Syracuse rallies around the undocumented

April 4, 2018

Megan Ferreira reports on the actions of a rapid response network to stand up for undocumented immigrants who are at risk of being deported.

ON JANUARY 30, Alvaro Rene Mendez Perez was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in downtown Syracuse as part of a routine immigration check-in. Within an hour, 15 activists had arrived at the ICE office--alerted through the phone tree of a local emergency response network.

Activists have been organizing a rapid response network in Syracuse--which is a "sanctuary city" for immigrants--so supporters can show up to try to bear witness to attempted abductions of immigrants by ICE, and try to prevent them.

The goal is to mobilize as many people as possible on short notice when someone is detained or harassed by ICE. The group also functions to rally in defense of immigrants who are required to check-in at ICE offices--something that some immigrants are required to do monthly, and which can lead to deportation for those the government deems to be non-compliant with immigration laws or who are facing deportation orders.

A significant portion of the Syracuse community is comprised of immigrants and refugees. Being located within 100 miles of the U.S.-Canada border, Syracuse residents are subjected to intense scrutiny and harassment by ICE officers, including on public transportation. ICE officers are often found stalking the train and bus stations, or boarding vehicles to ask people about their immigration status.

Immigrant rights activists rally outside the Batavia Immigration Detention Center in upstate New York
Immigrant rights activists rally outside the Batavia Immigration Detention Center in upstate New York (Workers’ Center of CNY | Facebook)

At the check-in rallies, activists provide emotional support for immigrants and attempt to reduce the risk of detention. The most recent victims of detention by ICE in Syracuse were arrested for working without a permit. Most people in the community are unaware that immigrants are being abducted and carted away to work for $1 a day in a detention center an hour outside of town.

THERE HAS recently been a spike in the number of community members being detained by ICE on immigration violations--with a total of four people being abducted and detained in the last two months.

When the word came that Mendez Perez was being taken away, with only a handful of activists present and a large portion of those having their own precarious documentation status, protesters were forced to split into two groups with which to block the exits from the parking structure that contained the car that would to transport Mendez Perez.

Two members of the International Socialist Organization and the Workers' Center of Central New York held their banner wide as the all-too-normal-looking van pulled up and the ICE officer inside called for backup. Activists chanted "Up, up with liberation! Down, down with deportation!" as they continued to block the exit.

After only a few minutes, however, ICE officers forced protesters away from the van. Mendez Perez was taken away. But at least the entire community was aware of it. Local news jumped at the opportunity to share the video of ICE agents harassing protesters.

Only larger numbers of protesters would be able to stop an abduction by ICE, but even smaller protests can help discourage them from continuing to terrorize the immigrant community.

Since Mendez Perez's arrest, community member Arely Tomas Orozco has faced the daunting prospect of checking in with ICE.

Tomas Orozco's husband, Hector Navarro, was taken by ICE agents from a parking lot after dropping her off at work in February. He was detained for two months. Hector, who does not have a criminal record, was picked up by ICE in 2011 and charged with working without proper immigration documents.

On March 28, activists with the emergency response network held a rally in front of the Batavia Immigration Detention Center, and then accompanied Tomas Orozco to her immigration check-in down the street.

She had originally been scheduled for the check-in at 8:30 a.m., but when ICE found that people were organizing in her defense, the agency responded by moving her appointment to 12:30 p.m, and two hours away in Batavia, New York--where an ICE detention center that only recently began receiving women inmates is located.

TOMAS OROZCO spent the morning finalizing the process of getting her three children's U.S. passports in order. Her goal was to make it through this latest check-in so that she and her family could migrate to Guatemala--a country she and her husband have not called home for decades.

A 9:30 a.m. rally was live-streamed, with remarks from Tomas Orozco being read aloud to the group of some 50 supporters. She apologized for not being present at the rally, explaining that she was completing the necessary task of getting passports for her children at that time in case she was deported.

Unbeknownst to activists, ICE agents were monitoring their social media, and watched the livestream video of the rally. They claimed that the speaker who read Tomas Orozco's remarks said that Arely would not be attending her check-in later that day. This, of course, was false.

ICE officials called Tomas Orozco's lawyer and told her that "all options were off the table" for her. This cruel intimidation tactic reinforced Tomas Orozco's belief that she would be torn away from her home and family the minute she stepped into the ICE office.

Having arrived for her check-in early, Tomas Orozco sat with a friend in her car outside the unlabeled building, waiting for her supporters to arrive. An ICE agent approached the car and forced Arely into her check-in 30 minutes early. Despite this being normal practice, her friend was not allowed to accompany Tomas Orozco in order to translate, nor was her lawyer in attendance.

But by the time rapid response activists arrived a few minutes later, Tomas Orozco had been released. Organizers and friends swarmed her with hugs and tears, and she shared a message of thanks with all of her supporters.

It's unclear why she was released, but activists believe the rapid response network played a role. This is why we must organize around community members who are subject to state violence and the threat of deportation--and fight for a world without ICE and its deportations.

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