Why is Jesús Gutiérrez in jail?

May 12, 2009

AFSCME Local 3299 member Kathryn Lybarger reports on the case of a fellow union member at UC-Berkeley who has been detained, unnecessarily and illegally, by ICE.

TWO DAYS before May Day, Jesús Gutiérrez went to his job in a dining center at the University of California-Berkeley. But he never made it back home that night.

Jesus' manager called him into the office during his shift to go over his summer schedule. There, two UCPD detectives arrested him for identity theft. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was contacted, unnecessarily and illegally.

The charge of identity theft leveled by the campus police is a common form of intimidation used against immigrants, designed to convince detainees to accept voluntary deportation rather than be sent to prison for an extended sentence.

Even the U.S. Supreme Court, controlled by conservatives, recognized the injustice of this sleazy tactic, declaring it illegal in a recent court decision. But police at liberal UC-Berkeley apparently have no problem with this kind of blackmail.

ICE put a hold on Jesús and is having him detained indefinitely at Alameda County's Santa Rita jail, where he is today. His hearing is on May 21 in Alameda County Court.

What you can do

Call UC-Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau at 510-642-7464 and tell him that Berkeley should be a sanctuary campus, where all students and workers feel safe and respected; and UC should respect AFSCME's contract, which says the university must contact the union before contacting immigration.

Jesús has been an active member of my union, AFSCME Local 3299. We were on the picket line for five days last summer, and recently won a contract with an important new provision requiring the University, where possible, to first contact the union before taking any action related to immigration toward our members.

In the process of turning Jesús' life upside down, the university has also egregiously violated our contract before it even had a chance to go to print.

The union, the campus community and community activists are mounting a campaign to defend Jesús. We are holding a march and rally on to deliver a grievance on Jesús' behalf to the UC police, the chancellor and Labor Relations.

I spoke with Jesus, his cousin Virgilio, and Virgilio's wife Cecilia during a visit at Santa Rita. Virgilio and Cecilia said they had been talking on the ride over about how everything has changed for Jesús, but everything is different for them, too.

"I feel anaesthetized," Cecilia said. "It's like a dream. I never imagined this would happen to me. My life has changed. Now I'm in line [at the jail] at 5 a.m., shivering in the cold, to get a pass to come visit him. I spend the evening before, planning what I will need for the morning.

Jesús Gutiérrez
Jesús Gutiérrez

"I'm worried every morning, every night. I even wonder: Was it worth it to have children? What if this happens to my daughter or her boyfriend? Having to come see her or him? It could happen to anyone...Really, Jesús was just kidnapped."

Virgilio says: "My daughters are still in shock. Jesus is my 9-year-old's godfather, and she asks where he is. What can we say? We tell our children that if you're bad, you go to jail. But Jesus did nothing wrong--in fact, he's a role model. And he's in jail. How do we explain that? "

Cecilia and Virgilio are also members of Local 3299, and union activists. So they have a powerful way to cope with this new "bad dream" that they're living.

While it's hard for him to keep his spirits up, Jesús says he's ready to fight. We are, too. Justice for Jesús Gutiérrez!

Further Reading

From the archives