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"ICE is stepping up its raids"
Why did the Feds try to tear a family apart?

March 9, 2007 | Page 7

JASON FARBMAN, JORGE TORRES and DARRIN HOOP document the human consequences of federal immigration raids with one woman's story of being abducted from work.

THE PROGRAMS on other radio stations this past Valentine's Day were filled with ads and reminders to buy flowers for loved ones. But Tacoma's Spanish-language station was fielding call after terrified call from members of the community.

Fifty-one workers had been abducted in a morning raid by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on two UPS warehouses in nearby Auburn, Wash., producing an endless stream of on-air sobbing from friends and family.

Among the group was Erica Jiménez. During the week she was detained, the single mother had no contact with her 2-year-old son Henry or 4-month-old baby Briseidi.

Erica worked an overnight 4 p.m.-4 a.m. shift at the warehouse for almost two years, as an employee of a subcontractor for UPS. When that night shift was taken away, Erica and others found themselves competing with their daytime counterparts. Often times, her workweek shrunk to two days.

What you can do

Donations to help pay for legal costs can be sent to: St. Mary's, 611 20th Ave. S, Seattle, WA 98144. Please make checks out to St. Mary's, with "immigration" on the memo line.

 

"The day of the raid," she said in an interview, "I woke up at 4:30 a.m., and got my kids together and took them to the babysitter. I arrived at UPS at five, which is usually too late. People who arrive at five don't get to work. But that day, they said it was okay, because not enough people had come."

A little after 9 a.m., the workers heard a banging at the warehouse's back door. Erica opened the door, discovered a group of immigration agents, and attempted to warn her coworkers. But soon, the room was swarming with ICE agents in full riot gear, rounding up workers from a list.

"They put thick plastic ties on our wrists, which were fastened to constraints around our waists," Erica said. "Then I was taken with many others, and we were put into pitch-black, windowless vans.

"There were 12 of us in the back of one, and a woman began to panic. She was crying so much she started vomiting, so the rest of us began yelling and pounding on the van for help. Then the woman passed out, and we started pounding more and shaking the van to be noticed. No one responded.

"An agent came to take someone out of the van and saw the woman was passed out. He grabbed her by the shirt and pulled her up, and told another agent to bring water. He gave her a little bit until she was revived, and then made us all leave the van and get onto a bus, where everyone else was. There was an agent on board making sure no one escaped.

"After a while, a few of us had to use the bathroom. We kept asking the agent on the bus to go, and finally, he yelled at us, 'Shut up. Be quiet until we get there.' There were six or seven of us who needed to use the bathroom, but they told us no matter how much we yelled, they wouldn't let us go. They said we were illegal and didn't have the right to ask."

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AT ONE point, an agent announced that everyone with children should identify themselves. Erica says she told them about her two children, and how her 4-month-old needed to breastfeed.

She was questioned repeatedly about her children in English. Despite being unable to understand some of what was said to her, she says she kept insisting she be released to care for her children.

"They put ties on our hands and ankles, and took us to the detention center," Erica said. "I told them I couldn't go because I breastfeed my baby. They told me I would be okay--that a judge would look at my case and get me out immediately. That was on a Wednesday, but Thursday and Friday came, and I never saw a judge."

Erica says the detention center was run like a prison. The detainees were kept two to a cell. The cell doors would be opened at 7 a.m., and detainees would be taken out for breakfast. At 11, the guards would yell "back to the cells," and people were kept there for an hour until lunch. The same thing would happen before dinner.

"For breakfast," she says, "they gave us frosted flakes and very uncooked potatoes, as if they barely cooked frozen potatoes and mashed them all together. They came out black and dirty and frozen, to the point where you couldn't eat it. For lunch and dinner, we would get small hamburgers from a dollar menu and more undercooked potatoes, or beans from a can."

On Friday, an emergency protest was called outside the gates of the detention center. The crowd was vastly outnumbered by the armed guards, but persisted in chanting in both English and Spanish.

"We could hear shouting outside," Erica said. "They actually told us we could go out to the yard, and anyone who wanted to should put their name on the list. Nearly everyone signed up to see what the noise was about. When we could hear, some people smiled and others began chanting along."

Eventually, the detainees were taken back inside, their spirits lifted by the unexpected show of solidarity.

But as the days crawled by, Erica's situation grew worse. "I was really worried about my baby, who wouldn't take strange milk," she said. "Also, my breasts were swelling and hurting from not breastfeeding, and I needed to see a doctor. They made me file papers before I could see one, delaying it by two days. Finally, I saw a doctor, and was given special bags and Tylenol. I took the medicine and disposed of the milk into the bags, but without a baby feeding, it began disappearing little by little."

Her daughter was sick, she was told, when Erica finally met with a lawyer one week after the raid. She pleaded with ICE to let her leave. ICE maintained they didn't believe she really had children.

"They didn't believe me because I wasn't crying and 'upset enough,'" Erica said. "But the more my chest hurt, the less I could cry.

"They had tried many times to call my home, but everyone would hang up as soon as they announced themselves as Immigration. Finally, I was allowed to call, and my sister picked up. I said, 'Don't hang up! I need you to bring the birth certificates of my children, because if I can't prove the kids are mine, they're not going to let me out.'"

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EVENTUALLY, ERICA was released. Finally able to feed her baby, she found that it was difficult to give milk. And while she has not yet been deported--as many of her coworkers have been--she will have to see a judge every month until her case is settled, one way or another.

In the meanwhile, Erica is unemployed. Between her and the other two mothers detained in the raids--also out of work--they owe more than $25,000 in legal fees.

As for UPS and the temp agency that provided staff for the warehouses, immigration officials say they have no plans to bring any charges against them.

Countless lives have been disrupted and broken apart by these raids, something Erica sees as only getting worse. "ICE is stepping up raids and going into people's homes," she said. "They just take them out of their bedrooms, or pick people up while they're shopping. The immigrant community is being divided. It's gotten to the point where a man who just recently got his papers is being racist towards us. He even threatened to call immigration on a woman he had fought with."

At a news conference called by pro-immigrant groups to decry the Valentine's Day raid, leaders of El Comité Pro-Amnistía in Seattle said they were planning a sanctuary program if federal agents continue workplace raids. The sanctuary movement would be modeled on one in the 1980s through which churches and other organizations aided thousands of people fleeing violence in Central America seeking asylum in the U.S.

Sergio Salinas, president of Service Employees International Union Local 6--whose own family received sanctuary in a Seattle church in the 1980s after fleeing El Salvador--told the Seattle Times, "We need to send the message that we are willing to risk our safety to push for change."

The ICE raids are designed to keep millions of immigrants--whose only "crime" was to seek a way to support their families--fearful that they will be next. Men and women like Erica Jiménez deserve better. We have to raise our voice against the ICE abductions.

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