Political targeting seen in activists’ detainment
Demonstrators marched in front of the John F. Kennedy Federal Building on Monday morning, in advance of and during a bond hearing held inside the building that afternoon for three immigration activists.
Zully Palacios, Enrique “Kiké” Balcazar and Alex Carrillo all are members of a Vermont-based workers’ rights advocacy group, Migrant Justice, and are themselves unauthorized immigrants. Palacios and Balcazar were stopped and taken into Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody on March 17 — an unusual move given that two have no criminal records, notes their lawyer. Carrillo was picked up a few days earlier while en route to a court hearing at which prosecutors were due to dismiss a 2016 misdemeanor charge.
Throughout the rally, organizers made clear that they believe the detainments are intended as political retribution and intimidation for speaking out on immigrant and workers’ rights.
“It is particularly galling when they [ICE agents] go after community leaders and human rights defenders who get on their register because they stood up for their rights,” said a board member of Migrant Justice. She told the gathered protestors, “ICE is trying to is trying to break the spirit of the community and the spirit of organizing and human rights.”
Palacios, a 23-year-old from Peru, was detained on charges that she overstayed her visa by about 8 months. A petition letter prepared by Migrant Justice and addressed to ICE Field Director Todd Thurlow describes her as “an outstanding community activist and human rights defender … an important figure in her community.”
Balcazar, 24, emigrated to the U.S. from Mexico without authorization and his status was known to ICE for several months, according to his lawyer. Both were involved in Milk With Dignity, a campaign aimed at improving workplace conditions for dairy farm workers. Balcazar also had served as a member of the Vermont attorney general’s task force on immigration issues.
On March 17, after they left the Migrant Justice office in Burlington, Vermont, Palacios and Balcazar were taken into custody by ICE. Their detainment followed on the heels of a March 15 incident in which ICE agents picked up Carrillo, a 23-year-old Mexican immigrant and Migrant Justice member, while he was traveling to a court hearing.
Carrillo’s wife, Lymarie Deida, a U.S. citizen, rallied in Boston with her four-year-old daughter.
“The day they took my husband, I thought I had died,” Deida told demonstrators. “I thought I could not speak.”
A few days later, she lost her fear, she said. She urged the crowd to keep defending human rights.
“All these people are detained for thinking and speaking that their rights matter — and they do,” Deida said.
“Free Alex,” she added. “My daughter and I need him at home.”
The Migrant Justice letter petitioning for release of Palacios and Balcazar had attained approximately 10,000 signatures by Monday morning, according to Will Lambke, Migrant Justice spokesperson, and demonstrators continued to collect signatures during the rally.
Protestors said they aimed to make their dissent clear to the judge who would be conducting the bond hearing, and make evident to the federal administration that such alleged political targeting will not be tolerated.
“What happened in Burlington is happening across the country. It is political retribution for organizing work. … New tactics of intimidation are being seen under this administration,” said Carlos Rojas, an organizer with Moviemiento Cosecha. “We have to show this plan will backfire on them.”
Many also sought to counter narratives associating immigrants with crime, and chanted that any deportation is a human rights violation.
José Norman, a friend of Balcazar and Carrillo, said he and many immigrants simply came to the U.S. for the opportunities to support their families that were not available in their home countries.
“As immigrants, we come here not to do harm to anyone, but to do hard work for our families,” Norman said, his words translated from Spanish.
Later that day, the judge set a $2,500 bond each for Palacios and Balcazar, and they were released on bail. Meanwhile the judge denied Carrillo bail due to the dropped 2016 misdemeanor charge against Carrillo of driving while under the influence. Monday’s hearing does not address deportation proceedings against the activists.