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Immigrant activists arrested in Boston protesting U.S. deportations

Activists blockied the Suffolk County House of Correction in Boston

Martin Desmarais
Immigrant activists arrested in Boston protesting U.S. deportations
Immigration activists blocked the entrance to the Suffolk County House of Corrections in Boston last week in a demonstration against the Obama administration's immigration policies that have resulted in the deportation of 2 million undocumented immigrants. (Photo: Banner Photo)

Author: Banner PhotoDemonstrators outside the Suffolk County House of Corrections on April 17th were part of a national Not One More anti-deportation campaign.

Immigration activists blocking the Suffolk County House of Correction were arrested last week as a part of a national protest of the Obama administration’s immigration policies, which have resulted in the deportation of 2 million undocumented immigrants.

Protesters here and across the U.S. are calling for the president to use his administrative powers to halt the deportations.

Local groups, including the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Organization, Jobs with Justice! and the Chelsea Collaborative joined the National Day Laborer Organizing Network’s Not One More anti-deportation campaign that has seen protests and rallies in as many as 80 U.S. cities in the last several months, with about half of those coming in April as the tide rises against congressional inaction on immigration reform.

Immigration advocates are specifically targeting the Secure Communities program, a federal enforcement policy that is credited for driving the Obama administration’s record number of deportations because it allows U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to access local and state law enforcement data to identify undocumented immigrants, detain them and deport them.

The Secure Communities program has given rise to claims that undocumented immigrants are frequently deported after minor offenses, such as traffic violations. According to statistics provided by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network following the Boston protest and arrests, 68 percent of the people deported in Massachusetts through the Secure Communities program had no criminal convictions or were only accused of minor offenses, including traffic violations.

Local immigration reform advocates are holding out hope that Massachusetts can join New England neighbor Connecticut and pass the Trust Act, which restricts ICE from accessing law enforcement data. Massachusetts lawmakers have such a bill, the Massachusetts Trust Act, in front of them. California has also passed a version of the Trust Act.

On April 17, the Suffolk County House of Corrections drew about 150 protesters from around New England. There was a large contingent of Connecticut protesters fueled by their recent success in persuading their state’s lawmakers to pass the Trust Act.

The Boston detention center has faced demonstrations before — including a hunger strike last October — and holds several hundred immigrants slated for deportation. The facility has been criticized for holding immigrant detainees alongside other incarcerated prisoners and faces several current lawsuits citing indefinite detention and poor conditions.

While demonstrators held up signs reading “No More Deportations,” “Stop Secure Communities,” and “Keep Families Together” and chanted or sang slogans such as “Liberation not Deportation” and “Not One More,” 19 protesters knelt to block the doors to Suffolk County House of Corrections.

Linked arm-in-arm, the protesters were warned three times over the course of an hour by police to move from blocking the prison doors before being handcuffed and removed by police outfitted in riot gear. The protest and the 19 arrests were carried out non-violently and those arrested were charged with disorderly conduct and trespassing and released later that day.

Chelsea Collaborative Executive Director Gladys Vega, who moved to Boston from Puerto Rico when she was a child, was one of the local immigration advocates arrested. Vega spoke as the protesters rallied prior to marching on the prison front doors and she was also very vocal as she knelt on the ground in front of the doors prior to her arrest.

Her message — “Enough deportations” and “We are going to continue to fight.”

Another local protestor arrested was college student Maria Peniche, who grew up in Boston and graduated from Revere High School. Her parents were just recently released by the ICE after two months in detention.

“I grew up here. This has been my home since I was 10, and I have no criminal record, but ICE detained me, stripped me, shackled me, interrogated me, and tried to break my spirit, just because I came here without papers,” she said to gathered demonstrators. “The president has the legal authority and the moral responsibility to stop this suffering now.”

One of the strongest voices on the day was Andres del Castillo, the American-born son of Columbian immigrants who grew up in Winthrop. His father and two older sisters were undocumented for much of his childhood and his mother was undocumented for 27 years.

Castillo spoke to protesters before the march on the Suffolk County House of Corrections and also gave several impassioned speeches while kneeling at the prison doors before he was also arrested. Castillo called out the current government for its deportation policies.

“You are the one that is inhumane. You are the one that is breaking rules. You are the one that is breaking law, law-breaking laws of humanity, breaking laws of dignity. You are breaking laws of respect. Most important, you are breaking families and communities. You are tearing us apart,” Castillo said. “And that brings us here, as U.S. citizens, as children of immigrants, as children of mixed-status family. There are 340,000 of us born every year. There are 340,000 of us that will grow up, that will demand that this country listen to the pain that they have inflicted on our communities and we will not be quite.”

Like many, Castillo called on President Obama, as the son of an immigrant, to show he understands that immigrants deserve rights, dignity and recognition.

Joining the protesters in the crowd was Santos Gutierrez of Springfield, a Legal Permanent Resident, whose husband Victoriano Aquilar Reynoso, an undocumented immigrant, has been going through a deportation battle.

“Three days ago my husband was detained by immigration. I am here so that he is not deported, but also so that no other families are separated the way we have been,” Gutierrez said. “Obama please hear us — hear our voices in this fight. I don’t want to continue suffering, and I don’t want to see other families continue suffering in the same way.”

Another protestor in the crowd as the police carried off those in front of the prison doors was Jasmine Mendoza of Norwalk, Conn., born and raised in Vermont and married to Claudio Mendoza, who after 16 years in the U.S., was deported to Mexico a year-and-a-half ago.

“I go around and rally with everybody that is going through this horrible immigration process to try and get the deportations stopped and get the reform passed,” Jasmine Mendoza said.

Carrying her two-year old son in her arms, Mendoza said her message to President Obama and lawmakers is to stop deportations and, above all else, “reunite families.”

“They have been deporting 11,000 people a day, and to taxpayers that is a cost of between $12,000 to $18,000 to apprehend, arrest and deport. And then if they are the breadwinner, like my husband was, we are a burden on the tax system because we are left behind. And he was the breadwinner so now I’m on food stamps and federal assistance. Before we were self-sufficient and tax-paying. We have a house; we have everything. He was here for 16 years in this country and he paid taxes,” she said.

Mendoza now plans to leave the U.S. to go to Mexico to be with her husband, who hasn’t seen his son since he was 8 months old, but she still holds out hope that immigration reform may come and someday reunite them in the country she is from and they have called home together for so many years.

“A year-and-a-half without my husband is too much. It is time,” she said. “I haven’t given up hope. I just want to be with my husband.”