others clutched appointments to pursue their cases.
Luis, who didn't want KQED to use his last name because of his immigration status, said he was so desperate for a chance to speak with an immigration attorney at this forum that he paid a car share to drive him about 80 miles from Stockton.
"I want to look into all my options to see if I can get permanent residency," Luis said, adding that he has lived in the U.S. for 18 years and has no criminal record. "A clean record and paying taxes is no guarantee for anything, but with the changes coming under the new government, I'm really nervous thinking about what can happen."
Immigration advocates in other parts of the state are also encouraging clients to learn more about their options. The Central American Resource Center, which has seen a surge in inquiries from people scrambling to adjust their immigration status, is opening more of its public legal workshops in the runup to Trump's inauguration, said Daniel Sharpe, legal director at the organization's headquarters in Los Angeles.
"We say existing law has not changed. But there is the feeling out there, I think largely as a result of the tone of the campaign, that immigrants are going to be facing a harsher environment,” Sharpe said.
Organizers of the immigrant rights forum in Berkeley said they received calls from residents in San Jose and other cities about the event, which was advertised to Berkeley parents.
"Word gets out when people are fearful," said Carol Perez with Berkeley Unified's Office of Family Engagement and Equity. "We sent out fliers in our schools and emails. And I think the community jumped on it because there’s such a need."
Perez, who works at elementary schools, began calling legal aid organizations and planning for the forum the day after the election to help families have some information to calm their fears and "form a community."
"To let them know that we are all here to help each other, as best we can," she said.
The California Report's Los Angeles Bureau Chief Steven Cuevas contributed to this report.