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Immigration protest draws hundreds to ‘Love Wall’

By Kevin Milliken, La Prensa Correspondent
Photos by Kevin and Rico, La Prensa 

 

TOLEDO, June 30, 2018: At least 700 people braved the heat and humidity of a hazy downtown Toledo morning Saturday for a rally in support of the children separated from their families in recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids in northern Ohio, as well as enforcement actions along the U.S.-Mexico border. The rally was held in front of the “Toledo Loves Love” wall, an art mural popular for photos among residents and tourists alike at 13th and Adams Streets.

 

Colorful signs dotted the packed parking lot as protestors responded to chants from Latina community activist Veralucia Mendoza, as she brandished a bullhorn leading chants such as “Liberation, No deportation!”, “There are no excuses for human rights abuses!” and “Immigrants are Welcome Here!”

 

Just moments earlier, Ms. Mendoza had comforted eight-year old Karem Alonso, one of the so-called “Los Niños de Corsos,” the children who lost one or both parents in a June 5th ICE raid on the Corso’s Flower and Garden Center in Sandusky and Castalia. Most of the 114 detainees are still being held at private prisons near Youngstown, Ohio and Battle Creek, Michigan.

 

“My papi is a good man. I love my papi but I can’t see him now,” the little girl lamented to the crowd. “I want my papi back. I want everybody happy again. I want everything back to normal.”

 

As the eight-year old walked away from the podium to resounding applause, she burst into tears.

 

“Their children are traumatized. They do not understand why their parents were taken away from their jobs,” said Janet Hales, executive director of Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE) said to rally-goers. “Some are so small that they only know that their parents are gone. There are over 800 people in Ohio being held in detention. They are all separated from their families.”

 

The ABLE executive director pointed out that while the nation’s focus is on the U.S.-Mexico border, the same separation of families is occurring 1,000 miles away in northern Ohio as a result of two recent, large-scale workplace immigration raids.

 

“We have heard the despair of women and men separated from their children and jailed for over three weeks without any of the rights we hold dear that we normally accord people who are under arrest in our country,” said Ms. Hales. “They have had no bail hearings and when they do, you can be assured that they will be almost impossible to pay. So they will remain in detention, hours away from their family with no due process rights.”

 

Ms. Hales ended her rally speech by vowing that ABLE’s work would tirelessly continue on behalf of the agricultural workers rounded up at Corso’s in Sandusky and Castalia, and those jailed following the raid at a Fresh Mark meat processing facility in Salem, Ohio.

 

“This is a human-rights issue to us, inasmuch as it is political, because we must rely on these representatives to make change,” said Will Bennett, a 22-year old Latino University of Toledo student who helped organize the rally as part of the Toledo Immigrant Alliance. “We hope action comes from this. We hope people will hear what we say and recognize the issue and spread the word and themselves take action by call and write their senators. It may seem small, but a sign or a call or two really does matter.”

 

Bennett served as moderator at the rally, describing its purpose “to urge federal administration and elected officials to end the unnecessary incarceration and separation of undocumented immigrants and their families.”

 

The issue has even galvanized young people. 14-year old Jairo Alonso spoke at the rally, describing how his sister founded “Los Niños de Corso” and why he got involved selling T-shirts to help raise funds for the children left behind. He also is Karem’s cousin.

 

“We may be young, but we know what is right and what is wrong,” he said. “Ever since the largest immigration raid happened in Ohio, I felt a knot in my stomach and could not stand by and let the children suffer. We go door-to-door, play with the children, all the while trying to be supportive through such trauma they are going through. No child should be separated from their family. It breaks my heart just to think so many kids went through that.”

 

The half-hour rally ended with the crowd chanting “Vote, Vote, Vote”! Many held colorful handmade signs with catchy slogans, such as “We want Crushed I.C.E.,” “Stop pretending your racism is patriotism,” “No family internment camps,” and “Fight ignorance, not immigrants.”

 

The Toledo rally occurred on a day of similar events across the country. Even though Donald Trump signed an executive order ending the separation of immigrant families, there has been no movement on what to do with those already split apart. A federal judge in California ordered a halt to most family separations at the border and the reunification of all families with a deadline of July 26. But it remains to be seen if that court order applies to the situation in northern Ohio.

 

 

Advocates for Basic Equality, Inc.

 

Following the rally, ABLE officials provided an update on their deportation defense efforts, with the first set of bond hearings set for Detroit immigration court the day after the July 4th holiday. The irony of that situation during an annual celebration of U.S. freedom was not lost on Ms. Hales during a LaPrensa interview.

 

“We would hope they would help us to live out our Constitution and the right to due process, but I think, unfortunately, they’ve already been held for over three weeks and likely will not be able to make bond and will go right back to detention,” she said. “So it is ironic. We hope the right thing will happen, we always do.”

 

ABLE has been able to draw some pro bono attorneys to the deportation defense team. One of the legal aid agency’s attorneys is the state chairman of an immigration lawyer’s association.

 

“They are tired, but they will continue, they will keep going. They have been working early morning to late at night,” she said. “We really need to hire someone to help us to cover all the hearings and things that are coming up and still meet our obligations to do outreach efforts to agricultural workers throughout the state.”

 

The distance the defense team must travel to help detainees makes the battle that much tougher, according to the ABLE executive director. Many of the detainees could be held much closer to their families at the Seneca County jail in Tiffin, Ohio, which has a contract with federal authorities.

 

“It’s very disappointing. It makes it hard for us to serve them and it makes it nearly impossible, if not impossible, for their families to visit them,” said Ms. Hales.

