ICE knows that we stand with Carimer

May 17, 2017

More than 200 people went with Carimer Andujar to her ICE appointment to make sure that this outspoken advocate remained free, reports Christopher Baum.

A LARGE and vocal crowd assembled outside the Peter W. Rodino Jr. Federal Building in downtown Newark, New Jersey, on May 9 in a boisterous show of solidarity and support for Carimer Andujar, an undocumented immigrant and participant in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program who had been summoned to an appointment that morning with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials.

Carimer, a chemical engineering major at Rutgers University, has been a vocal advocate for the rights of undocumented immigrants--which sparked fears that she may have been deliberately targeted by ICE, as other activists have been.

But as it turned out, the impressive mobilization of solidarity worked: Carimer walked into the ICE office--and then she walked out.

As Sherry Wolf, lead organizer for Rutgers American Association of University Professors-American Federation of Teachers (AAUP-AFT), reported in early May at SW:

Days after Trump was elected president in November, when more than 2,000 students and faculty at Rutgers University walked out of class to demand the school become a sanctuary campus, Carimer was among those leading the largest protest the campus had experienced in decades.

Two months after the walkout for sanctuary, Carimer stood alongside Arab and Muslim students and professors at another mass rally and march, demanding "No ban, no wall." And Carimer is a familiar face at the faculty union, the AAUP-AFT, where she participates in social and economic justice organizing with the students, staff and faculty of the Rutgers One coalition.

As president of UndocuRutgers, which represents more than 400 undocumented Rutgers students, Carimer is an outspoken advocate for human rights. Her group was formed out of a successful battle against Gov. Chris Christie to win in-state tuition for undocumented students at New Jersey public universities.

Carimer Andujar greets supporters after walking free from an ICE summons
Carimer Andujar greets supporters after walking free from an ICE summons (Matt Katz)

Speaking to reporters at the demonstration, Peter Nowlan, executive director of the Rutgers AAUP-AFT, noted that Carimer had been summoned by ICE without any explanation. "We're concerned that she's been targeted," he said.

DACA PARTICIPANTS, also known as "DREAMers," are uniquely vulnerable to such targeting because the government possesses detailed records about them. As DREAMer Julián Gustavo Gómez explained in the Washington Post last November:

When I applied for the temporary status in 2013, I had to provide U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) with every detail of my personal information--school records, bank accounts, my original Argentine passport and birth certificate and more, along with my address and every location I'd lived for the last 20 years. I included a check for $465 and went to a USCIS office near me in Miami to have my fingerprints and photograph taken.

Since then, I have completed an application for renewal twice, with updates on my current address, everywhere I've lived since my previous application, and my current income. I received my most recent renewal just last month.

If Trump wants to use it to find undocumented immigrants, the Department of Homeland Security's database of our addresses, fingerprints, employers and more could easily become a weapon instead of a shield.

Shortly after Trump's election, various immigrant rights advocacy groups and organizations pleaded with Barack Obama to take action during his final days in office to protect the nearly 800,000 DREAMers living in the U.S. today--either by issuing a blanket pardon to all of them and/or by destroying the DACA records to prevent them falling into Trump's hands.

"[Obama] refused to do anything," Wolf said in an interview the day after the demonstration. "And I think that is a very telling thing, because everybody knew what the potential was under a Trump administration...

"However cruel and vicious and racist and overtly nasty the Trump administration is towards undocumented immigrants, I think it's impossible not to come to the conclusion that the Obama administration is in essence in collusion--that they created in a very direct way the means for this current administration to destroy people's lives."

CARIMER'S APPOINTMENT with ICE was scheduled for 9 a.m. on May 9. By 8 a.m. that morning, dozens of demonstrators had gathered in front of the Federal Building--and eventually, the crowd would swell to more than 200 people.

The demonstration was organized by the AAUP-AFT. Sherry Wolf, a senior organizer for the faculty union, acted as emcee, leading the demonstrators in chants, introducing the many speakers and adding her own stirring comments.

The speakers represented a wide range of groups, including the immigrant rights group Cosecha, New Labor, People's Organization for Progress, Black Lives Matter and several unions and religious communities.

Local politicians, including Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and Rep. Frank Pallone, sent representatives to speak in support of Carimer and, in the words of Baraka's representative, of "all immigrants, regardless of immigration status." Other politicians, such as Newark City Council member Luis Quintana and Green Party gubernatorial candidate Seth Kaper-Green, appeared in person.

Kaper-Green, who is also co-pastor of the Reformed Church of Highland Park, spoke angrily about the impact ICE has had on his community. He described how, just the day before, "four people from my congregation came to report here, and they did not leave this place. Instead, they went straight to Elizabeth Detention Center."

"As a minister of the church," Kaper-Green went on, his voice rising in anger, "I'm not supposed to want to talk about hate. But I hate this place--I hate it and everything it stands for. This place right here is racial and ethnic cleansing, American-style."

Among the most powerful speakers were some of Carimer's fellow students. Marisa Jiménez, a senior at Rutgers, an activist with United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), and a key organizer in the RutgersOne coalition, described the ways in which U.S. policy in Latin America drives immigrants to come here in the first place.

Shadi Rajeh, an organizer with Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), spoke about being a Muslim in America under the Trump administration, vowing on behalf of the assembled crowd, "We'll stay out here as long as it takes."

