Yesterday, Angelica Salas, executive director of CHIRLA, spoke at the National Commission on ICE misconduct and violations of 4th amendment rights hearing, which took place at the Cathedral Plaza Conference Center, in Los Angeles, CA.
Salas denounced the numerous ICE raids in California and across the nation. She spoke of the fear ICE created for Los Angeles families and told stories of immigrants unfairly affected by ICE’s unchecked need for more deportations and more detention.
Good morning my name is Angelica Salas, Executive Director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA). CHIRLA’s mission is to advance the human and civil rights of immigrants and refugees, promote harmonious human relations and empower immigrants and their allies to build a more just society. CHIRLA is also part of the Los Angeles Raids Rapid Response Network made up of legal, community and labor organizations that work together to ensure that immigrants detained during raids have access to counsel and that their human and constitutional rights are protected. Our organization also works to organize workers impacted by raids so that they become actively engaged in the struggle for just and humane immigration reform and that they engage with other workers to inform them of their rights during these raids.
Los Angeles has seen the largest number of immigrants impacted by home and worksite raids. In October 3, 2007, a two week raid detained over 1,300 people. In February 7, 2008, close to 150 people were detained at Micro Solutions Enterprises. In second week of April 2008, we had a call everyday on our hotline letting us know that individuals were being detained at inbound warehouses in the Los Angeles South Bay. A total of 66 workers were detained by ICE authorities in this particular raid. Just two weeks ago, ICE informed the public that over 700 immigrants had been detained and deported in another one of its immigration enforcement operations. In Los Angeles everyday there are immigration enforcement operations. Everyday there are ICE agents going to people’s homes, worksites and communities. Every night in Los Angeles there are over 1,400 people detained in immigration jail. As Executive Director of CHIRLA and as a community member I have clearly seen immense human suffering and witnessed violations of human and constitutional rights as a result of ICE’s increased immigration enforcement.
In 2003, ICE began employing Fugitive Operations Teams responsible for detaining individuals who had previous deportation orders and who still remained in the country. From our experience many individuals who have final deportation orders do not even know that their cases were denied and are still awaiting a favorable response. Nonetheless, ICE goes out to Los Angeles neighborhoods with a list of names, addresses and other identifying information. When ICE agents arrive at a home, usually in the early hours of the morning, they announce themselves as police and demand that whoever is living in the home open the door. Once inside, ICE agents proceed to look for the person in the list. If the agents do not find the person or persons they are looking for they then question anyone living in the home and demand to see their immigration documents their documents. Most often ICE agents harass and intimidate the people they are talking to elicit information about their immigration status and nationality. People that find themselves in this situation call our hotline or come to our office to report these incidents. Those individuals who exercise their rights against unlawful search and seizure are intimidated so that they give up those rights. Such was the case of Jose Luis a legal permanent resident, father of two children and the head of his household. A month ago, at 6:00 in the morning, ICE came to his house and stated he was looking for an individual whose name he did not recognize. He refused to open the door. An hour later they came back with a picture in their hands and asked again for the same person. When he ask them to pass the picture under the door to look at it, they said they would not do that and that he better open the door because they would be back with an order from the judge and then they would arrest him. His two daughters (four and six year olds) started crying fearing for their dad’s safety. Now, everyday when he goes to work he fears for his wife who is undocumented and who stays with their smallest daughter. There are so many cases of bystander or coincidental arrests that we at CHIRLA found it necessary to create an educational video to let people know what their constitutional rights were in case ICE came to their home, worksite or community demanding that they provide them information that can then lead to their arrest and deportation. The need to arrest bystanders is created by ICE’s clear mandate to increase the number of detentions and deportations at all costs. Even if the costs are denying people their human and constitutional rights and their dignity.
The need to increase their detainee numbers is clear when arrests are being made even of individuals leaving the United States. Jose called our hotline to relate the following: Jose and his wife were living in the United States for 15 years, but since they were never able to legalize their status in the country, they decided to go back to Mexico. They are both already 60 years old and did not have the strength to keep leaving in fear. When they were traveling to Mexico, with all their possessions in their car, they were detained at the border. Their car was impounded and they were kept under immigration custody for 19 days. Jose’s wife is a sick and elderly woman and due to the stress that she is under, she suffered a pulmonary stroke and almost died. They were finally released and sent back to the United States. They are now awaiting their deportation hearing.
