How solidarity stopped a deportation

Lucy Herschel and Laura Villa report on a victory for an immigrant father in New York City--and look at the lessons that can be used for future struggles.

Riaz Talukder (second from left) celebrates with family and supporters after leaving ICE headquarters (Kisha Bari | www.kishabari.com)Riaz Talukder (second from left) celebrates with family and supporters after leaving ICE headquarters (Kisha Bari | www.kishabari.com)

LAST MONTH, Riaz Talukder was told by immigration authorities that--despite living in this country for 36 years, having two U.S.-born children and coping with his wife's suffering from thyroid cancer--he had one month to pack his bags and leave.

Talukder's stay of removal had been denied, and with few remaining legal options, he was instructed to report to 26 Federal Plaza in downtown Manhattan on November 20 with his passport and a one-way ticket to Bangladesh.

Instead, after a month-long campaign that mobilized support from family, friends and strangers across New York City, Riaz walked back out of the ICE offices last week, reunited with his family and with a chance to reopen his case in the courts.

While the Talukder family is not yet out of the woods, they have been given the time and space to continue to fight to keep their family together.

And the rest of us have been given a timely reminder that--even under the Trump administration--when we fight, we can sometimes win.

The wide support that the Talukders got, and the way that support snowballed as his final check-in approached, shows the potential that exists when activists are able to put real faces on the lives being destroyed by the deportation machine, while building public opposition to their removals.

Not all immigrants facing deportation have the option to be public in the same way--which means so much of the war against immigrant communities takes place in the shadows, where ICE prefers to operate.

That's why it's all the more important that activists organize when people are able to stand up and publicly fight in order to bring the full dimension of this human catastrophe into the light--and shine a spotlight on the whole malignant system.

Speaking to at a press conference after Riaz's release, Fahd Ahmed from DRUM (Desis Rising Up and Moving) summarized all the factors that came together to win this case:

To have the media here to be watching something of this magnitude happen. To have an attorney who is fighting every inch of the way. To have elected officials who don't just talk about this being a sanctuary city, but show up with their bodies and accompany people to show what real sanctuary would actually look like. To organized communities and neighbors showing out in support of each other. That's what we need to defend ourselves to defend our communities in order to be able to fight back against the attacks that we're facing.

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RIAZ TALUKER is, of course, just one of millions who face the constant threat of an ICE raid.

Riaz's case came to the attention of Queens activists as part of a wave of Bangladeshi fathers being deported--11 in one day--leaving behind wives and children struggling to deal with the emotional and financial impact.

In response to this local catastrophe, local activist organizations like DRUM and the Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network (JHISN) organized around Riaz's case in a variety of ways, including an online petition, street petitioning, public forums and organizing meetings, signing people up to come with Riaz to his November ICE check-in and working with local media.

The Talukders fought tirelessly on their own behalf, attending and speaking at meetings big and small--from an immigration forum at St. Mark's Espicopal church in Jackson Heights to the New York City Marxism Conference organized by the International Socialist Organization

Meanwhile, Riaz's attorneys filed a new motion to reopen his asylum cases--which was greatly helped by a local psychologist who heard about the case in neighborhood activist circles and donated her time to help prepare a brief about the problems facing Riaz and his family if the deportation went through.

Soon, the support for the Riaz began to snowball. The offices of the U.S. Sen. Kristen Gillibrand and U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks offered their support to the Talukders. Local news station NY1 ran a heartbreaking piece about the family on the Friday before Riaz's check-in.

In this piece and in many community forums, the ability of Riaz's two sons--15-year-old Rafi and 11-year-old Radi--to talk about what they were going through and advocate for their family proved central to the support and exposure the case received. Soon, prominent activists across the city were posting and tweeting about the story.

All of which led up to 8,000 people signing the Talukders' online petition and over 60 people showing up to support them at Riaz's ICE check-in on November 20. The crowd that day included a large number of the Talukders' extended family, dozens of community supporters and representatives of many local elected officials, as well as City Council member Ydanis Rodriguez, who accompanied Riaz and his attorney into the check-in itself.

At the check-in, ICE granted Talukder and his attorney the time to see their new motion through the court system. This was probably the best possible outcome that the Talukders could have expected.

While it's impossible to say what exactly led ICE officials to back off their previously stated demand for Riaz's immediate self-deportation, it seems clear that grassroots organizing played an important role.

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RIAZ TALUKDER is one of a number of immigrants, like Amanda Morales in Washington Heights and Siham Byah in Boston, whose case have received attention because they are undocumented parents living in the U.S. at the discretion of ICE, under orders of supervision.

Far from being a danger in any way, they are being targeted by the cowards of the Trump administration because they are easy targets since they report regularly to ICE offices.

Like the campaigns we've already seen to support dairy farm workers in Vermont and college students in New Jersey and California, efforts to openly fight and organize around these families are crucial not only for the individual involved, but for laying the groundwork for the networks of solidarity we need to build a larger movement.

The most important lesson we learned from this struggle is the necessity of working with different community leaders, organizations, independent activists, journalists and politicians in a broad movement to achieve our goals.

For Riaz and his family, it was overwhelming at times to meet with so many different groups and activists, especially when they got different advice from different people. But it was crucial for them to get a sense of their options and different strategies, and the support they received from so many quarters gave them both the confidence and the wherewithal to endure this fight.

Another issue that arose in this case was how there is a constant pressure to create a separate category of so-called "good" immigrants with no criminal record or other marks against them--in order to not lump them in with "bad" immigrants who are supposedly undeserving of family ties or human rights.

Some details of Riaz's case might have played particularly well with the media and politicians. But we found most people we met on the street signed our petition without any further information beyond the fact that one of our neighbors was facing deportation.

It's also worth noting and appreciating that an undocumented Muslim man received such widespread support--which speaks to the potential for solidarity even in a political climate where Islamophobia is rife.

Hopefully, we can organize more campaigns around individual deportation cases and work to create a bigger, more rooted and more organized movement that can start to realize some of that potential. As Barbara Mutnick of JHISN put it at the press conference:

What we need to do is to make this a real sanctuary city where we don't have to let these people go. We are their neighbors, we go to school with them, we go to church with them, and we want them to stay here...We believe that no human is illegal...Please join with us for not only for Riaz's case which we hope we win today but for the cases that there are millions of that we have to mobilize for to make this a real sanctuary city, a sanctuary state.