Undocumented youth test ICE by seeking arrest through civil disobedience
By Richard Jones, El Hispanic News
Portland, OR — How many undocumented immigrants live in Oregon? Some say more than 100,000. Others say more than 200,000. In truth, no one really knows.
What is certain is that most immigrants without papers worry about their situation. A chance encounter with a police officer or with an immigration enforcement agent might get them deported. In that case, all they have invested — a dangerous trip to the United States, getting a job, and setting up a comfortable home for their family — could vanish overnight. Why wouldn’t they live in fear?
Last year, the director of the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency directed his agents to concentrate more on terrorists and criminals and less on families. Nonetheless, the United States deported some 400,000 people in 2011. Surely, more than a few of those were productive heads of families.
The doubt surrounding ICE remains. Which immigrant can feel completely safe?
Four young undocumented immigrants — three of whom came to the United States as children at the age of 3, 14, and 15 — decided to make a test case on May Day. If they succeeded, they reasoned, it would show that immigrants do, indeed, have some civil rights in this country.
Making their plans before the incident, the group printed a two-page press release titled, “Four Undocumented Activists to be Arrested at Federal Immigration Courthouse.” The second page of the release contained color photographs of Diana Banda, Liliana Luna, Ricardo Varela, and Silvio Poot.
Inside looking out
On May Day on a downtown Portland street near the Federal Immigration Courthouse, protesters advocating various causes filled the sidewalks and spilled over into the streets. Banda, Luna, Varela, and Poot sat down and occupied a few square feet of asphalt as a passive act of civic disobedience.
To insure that the officers knew that they were undocumented, Varela wore a T-shirt proclaiming “Undocumented*Unafraid*Unashamed.”
To emphasize the theme of education in general, and the Dream Act in particular, Luna wore a graduate’s cap and gown.
Varela said the police officers told them to get on the sidewalk. The four refused to move. The officers lifted them and put them on separate vans.
Luna, student body president at Portland Community College, Rock Creek, recalled her experiences in the criminal justice system.
The four were separated and put into vans that took them to Inverness Jail, Multnomah County‘s medium security facility in East Portland.
In making their preparations for internment, the four found two lawyers to represent them. Luna made a point of not carrying any identification papers.
She had a snack before leaving home. This commonplace act became an important detail later on.
Luna said the group felt well-prepared when they were arrested.
She was the first of the group to be interrogated. At this point she gave her name, but nothing more.
She felt that revealing any other information would put her at a disadvantage. Later, that seemed not to be so.
The four were photographed. Mug shots of Varela and Poot remained on the Multnomah County web site as of press time.
“Silvio had his I.D. on him,” Luna recalled, ”so they let him go.”
After about two hours at Inverness, Luna was transferred to Multnomah County’s maximum security jail downtown.
A TV crew was filming, Luna said. That, she said, encouraged the officers to look a little firmer than they had been.
Again, officers tried to extract more information from Luna. She said she kept telling them only one thing: “I won’t talk until I talk with my lawyer.”
At the maximum security jail she was issued a blue uniform.
Officers put her in a small one-person cell. The cell door had a small window. Not surprisingly, there wasn’t much to see. The cell had only a shelf and a basic mattress.
As night set in, Luna could not sleep. By then, hunger pangs kept her from fall asleep. By then it was about 12 hours since she had any food.
She was able to walk a little in a secure area.
About five o’clock in the morning, Luna was called again to answer questions. Still she refused to say anything without her lawyer being present.
After this session she threw up in a restroom.
Around 6 a.m. she was back in her chair waiting to be questioned.
The television set in the room was carrying shots of the May Day protests. An image on the screen caught her attention. “I was on the news wearing my cap and gown,” she said.
An immigration agent began talking to Luna. He urged her to answer questions, saying that if she had a good record she wouldn’t be deported.
Around 1:35 in the afternoon, she had a hearing. They told her to go back to her cell and she would be released soon.
When she was released, it had been almost 24 hours since she had eaten anything.
Arrested on Tuesday, May 1, Luna was free on Wednesday.
By noon Thursday, Varela was still locked up.
Pickets gathered at the Federal Building on North Broadway, demanding Varela’s release. None of his friends knew where he was. Some feared that he was in ICE’s control, perhaps in their prison in Tacoma, Wash. This facility is the last stop before deporting prisoners.
Phone calls to ICE offices in Portland and Tacoma yielded no information. ICE employees said that they could release information only to relatives. Relatives were a thousand miles away.
On Friday, May 4, Varela was released from custody. A judge dropped charges against him.
Was the time and discomfort worth the effort?
Varela thought so. “We don’t have to have fear. We are working hard and paying taxes,” he said. “The [immigrant] community has to come out of the shadows and get their rights.”
Varela is studying at PCC, undecided whether to become a doctor or a lawyer.
Banda came to the same conclusion. “I cannot allow fear to control my life,” she noted. “[I’m] tired of just sitting around and waiting for change. I have decided to become that change and take action.” Banda says she wants to become a firefighter paramedic.
“We grew up here, we pay taxes, but we don’t get the benefits we deserve,” Poot said. ”If people knew what our situation was like, they would support us.” Poot is majoring in business administration at PCC.
Luna said, “As long as I’m here want to do my best. If I get sent back, I am not afraid.” Luna is working full time at PCC and taking classes toward a degree in communications.
“They don’t want to deport all of us,” she observed. “I work, I pay Social Security — which I’ll never get.”
Este artículo también está disponible en / This post is also available in: Spanish
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