 

ABLE is trying to raise funds for deportation defense through a GoFundMe account and its Immigration Advocacy Project through its website. To date, ABLE has raised more than $13,000, including a $1,000 donation unanimously approved by the Latino Alliance of Northwest Ohio, Inc. at its June 27th meeting.

 

“There are many people who have reasons, if they have an attorney, who would be able to make a good case for staying—for asylum, for other forms of relief,” she said, while noting upcoming bond hearings for the detainees—the first step in the deportation process— and the uphill battle looming for the detainees to obtain their immediate freedom. “From what we understand, the bonds range from $3,000 to $6,000 and they’re 100 percent pay. So it’s quite unlikely that people will be able to make bond—and they don’t have criminal records.”

 

US Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur, with help from ABLE attorneys, was able to arrange the release of three female Corso’s detainees a few days after visiting the women in detention in Michigan on June 18. The women were released to electronic monitoring. According to Ms. Kaptur’s office, all three have U.S. citizen children and have long-standing ties to the community.  

 

“Those are the only ones I know of,” said Ms. Hales, referring to nearly 100 other detainees still in federal custody.

 

“I am very pleased we were able to reunite these women with their families while they await their upcoming legal proceedings,” said Ms. Kaptur in a statement. “I call on this [Trump] Administration to stop these barbaric tactics and stop separating working families. Meanwhile, we continue our work to ensure that these individuals receive proper legal representation and basic care.”

 

Arturo Ortiz, a senior paralegal with ABLE who’s part of the deportation defense team, said the rally added energy to his team’s efforts to ensure the detainees get their due process rights.

 

“It just makes me so happy to see that a lot of people are supporting this issue and I’m really sad that we have to come out to this because we shouldn’t have to,” he said. “It’s so unfair to the kids and families that get afraid every time. It gets worse and worse. Hopefully something happens.”

Ortiz and a team of eight to ten ABLE lawyers and paralegals have traveled to detention centers and enclaves of migrant workers every day over the past few weeks, hoping to connect families with legal services and represent detainees. He described a disheartening situation of distrust.

 

“It’s not going good, because a lot of them are afraid of losing their parents. Even the ones who are citizens and have legal documents are afraid because they have family or friends who may be undocumented,” said Ortiz. “It’s really hard for us to even talk to them because a lot of people don’t want to talk to anyone that they don’t recognize because they’re afraid it might be ICE.”

 

Many of the detainees may be in a self-defeating situation, he admitted, because they even refuse to speak with fellow Latinos such as himself. Many of the federal agents from ICE and the Border Patrol also are Latino, Ortiz stated, so detainees don’t know where to turn.

 

“It’s sad, really. We’ve never seen this happen—ever,” he said. “It’s very sad. Some of them already know us, but it’s really hard for them to answer their doors when we go to see them.”

 

 

Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) and NAACP

 

Meantime, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) is working to organize the immigrant communities in Sandusky, Norwalk, and Willard “to defend and speak for themselves through a collective voice,” according to a Facebook post from Baldemar Velásquez, FLOC president. The union has a core of eight to ten “workers assessing their immediate needs.”

 

By mid-July, FLOC plans to initiate a membership sign-up campaign to organize collective bargaining rights for the migrant farm workers with area employers. Then the union will “negotiate immigration clauses, train the workers and employers in how to interact with ICE and the border patrol,” according to Velásquez.

 

“If the workers have a union then they can negotiate with local law enforcement on practices conducive to local law enforcement and not federal immigration laws. Raids in work places cannot take place without their cooperation,” he wrote. “So it is important to have an engaged relationship with local police. This stuff works to prevent harsh separation of families and definitely prevented some in the Toledo area.”

 

Velásquez pointed to a signed code of conduct with Toledo police which contains an alternative grievance mechanism and a recognized photo ID.

 

“The only reason we have been able to do these things is because we have a union and the migrants and immigrant members pay dues to fund our own fights,” he wrote.

 

The idea is to organize the immigrant community, then train one of those workers to help the others to achieve self-determination. FLOC also will be raising funds for that endeavor and seeking donations from supporters. Until then, the distrust will remain with ICE and the Border Patrol in northern Ohio, especially in light of the recent raids, where explanations remain scarce.

 

“The atmosphere is absolutely toxic. We don’t have the information. We ask questions, don’t get answers—and that’s even with our senators and Congress,” said Ray Wood, president of the Toledo chapter of the NAACP. “If people don’t want to answer you, then there’s something that they don’t want you to know, because everything should be transparent and clear. That’s our biggest concern because these kids are being impacted a lot more than anybody is saying.”

 

While Wood spoke at the rally, the NAACP is working behind the scenes to add pressure to federal authorities and elected officials to come clean on what’s happening. Wood spoke at the rally, hoping to drum up additional support and get more people politically active to keep the issue at the forefront with the mid-term Congressional elections coming up in November.

 

Wood expressed particular concern with how passive the US-American people seem to be about the current situation, when an entire nation stood aghast at the Waco massacre 25 years ago and federal law enforcement was labeled “a bunch of jack-booted thugs.” Federal agents dressed in black and carrying automatic weapons staged both recent immigration raids in the pre-dawn hours against unarmed migrant workers.

 

“Are we in a different climate together today? This happening right now I would hate to think that a couple decades ago, generations ago, that this would be allowed to exist without even more furor from the community,” Wood said. “When you put those events side-by-side with this one, this is going to go down in history as one of the greater events to the detriment of our country.”

 

Copyright © 1989 to 2018 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 07/10/18 20:02:01 -0700.

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