The impact of increased immigration impacts entire communities, independent of immigration status. In Los Angeles County, for example, 84% of the population has an immigrant who is a member of the family. In addition, 63% of children in Los Angeles County are members of immigrant families. However, 87% of these children are themselves U.S. citizens. Increased immigration enforcement in the form of raids negatively impacts most of Los Angeles’ families and children. Moreover, because many of these immigration enforcement actions are most often covered live by the media, ICE makes sure that the media is present to report on the aftermath of their actions, fear and panic spreads quickly. When 66 workers were detained at freight warehouses in the South Bay, daily reporting of these raids caused families to hide out, not show up for work and not send their children to school. All immigrants are fearful that even if they have legal status they will still be caught up in the raid. In warehouse raids, ICE agents detained at least one person who had temporary protected status (TPS) and who had just paid his renewal fee for his TPS card. The officers would not believe that he had the legal right to work and detained him anyway. He was detained in the morning and not released until 5:00 p.m. that same day. His sister, a U.S. citizen, was outraged and told us that this was a clear injustice.
On February 7, 2008, CHIRLA witnessed and had to respond to another worksite raid. This time, to our surprise, it was not the public calling us but ICE themselves letting us know that a worksite raid was about to happen in the San Fernando Valley. First they just left a voicemail, but upon our return phone call they let us know that a raid was in fact going to take place. When we asked the location, the ICE officer refused to give us any information citing security concerns. We kept insisting but to no avail. We wasted an hour trying to figure out the exact place, our members in the San Fernando Valley finally called to report immigration buses near the location, Micro Solutions Enterprises in Van Nuys. Once at the premise ICE agents refused to let CHIRLA’s organizer and ACLU attorney enter the premises to monitor the situation. Like in other occasions when CHIRLA representatives request to get further information or speak with workers, we were threatened with arrest for interference. Never mind that their newest internal humanitarian policies state that NGOs’ should be allowed to monitor the situation to ensure humanitarian issues are properly recognized. No worker at Micro Solutions had access to CHIRLA’s advise or ACLU’s representation during the raid, this despite the fact that attorneys were available and willing to represent all the workers. It was not until the ACLU, National Immigration Law Center and the National Lawyers Guild filed and won a temporary restraining order lawsuit against Homeland Security’s Michael Chertoff that workers were finally allowed to go into their interviews with counsel. The devastation to these workers include losing their livelihood, being detained and now facing deportation. These workers have families and at our meetings the room is filled with young children who want to make sure that their parents are allowed to stay with them. However, the workers caught in the Micro Solutions raid are exercising their rights and refusing to give up. They are standing together to make sure that they all have a chance to remain with their families and they are allowed to do what they came to this country to do: work.
As we have increased immigration enforcement we also have an increase in violations of human and civil rights by federal authorities. This behavior and attitude towards immigrants is spreading to other law enforcement agents. Individuals who become in anyway connected with local law enforcement, especially outside of Los Angeles City, are increasing being mistreated by the very officers who are tasked with protecting the community. Interactions with police are leading to referrals to immigration authorities despite the merits of an arrest. Miguel de La Paz is an immigrant who suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. He was detained by a police officer while driving. He was asked questions and then asked to blow into a breathalyzer test. He explained that because of his cerebral hemorrhage the act of blowing air caused him great pain and that he was not strong enough to blow air into the device. The officer ignored his explanations, arrested him and when they found out he was not in the country legally transferred him to immigration authorities. He was never booked or charged with any infraction. Once in immigration custody, he was denied his medication. He became so ill while in custody that he was finally released. Now his wife, a U.S. citizen, is trying to stop his deportation. If federal agents can get away with ignoring the constitution, then everyone else feels that they too can ignore basic rights and protections.
These raids are shameful and are an affront to our nation’s values of justice, freedom and equality. For our organization there is only one solution: Stop the raids and enact just and humane immigration reform. A day laborer in Chicago said it best on his protest sign: working hands do not deserve handcuffs. None of these workers deserve handcuffs; they deserve the protection of our constitution and to be treated with fairness and dignity. Thank you, commissioners for your outstanding leadership in learning the truth from those on the frontlines.