A political prisoner is freed from ICE’s grasp

June 22, 2017

Danny Katch reports on the successful effort to win the release of Claudia Rueda, an immigrant organizer who was kidnapped by vindictive immigration authorities.

CLAUDIA RUEDA, a Cal State Los Angeles (CSULA) student and immigrants rights activist, was released from the Otay Mesa Detention Center on June 9--but still faces the threat of deportation from a vindictive and dishonest immigration bureaucracy.

"I just want to say thank you to everyone across the state that has been helping me," Rueda said to supporters after her three-week imprisonment had ended, "and to not forget about other people who are detained, who are in my shoes, and that we need to keep fighting for everyone who's being detained in this unjust immigration system."

Rueda is correct that there are many more immigrants wronged by Donald Trump's ramped-up deportation machinery, but her particular story encapsulates much of the immorality and impunity that is taking place around the country under the guise of enforcing immigration law.

Claudia, who has lived in the U.S. for 15 of her 22 years, was targeted by the Border Patrol after she helped lead a successful campaign to free her mother who had been wrongfully detained in April in a Border Patrol drug raid.

Teachers and activists rally to demand the release of Claudia Rueda from ICE detention
Teachers and activists rally to demand the release of Claudia Rueda from ICE detention

Immigration agents got their revenge, as described in a Los Angeles Times opinion piece written by two professors at CSULA:

On the morning of May 18, Cal State Los Angeles student Claudia Rueda disappeared in East L.A. The 22-year-old immigrant rights activist stepped outside her aunt's home to move her mother's car for street cleaning, but never returned. Hours later her family learned that she had been surrounded by three unmarked cars carrying an estimated nine plainclothes Customs and Border Protection officers who whisked her off to a detention center 130 miles away.

As the agents looked for Claudia in her Boyle Heights neighborhood, they accosted neighbors on their way to work and detained six other people--four of whom were immediately deported to Tijuana without a court appearance.

As they did with Claudia's mother, the Border Patrol falsely claimed that the seven detentions were part of operation against "a cross-border narcotics smuggling operation." But all seven people were arrested on immigration violations rather than drug charges.

What you can do

Sign a petition to demand that ICE take Claudia Rueda out of removal proceedings and allow her to apply for DACA.

Once Rueda was in custody, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)--which hadn't been involved in her initial arrest--decided a to keep her in detention without bond, a decision the judge in her case called "unduly severe."

CLAUDIA'S CASE illustrates many of the most troubling trends that have emerged in the four months since Trump has taken the controls of Barack Obama's deportation machine.

The first has been a willingness--more like an enthusiasm--for going after all undocumented immigrants, regardless of their criminal record or levels of community support.

"Most of the criminal aliens we find in the interior of the United States, they entered as a non-criminal," said ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan to the House Appropriations Committee's Homeland Security Subcommittee. "If we wait for them to violate yet another law against a citizen of this country, then it's too late. We shouldn't wait for them to become a criminal."

"If you're in this country illegally and you committed a crime by entering this country, you should be uncomfortable," he ominously added. "You should look over your shoulder, and you need to be worried."

But ICE and the Border Patrol have continually used deception and outright lies to create the impression that the people they are detaining and deporting are dangerous criminals when often their only crimes are immigration violations or traffic offenses.

Trump recently that he would continue the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that grants temporary legal status to many who migrated to the U.S. as children--but his actions have told a different story.

Claudia Rueda is one of many DACA-eligible youth who have been targeted for deportation (she couldn't afford DACA's $465 application fee), and the numbers who have been stripped of their DACA status has increased 25 percent from this time last year.

Rueda's case also fits a pattern of activists being targeted for deportation, from Daniela Vargas in Mississippi--who was arrested shortly after speaking at an immigrants right rally, to the series of arrests of Vermont dairy farmer activists--most recently Esau Peche-Ventura and Yesenia Hernández-Ramos just hours after they participated in day of action against Ben & Jerry's.

If the face of this campaign of fear, Claudia Rueda's fellow organizers in the Immigrant Youth Coalition, as well as the National Day Laborer's Organizing Network and other groups, kept up the pressure to win her release.

Also stepping forward was United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), whose chapter at Roosevelt High School (RHS)--Claudia's alma mater--organized a Free Claudia Rueda press conference on June 15. Featured speakers included a number of Rueda's former teachers at RHS and the current president of the RHS MEChA club Edna Galaviz, as well as Luz Borjón Montalvo, coordinator of the Dreamers Resource Center at CSULA.

UTLA Treasurer Arlene Inouye spoke about her family's story of internment during World War II, and connected that to the urgent need to stand up for immigrants like Claudia today.

The support of unions like the UTLA is important and needs to increase if we are going to build a movement strong enough to defend Claudia Rueda and millions more of our immigrant friends, neighbors and loved ones.

Gillian Russom contributed to this article.

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