Josue Serrano, vice president of UndocuRutgers, spoke poignantly of his own experiences as an undocumented immigrant, and of the work he, Carimer and so many others are doing on behalf of all immigrants in this country. "Me and Carimer share the same pain, the same feelings of being afraid, of having ICE knock on our doors and try to rip our sense of humanity away from us," Serrano said.

Wolf stressed the power of this moment. "Here is an undocumented student," she said, "who stood up there with one of his closest friends inside of the ICE building. He took on ICE and took on the American government and U.S. imperialism and its practices within that rally, because we had created--well, nothing says 'safe space' more than a few hundred people rallying to your side, with the media cameras focused on you."

Mary Cathryn Ricker, executive vice president of the AFT, spoke forcefully against those who seek to enforce the Trump administration's anti-immigrant agenda. "Those who want to hurt our students are going to have to come through us," she declared. "And in Carimer's case, that means the Rutgers faculty."

She went on:

We are a nation of Indigenous people, of stolen people and of immigrants, and everything we do in America must make it a better place for all of us, not just some of us. We need to ensure, in this case, that our immigrant students--of all ages, of all statuses--feel safe and welcome and like they belong here, that America is their home, that they can walk on campus and go to class in safety without fear of being whisked away...

Carimer is about to go into a meeting in a deportation office. We want ICE to hear us loud and clear: We are down here waiting for her to come back out. If she comes back with anything but news that ICE was courteous and cooperative and renewed her DACA status, her teachers at Rutgers and all of us in the AFT family will be here with her, fighting for the duration. We must stand with students like Carimer, and we must do it today.

THE IMPORTANCE of the Rutgers faculty union in securing Carimer's DACA renewal was decisive.

Rutgers was one of the first research universities to unionize nearly 50 years ago, and today, the Rutgers AAUP-AFT is a "wall-to-wall" union, meaning that its contract covers practically all educators on campus, including full- and part-time faculty, adjuncts, graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, teaching assistants, Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) counselors and others. This gives the union the weight and density to leverage solidarity across its ranks and beyond.

There are two crucial ways in which the strength of Rutgers AAUP-AFT contributed to the positive outcome in Carimer's fight against ICE.

First, there is the general culture of academic and political inquiry fostered under the protection of the faculty union at Rutgers. As Wolf explained:

When you're at a unionized university, faculty have freedoms that they do not have elsewhere. The fact that these students have an absolutely unvarnished view of U.S. imperialist history is testament to the fact that their own professors have had the freedom to really speak bluntly, and have them read the kinds of texts and explore the kinds of ideas that at many other universities are either completely ignored, or at least muted because they are considered "too controversial."

I think that when you're at a university where you have union protection that will come out boldly for you, it enables a certain freedom of discussion and debate and dissent among the students and the faculty. It creates a richer educational environment.

This, in turn, helped foster the development of the remarkable coalition known as RutgersOne, a formal collaboration between the faculty union and a wide range of student and community groups, including New Labor, Unity Square, Cosecha, USAS, SJP, Black Lives Matter, and of course UndocuRutgers, among others.

RutgersOne meets every Friday at the faculty union office. The meetings are called "Fight Back Fridays"--they have come to serve as a sort of clearinghouse for social-justice advocacy and organizing.

The coalition also makes possible the rapid mobilization of activists in response to new developments. For example, some 2,500 faculty and students walked out of class the day after Trump was elected, and again in February, more than 2,000 mobilized to protest Trump's first attempt at a Muslim ban.

The national leadership of the AFT saw the significance of this event, as evidenced by AFT Executive Vice President Mary Cathryn Ricker's participation. As Wolf explains, "They understood what we were doing--that this was the highest-profile DACA fight in the country, and they felt we were doing it right and would be able to create a model of what needs to happen elsewhere."

There are now plans for a national call to discuss what has been done at Rutgers so that groups in other areas can take similar steps when needed.

A LITTLE before 10:30 a.m., after the demonstration had been going strong for some two-and-a-half hours, Wolf announced to the crowd, "Carimer just texted me--she's on her way out!"

The response was rapturous, but reserved in comparison to the ovation that went up a few minutes let when Carimer herself arrived, accompanied by chants of "Ho ho, hey hey, Carimer is here to stay" and "As-salamu alaykum, you are welcome here."

Then Carimer spoke:

As you all know, [the summons from ICE] completely flipped my life, because America is the only home that I have known. Like a lot of undocumented students, this is the only place that I call home, I've been living here since the age of 4, and if I was asked to leave, I don't know what I would do.

I am currently a junior, studying chemical engineering at Rutgers University. I do intend to stay here, I do intend to finish my education, and I do intend to chase after my dreams. One question that I've been asked today [by reporters] is if I will decide to continue fighting for the rights of undocumented people, and the answer to that question is yes. It does not matter how many interviews ICE asks me to do--my dedication to undocumented students and ensuring that they have the opportunities that they deserve, remains. That does not change, that will never change.

I still believe in education, and I also believe in freedom of speech, that it should be defended. That was an American ideal...I do consider myself American, because being American is not just having a piece of paper. That's a misconception. I consider myself American by any means, so if my home becomes threatened, I will fight back, because I am here to stay.

When asked what happened at her appointment, Carimer explained that ICE officials asked her some questions and took her fingerprints. But, she stressed:

They were well aware of the support I had waiting for me outside--from community members, from university leaders, from elected officials, from clergy. They were well aware of everyone that was here to support me...Let me remind you of the power that you guys have. [Trump] might be our president, but the people's power will always be stronger than the people in power.

The crowd roared its approval and answered with rousing chants of "The people united will never be defeated."

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