Standing up to the specter of mass deportations

February 15, 2017

Lucian Villaseñor reports from Austin, Texas, on the fear and anger provoked by Trump's immigration raids in Texas and across the country.

IMMIGRATION AND Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested 680 undocumented immigrants last week.

Government officials have put out contradictory statements about whether the raids are part of a new Trump administration policy or a continuation of the already high level of deportations under Barack Obama.

Trump advisor Stephen Miller said that the new administration's executive order on immigration had led to "more vigorous immigration enforcement activities...and greater steps to remove criminal aliens from our communities," while Homeland Security chief John Kelly called last week's action a "routine" enforcement.

Last week's raids took place in at least 11 states, including California, New York, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Wisconsin and Texas.

In Austin, where the Mexican Consulate reported that almost 50 people have been detained, the raids have spread fear throughout the city, but also resistance, as the initial rumors of increased ICE presence in the city turned into confirmed reports as videos began to surface on social media of residents being abducted on their way to work.

ICE carries out a home raid during a national coordinated assault on immigrant communities
ICE carries out a home raid during a national coordinated assault on immigrant communities

Austin resident Reyna Alvarado's husband Francisco was arrested as he was heading to his landscaping job. She described his arrest as if he was being hunted down, stating they knew where he lived, where he worked and his morning route.

These targeted raids are yearly routines conducted by ICE under an initiative known as Operation Cross Check. What makes this year's raids different from the past is that the scope of individuals being targeted has been widened to include those who pose absolutely no threat to public safety. Previously, only those who had a serious criminal record were targeted, but the status quo has changed as working-class individuals and family members are being taken into custody.

EVEN BEFORE Trump's election, Austin had one of the highest deportation rates in the country. According to Grassroots Leadership, an organization that works against prison profiteering, mass incarceration and deportation, Austin deports on average 19 people each week.

Despite the claims of Austin Chief of Police Brian Manley that his officers are not concerned about a person's citizenship, organizers on that ground have confirmed that the Austin Police Department (APD) is working hand-in-hand with ICE agents to detain and deport undocumented individuals.

In one instance, APD showed up with ICE to a resident's home to ask about their citizenship status. In another, APD pulled over a man claiming he had a suspicious tattoo. After he was pulled over, APD officers asked about the status of the other individuals in the vehicle and held them for ICE to detain. They were deported later that day.

These attacks have created an environment of fear as families worry over their loved ones being deported while on the way to work, school or any other daily task we take for granted.

In response to the recent attacks, City Council members Greg Casar and Delia Garza held a press conference on February 10 to address the fear in the community. "Explain what's going on," said Garza. "That's what this community deserves. If it's legal and lawful, let us know."

Sadly, any action, no matter how unjust or reprehensible, will be considered lawful by the purview of the state. In an almost direct response to Council member Garza, ICE issued a statement that said:

ICE conducts operations daily nationwide. ICE does not conduct random sweeps; all ICE operations are based on investigative leads. By removing from the streets criminal aliens and other threats to the public, ICE helps improve public safety.

Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro confirmed with ICE's San Antonio office that the raids were being conducted as targeted operations in South and Central Texas. In a statement released Friday night, Castro said, "I am asking ICE to clarify whether these individuals are in fact dangerous, violent threats to our communities, and not people who are here peacefully raising families and contributing to our state."

While Democrats wait to figure out if these injustices are lawful or unlawful, if it's good or bad immigrants being deported, we already know that our family and friends are being violently taken away by the state and their thugs within law enforcement.

THAT SAME night saw a different kind of response from the people of Austin. Richard Boland of the police accountability organization Peaceful Streets Project made a call for residents to join him in one of the North Austin communities targeted by the recent raids.

The crowd quickly grew to over 500, with folks chanting "Aquí estamos, y no nos vamos!" and "Deport Donald Trump!" Demonstrators defiantly did burnouts with their cars in the parking lot, popped fire works and danced cumbias in between the open mic.

Nineteen-year-old Lesley Castaneda said, "We are here because I don't want them to take our family. They need to stop deporting innocent people." When asked what she would tell those who claim living undocumented in the U.S. is illegal, she replied, "Who made America? Who built America? There wouldn't be an America without us."

Twenty-year-old Victoria Arellano said, "They should be thanking us. Stop deporting innocent people." The crowd was predominately young people of color, and demonstrators rallied until 2 a.m.

The following night, residents took to the streets again with more militancy as they marched through intersections and blocked traffic. Twenty-three-year-old Jose Lopez described the demonstrations as, "Popular sovereignty, what the people want. I don't see this as a protest, it's just people coming together. We aren't trying to fight or be aggressive, we are trying to express our feelings and protect our families."

Jose is describing the power that communities have when they get a say in the decisions that govern their daily lives. The reality, though, is that working-class people don't get to influence those decisions. Instead, we are given a theater of democracy where we vote in representatives who talk the talk but, at the end of the day, bow to the whims of those who fund their election campaigns.

AUSTIN MAYOR Steve Adler has pledged to fight to protect undocumented residents in the city, even attending some of the local pro-immigration rallies. But he continues to avoid the conversation of Austin being a sanctuary city and to this day has not had the courage to utter those words publicly.

When asked about the topic in a recent NPR interview, Adler replied, "You know, I'm not real sure what a sanctuary city is in today's definitions."

This comment shows a severe lack of leadership and downright stupidity. You can't in one instance say you value immigrants and then feign ignorance on the political positions that affect them.

By contrast, Alejandro Caceres, an organizer with Grassroots Leadership, said he wants to see "Policy with accountability and teeth. If you truly value the immigrant community, then prove it to us--not with symbolic measures but real concrete policies."

Immigrant rights activists are facing similar issues across the country. On February 11, 1,000 people rallied in Washington Square Park in Manhattan to protest the "broken windows" policing that puts many city residents into the crosshairs of ICE, followed by a march in which five protesters were arrested.

The rally was held to bring accountability to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has repeatedly spoken out against Trump's xenophobia and has even declared New York to be a "sanctuary city" for immigrants.

"We cannot claim to be a sanctuary city when the police flood our immigrant communities with cops," said one speaker. "The policy of Broken Windows criminalizes our communities and pushes us into the deportation machine."

There have been protests across the country in response to the ICE raids, starting with the Phoenix activists who blocked the ICE vehicle carrying Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos to her deportation, to the thousands in Milwaukee who took part in the "Day without Latinos" protest on February 13.

Building on these actions to create large-scale protests on both a local and national level will be necessary if we're going to force elected officials to back up their words with the kind of action it will take to keep our families and friends safe in the face of the Trump administration's attacks.

Eduardo Avila and Danny Katch contributed to this article.

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