The illusion of freedom

Saturday, on my morning walk with my dog, I see my neighbor’s gardener, and his son, Gustavo, who comes help his father, on weekends. He gives my dog a biscuit, and loves the kisses he gets in return. This has become our Saturday ritual. And I always ask Gustavo if he’s had a good week in school. Whenever I’ve seen Gustavo he has been all smiles. I learn that he loves baseball, and math and Pokémon. He’s no different than my grandson, who is also eight. But this last Saturday Gustavo was not smiling.  He nodded hello and went back to raking, no cookies for my dog. I ask his father if everything is ok and I learn that ICE picked up a family member, and they are very worried. I can see it in Gustavo’s face. He is worried. 

© Tish Lampert. All rights reserved.

It’s not safe out there. There are knocks on the front door, people are being pulled over because they fit a profile, plain-clothes officers, from ICE, are snooping around workplaces. It’s stressful to drive, and you worry if you will be pulled over for something you didn’t do. Even though the law says that you are not required to show your papers, you’re worried the police will ask. And it’s up to the cops to decide if they are going to turn suspects over to ICE.   

This kind of persecution is happening all across America. And Gustavo has every right to worry about who he talks to. This proud young man no longer knows who to trust. What happens when those who are apart of our everyday life, the familiar faces we have come to know and care about, start to disappear?

The mood is unsettling. People are whispering about where to hide.

I didn’t expect this widespread fear in Los Angeles. I thought we are a sanctuary city? But what does that mean?

Enrique Marones, director of the Angel Border project, explains that sanctuary cities are nothing new. We in LA have been a sanctuary city since the Reagan administration. Being a sanctuary city is misleading. The city does not have the authority over the federal government but can object to providing their law enforcement to assist ICE. Enrique underscores that everyone who is arrested and detained is entitled to a trial before they are deported. Those arrested are given two choices: sign a paper that says they will not re-enter the United States and they will be brought back to the country of their origin (which usually means they drive you to the Mexican border). Or if you ask for a trial that will mean a long wait in detention, often six months to a year, or longer. Immigration courts are beyond backed up. Trump’s machine has a business opportunity here because they will be contracting with private prisons, demanding a big increase in the need for detention centers.

© Tish Lampert. All rights reserved.

LA Mayor Eric Garcetti  is opposed to asking his police force to work on behalf of immigration and customs enforcement. He does not endorse the practice of rounding up undocumented, law-abiding citizens. Since Trump signed his executive order Garcetti has gone out of his way to temper the fears of the Latino community. He holds meetings at high schools, and offers ways that his office can help families, who are victims of the recent and ongoing, round up. He can’t stop the detentions and the subsequent deportations. But his office has told me that they are providing information on how to procure legal aid and also how to help children who come home to an empty house, if their parents are taken.

© Tish Lampert. All rights reserved.

Mayor Greg Stanton of Phoenix is in a tough spot. Phoenix cannot be a sanctuary city because of SB 1070, the controversial law that was passed in 2010. It was partially repealed in 2016, but a portion of the law is still on the books. But Mayor Stanton refuses to uphold the 289 (g) portion of SB 1070, and will not allow his police force to work tandem with ICE enforcement. Mayor Stanton is proud of his diverse city and is seeking multiple ways to offer help to the Latino community.

After days of speaking to immigration lawyers and human rights advocates on the struggles of undocumented immigrants, all agree that there is a humane problem regarding the back log of cases in immigration courts across the country. There is a shortage of judges. Until President Trump and his Justice Department, and Attorney General Sessions, can truly grasp the necessity of hiring new judges, the problem is only going to get worse, especially given the increase in new arrests.

We all may be familiar with the case of Sara Beltran Hernandez, 26 who has been in detention since November of 2015. Last January Sara asked for asylum to escape violence in El Salvador. Sara has been in detention waiting for her trial. She began complaining of headaches a few months ago. Then suddenly she got dizzy and passed out. She has a brain tumor. Sara almost died before she was brought to the hospital. Once the condition was ‘considered’ under control, immigration officials brought Sara back to detention, refusing to allow her to go stay with her family in New York to get treatment for the tumor.

Amnesty International released this statement:

We are asking for immediate humanitarian parole. We can’t wait for a bond redetermination hearing. She doesn’t have days, she has hours ... we need her to get out,” Zuniga said. “This is the 13th day she has not had this surgery, and we do not understand why. People like Sara who are seeking asylum for horrific violence should not be treated like criminals while their cases are processed. We must do everything we can to ensure protection for people who are fleeing violence.

Story after story is coming out, like that of Jeanette Vizguerra, a mother of four who is now living her life in the sanctuary of a church basement in Denver to avoid deportation.

Daniel Ramirez Medina, 23-year-old a DACA recipient, had twice been granted deferred action and employment authorization under the DACA program. ICE picked him up on a charge of being in a gang. ICE has no standard by which to prove Daniel’s affiliation to a gang but just mentioning a possible gang affiliation will not bode for him in court. Daniel has a three-year-old son.

Undocumented immigrants who wind up in removal proceedings are not entitled to a court-appointed attorney, the standard rules of evidence do not apply, (and) hearsay can come in.
— Stephen Yale-Loehr, professor of immigration law practice at Cornell Law School

© Tish Lampert. All rights reserved.

Josue Romero Valasquez’s case stands out because he is like a lot of average American teenagers. He hangs out with his friends, at the skate park. He is a good student. He got a scholarship to art school, and is considered gifted. Josue wants to become an architect; he mentors younger kids to teach them art. Two weeks after Trump’s executive order, Josue, a DACA recipient, was stopped by San Antonio police. He was on his way home from the skate park. Was he stopped because of profiling? The cops searched him. The officers found a half of a joint in his pocket. He was arrested and turned over to ICE. Fortunately for Josue, the pro bono legal defense fund, RAICES, agreed to represent him. Jonathan Ryan is handling Josue’s defense. So far he has been lucky and continues to be protected under DACA. There is a misdemeanor B charge, for the small amount of marijuana. He is clearlyno threat to his community.

Josue’s case got the attention of the press. Most of those arrested, wont have the visibility of these early DACA cases. Although DACA has not been repealed, as yet, all of those in the program are frightened.  Every person who signed up for this protection gave immigration their personal information. They have reason to be worried.

Homeland Security has called for raising the number of immigrants ICE incarcerates daily, to 80,000 people. Mother Jones magazine recently interviewed ACLU attorney Carl Takei, who gave them this statement: “Last year, ICE detained more than 352,000 people. The number of detainees held each day, typically between 31,000 and 34,000, reached a historic high of about 41,000 people in the fall, as Customs and Border Protection apprehended more people on the southwest border while seeing a simultaneous rise in asylum seekers. But doubling the daily capacity to 80,000 would require ICE to sprint to add more capacity than the agency has ever added in its entire history. And we don't know if 80,000 is where he'll stop."

We are at the beginning of this. It will never be okay to let our guard down, and moreover not to put ourselves in the way of an injustice, to try and protect those who are at risk. We are witnessing a rounding up, in huge numbers, of hard working, decent human beings. This series of cases describes but a microscopic example of the harassment hundreds, even thousands, are experiencing every day now.

I was inspired by California State Senator Kevin de León when he recently said, "I can tell you half of my family would be eligible for deportation under the executive order, because if they got a false Social Security card, if they got a false identification, if they got a false driver’s license prior to us passing AB 60, if they got a false green card—and anyone who has family members, you know, who are undocumented knows that almost entirely everybody has secured some sort of false identification. That’s what you need to survive, to work.”

© Tish Lampert. All rights reserved.