The Border Patrol’s war on an innocent family

June 1, 2017

Jeanine Santa Cruz Hernández and Claire Douglas report on the struggle for Claudia Rueda, who faces deportation because she defended her falsely accused mother.

CLAUDIA RUEDA, a Cal State Los Angeles student and immigrant rights activist, was seized by U.S. Border Patrol agents outside her home on the morning of May 18, only weeks after she led a successful campaign to free her mother who was wrongfully detained in a drug raid.

According to the Border Patrol, Claudia's arrest resulted from an investigation into "a cross-border narcotics smuggling operation." But she was arrested for alleged immigration violations, not drug charges. Rueda's lawyer Monika Langarica and her fellow activists argue that the arrest was in retaliation for her organizing work.

Langarica told the Los Angeles Times that Rueda was eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, but that she couldn't afford the $465 application fee, and that "her mom's meager wages have been funding her education."

At a rally called in Claudia's defense, her long-time friend and fellow organizer Brisa Cruz said she could never have imagined this happening to Claudia, and that her detention should be a wake-up call.

Immigrant rights activist Claudia Rueda is arrested during protests in Los Angeles
Immigrant rights activist Claudia Rueda is arrested during protests in Los Angeles

"This shows that we are all targets, that law enforcement feels more entitled with this new administration," Cruz said. "That means we need to come together a lot more and build those relationships that are so needed, not just through California, but nationwide and internationally."

CRUZ IS correct that Claudia's case is no anomaly. The Trump administration has become notorious for targeting immigrant activists with undocumented status.

On March 1, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in Jackson, Mississippi, arrested Daniela Vargas. She was detained shortly after leaving a press conference where she had spoken about her and her family's fears of being deported.

At the time, Vargas was waiting for a renewal of her DACA status. The Clarion-Ledger reports that she had initially failed to renew her DACA because, like Claudia Rueda, she couldn't afford the filing fee. After being imprisoned in a detention center for 10 days, Daniela is currently appealing a deportation order.

Two weeks later, ICE agents in Vermont arrested three immigrant members of one of the state's most prominent labor justice organizations: Migrant Justice/Justicia Migrante. Enrique "Kike" Balcazar and Zully Palacios were released from detention after a widespread campaign to win their freedom.

But Cesar Alexis Carrillo Sanchez agreed to "voluntary departure" from the U.S. on May 8. During Carillo's detention, his wife had a miscarriage of the couple's expected second child--likely due to the trauma of his imprisonment.

There have been many thousand of these horror stories during Trump's first 100 days in office. The Trump administration has ramped up arrest and detention of immigrants by nearly 38 percent compared to the same time period last year--which is horrifying given that the Obama administration deported a record 2.5 million immigrants. The arrests of immigrants with no criminal record has doubled.

ON MAY 27, over 40 activists from Los Angeles, Fresno and San Diego converged at the Otay Mesa Detention Center, a for profit prison run by Corrections Corporation of America, to demand Claudia's release.

The action was called by the Immigrant Youth Coalition of Los Angeles, and it drew friends of Claudia as well as members of United Teachers of Los Angeles, the International Socialist Organization (ISO), Industrial Workers of the World and the Party for Socialism and Liberation.

After gathering in front of the detention center, we marched up and down the side of the building chanting, "Say it loud, say it clear, immigrants are welcome here!" "Sin papeles! Sin Miedo!" and "Down, down with deportations! Up, up with liberation!"

Despite our modest numbers, our voices were filled with our anger over the injustice against Claudia, a political prisoner among other undocumented workers. The chants reached over the prison walls, and we could hear detainees inside respond back with enthusiastic cheers.

"I am here to stand in solidarity with Claudia Rueda," said Ryan Welch of the ISO at the rally. "The next step is organizing a mass movement, bringing together many organizations. To fight ICE injustice, organize solidarity events like this in the future and keep getting bigger numbers."

Organizers then marched to the front gate of the center, demanding to meet with Claudia. Shortly after, sheriffs arrived at the scene, told us we were trespassing and ordered us to vacate the premises. While we followed the sheriff's directives, we did not do so silently, instead chanting "We'll be back, we'll be back!"

Claudia's case is not the only one that activists in the San Diego region are mobilizing around.

On the morning of May 24 in National City, 10 miles from the Otay detention center, ICE agents in unmarked cars seized Rosenda Pérez and Francisco Duarte right in front of their four children, as they were getting ready for school. The arrest of Perez and Duarte, who have lived in the U.S. for 20 years, has left the children scrambling to pay the rent and bills.

At a press conference for the family, community members spoke out. "What kind of America are we creating where families are being torn apart is the norm at our school sites?" asked National City Elementary Teachers Association President Christina Benson. "How can students be in the right mindset to learn and grow when their main concern is the safety of their parents? Shouldn't it be the other way around?"

"The rhetoric that [immigration authorities] are just taking criminals is totally false," said Mark Lane, a community liaison for the law firm representing the Duarte family. "They are taking everybody. Before this administration came into power we got two or three calls a week from families. We now get 10 to 15 calls a day."

The fight for freedom for Claudia, Rosenda and Francisco is not over. Activists in Fresno, Los Angeles and San Diego will be organizing joint actions in the days leading up to Claudia's bond hearing on June 9.

And organizers will also be demonstrating at the City Hall of National City to raise awareness of Rosenda and Francisco's case as well as reinstate important immigrant protections in a "Welcoming City" resolution that were removed by the City Council earlier this month.

Winning freedom for these three political prisoners is important not only for their friends and family, but for everyone fighting for justice and against scapegoating undocumented immigrants to divide the working class.

By building these campaigns and learning from successes elsewhere in the country, such as the rapid response networks being built in Milwaukee and the model of solidarity demonstrations organized at Rutgers University, we can help develop the confidence and organization necessary to fight every deportation here in San Diego.

Further Reading

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