For two months, Marco Flores has been helping to organize activists through Occupy ICE LA to protest the separation of migrant families. One way he organizes is holding weekly Friday vigils in remembrance of families who have been separated or are in the reunification process. On August 3, the vigil was to honor the memory of a migrant child who allegedly died after being released from a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in Dilley, Tex.
The 31-year-old activist, who identifies as indigenous by way of his Mixtec roots from Oaxaca, is both an organizer with AIM SoCal (American Indian Movement Southern California) and a backer of the Occupy ICE LA movement “since day one.”
A typical week for L.A.-based organizer Marco Flores includes assembling nightly watch groups at a downtown L.A. detention facility.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Marco Flores
“I’m usually there every night,” he said.
The watch groups usually consist of 15 to 20 people who are ready to camp outside the Metropolitan Detention Center in downtown Los Angeles, including blockading one of the driveways. The location was picked for a strategic reason. Flores noted the building next door has Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers inside.
According to Flores, the weekly vigil and protests are meant to bring awareness to both politicians and citizens to push against ICE and the Trump administration.
“We are trying to bring awareness to the issue that first started out with the separation of families,” Flores said. “The Trump administration was supposed to reunite the children with their families on July 26, but that didn’t happen. Nothing has been fixed. ICE is complicit in all of this. It’s wrong and we want our elected [leaders] to stand up against it.”
Every Friday night, the watch group starts with a candlelight vigil for the victims of Trump’s zero-tolerance family separations.
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As AIM celebrates its 50 year anniversary, it stands in solidarity with #OccupyICELA, which is honoring 50 days of occupation. Native Americans are no strangers to family separation. Beginning in the late 19th century, the U.S. government allowed missionary groups to enter reservations, seize Native children, and put them into boarding schools intended to destroy Native Indian tribal identity. They were forced to speak English, worship Christian gods, take Anglo-Saxon names, and adapt to the ways of the “civilized” world. “We as Native Americans have our worst memories resurrected when we see children torn from their parents at the hands of law enforcement, taken to unknown locations, and with an unknown path to reunification. Indigenous communities have historically suffered the consequences of such forceful removal of its children from parents and caretakers that created intergenerational harm that our communities still struggle to address” – AIM SoCal member AIM SoCal will lead this week’s vigil on Friday August 8, 2018 at 8 p.m. We will be at the Metropolitan Detention Center on Aliso between Alameda and Los Angeles (for Google Maps, use: 308 W. Aliso, Los Angeles, CA). Dee Dee Ybarra, a descendent of the Gabrieleño Kizh people, tribal chair of the Rumsen Ama Turataj Ohlone and a member of AIM will start the event with an opening prayer honoring the people of this land. Graywolf, AIM SoCal chapter director, will be one of the speakers as well as other AIM members. WHEN: Friday, August 10, 2018 from 8pm to 10PM WHERE: 308 Aliso St, Los Angeles, CA 90012 We will have candles, but please feel free to bring your own
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“Ultimately, we want to abolish ICE. ICE has become a tool for the Trump administration to perpetuate their hate, it’s pretty much become a terrorist organization,” Flores said.
For the August 3 vigil, Flores said four or five speakers came out and were invited to share about themselves and how the death of the migrant toddler affected them.
Afterwards, those in attendance were asked to share their name and why they chose to attend the vigil.
One of the speakers at the August 3 vigil was activist Tai Sunnanon, a native Texan with Thai and Ecuadorian roots who has had experience galvanizing community support for 22 years.
CREDIT: Facebook/courtesy of Tai Sunnanon
Sunnanon has traveled to Texas meeting with local organizations, attending rallies and visited detention centers fighting for separated families. He has lead workshops on how to engage the community around the cause.
“There are hundreds of parents unaccounted for,” Sunnanon said of his experience in Texas detention centers. “This is something that will take months if not years to resolve.”
Sunnanon urges the public to become involved and said the “best gift someone can give these children is the power of an attorney.”
Could the process take in fact years to resolve, as Sunnanon claims? Technically, it can.
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Congratulations to @nielsfrenzen who was honored today by Program for Torture Victims and @cityoflosangeles . In addition to being the founder and director of @uscimmclinic for 18 years, he was chair of the board for PTV for over 10 years. In attendance was a former client he represented 30 years ago, who fled the Guatemalan civil war and won asylum, and her daughter who was born and raised in the United States 🇺🇸. #trueleadersinspire
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Niels Frenzen, a law professor at the USC Gould School of Law and the director of the school’s immigration clinic, explained once families are reunited, the “asylum process is incredibly complicated because there are so many different scenarios that people can find themselves in.”
“Most adults who have been subjected to the family separation process have been subjected to expedited removal, unless they can establish a ‘credible fear,'” Frenzen said. “If they pass the credible fear test, then they can start an asylum application before an immigration judge.”
If a person establishes a ‘credible fear’ in their home country that they are fleeing from, then they cannot be subjected to deportation from the United States until the person’s asylum case is processed.
The legal clinic heard about a couple of cases through the American Immigration Lawyers Association: AILA, particularly with community groups in El Paso, Texas and picked up two cases over two weeks ago.
He is keeping a close eye on the ACLU litigation in San Diego and elsewhere in the country, since they “might get some court orders that say something about what can happen to these parents of these children that have removal hearings that will take years,” Frenzen said. “ICE could ignore them and let them stay here as long as the kid has a removal process hearing that is pending. It’s unknown because things are happening so fast.”
Flores says he will continue his vigils until families are reunited and elected leaders stand up for human rights.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Marco Flores
“We want our elected [leaders] to stand up against it and find the political courage within themselves to stand up,” Flores said about the uncertainty about separated families. “If we can stand up to it, so can you guys.”