Things That Matter

One Los Angeles Activist Refuses To Stop Protesting Until All Migrant Families Are Reunited

Courtesy of Marco Flores

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.

View this post on Instagram

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

A post shared by #OccupyICELA (@occupyicela) on

“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.

Could the process take in fact years to resolve, as Sunnanon claims? Technically, it can.

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.

READ: Artists Constructed A Massive Cage At Burning Man To Protest ICE And Some Folks Got Upset On Social Media

Share this story with all of your friends by tapping that little share button below!

‘Ya Me Voy’ Documentary Gives And Intimate And Emotional Look Into The State Of The Immigration Debate In The US

Entertainment

‘Ya Me Voy’ Documentary Gives And Intimate And Emotional Look Into The State Of The Immigration Debate In The US

imleavingnowdoc / Instagram

The recent immigration debate in the U.S. has largely centered around the forced separation of families at the southern border and indefinite detentions. However, “Ya Me Voy,” a documentary by Mu Media, is shining light on the internal immigration debate. The story centers on a man living undocumented in the U.S. and his decision to stay in the U.S. or leave and rejoin his family. However, unexpected love and troubles at home in Mexico play a major role in his decision.

“I’m Leaving Now (Ya Me Voy)” is a touching look at the personal immigration debate many undocumented immigrants in the U.S. face.

Credit: mumedia / Instagram

Felipe, an undocumented immigrant living in New York, has spent years living away from his family in Mexico. His mission was to find work and send money home regularly to help his family with the ultimate goal to move back to be with his wife and kids.

The documentary starts with Felipe calling his family telling them that he was ready to move back to Mexico and reunite with them.

Credit: The Cinema Guild / YouTube

After several attempts and changes of mind, Felipe is finally ready to go back home. He had been sending his family money and expects to come home in a better position. It has been 16 years and he has been diligent in sending money back to his family.

However, during a phone call home, he learns that everything he had worked for has fallen apart.

Credit: The Cinema Guild / YouTube

His family had managed to squander the money he had sent back for them. Not only that, they had gotten themselves into debt. Felipe, who was planning to go home, realizes that it might not be able to go home since the family is now indebted after his 16 years of hard, manual labor in the U.S.

During the documentary, the audience learns that Felipe has fallen in love with a woman in the U.S.

Credit: The Cinema Guild / YouTube

The romantic relationship complicates his decision to do home. On one hand, he wants to reunite with his sons and wife more than anything. He misses them terribly and knows that his heart ultimately lies with them. However, his family has spent the money he managed to send them and returning would put him back where he was when he came to the U.S. all those years ago. The new romance offers him solace and comfort in the U.S.

We witness Felipe having tough conversations with his new life in the U.S.

Credit: The Cinema Guild / YouTube

Felipe is trying to determine if he is still able to move back to a family he does not know. It has been so long since he left Mexico that he is essentially a stranger to his children. His wife has been without him for 16 years and he has set unexpected roots in a place that was supposed to be temporary. At one point, you see him telling a vendor that he was preparing to leave and she jokes that she’ll believe it when he is no longer here.

Ultimately, he is forced to make a decision as to whether he is going to stay in the U.S. or be with a family he left years ago.

Credit: mumedia / Instagram

His tale is one that so many undocumented immigrants in the U.S. experience. They leave friends and family behind in an attempt to better the lives of those they are leaving behind. Many will never see their family again and have to miss major moments, like funerals, to sacrifice it all to help their family.

Watch the full trailer below.

READ: Say Their Names: The People Who Have Died In US Immigration Custody In 2019

After Almost Two Years, Trans Activist Alejandra Barrera Has Been Released From ICE Custody

Things That Matter

After Almost Two Years, Trans Activist Alejandra Barrera Has Been Released From ICE Custody

transgender_together / Instagram

After nearly two years in detention, Alejandra Barrera, a 44-year-old transgender Salvadorian activist, was released from an ICE facility in New Mexico late last Friday. Human rights activists and the transgender immigrant community are rejoicing at the news that Barrera will finally be freed after being held in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention since November 2017.

Barrera, who hails from El Salvador, fled her country due to discrimination and persecution. Shortly after seeking asylum in the U.S, she was detained at the Cibola County Correctional Center in New Mexico, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s detention center with a unit specifically for transgender women that opened in 2017, according to the Phoenix New Times. During her time at the detention facility, there were numerous complaints of abuse and maltreatment of inmates that included the death of Roxsana Hernandez Rodriguez, a transgender woman who died of HIV-related complications last year. 

 Before leaving El Salvador, Barrera was a well-known activist in her home country where she stood up for transgender rights for over a decade. But with this attention also came attacks from local gangs and the Salvadoran military who targeted her and forced her to eventually leave in and claim asylum in November 2017. In spite of all of this, Barrera was repeatedly denied asylum in the U.S.

Many people and organizations helped build awareness around the release of Barrera. But it was the hashtag #FreeAlejandra that made the world know her story. 

Credit: @outmagazine / Twitter

Barrera’s release is the culmination of a year-long campaign by multiple nonprofit organizations like the Amnesty International, the Translatin@ Coalition and the National Immigrant Justice Center. This also included the help of federal lawmakers like Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Adam Schiff (Calif.), and Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.) 

Many first heard the story of Barrera with the hashtag #FreeAlejandra that circulated online for months spreading awareness of her detention. A Change.org petition demanding her freedom received more than 36,000 signatures and raised awareness of Barerra’s case using the hashtag #FreeAlejandra.

“Through letters of support, people from around the world gave me the strength to continue in this struggle that was so hard for me. I’m here to keep fighting”  Barrera said in response to everyone that helped share her story. 

Bamby Salcedo, the executive director of Translatin@ Coalition, acknowledged all the work put forth to have Barrera finally released. She said in a video posted to Facebook the day of  Barrera’s release that her “heart is so full of joy” now that Barrera is finally out.

“It was because of all of your calls, because of all of you signing petitions, showing up to the rallies, showing up the press conferences, her lawyers – everyone – all of you who wrote letters to Alejandra, everyone who participated in la campaigna de #FreeAlejandra – should be very proud because this is one more victory and we should be able to celebrate,” Salcedo said in the video. 

Barrera is currently released on parole while she waits for her asylum case to go to immigration court.

Credit: @mghtranshealth / Twitter

While Barrera is out and getting to enjoy her freedom, her fight for asylum is not over just yet. As of now, Barrera’s asylum status is still not secure and must now continue to fight against her deportation. If she is not granted asylum, Barrera faces the daunting possibility of being deported back to El Salvador. 

Denise Bell, Amnesty International’s researcher for refugee and migrant rights, told the Daily News that while her organization is happy that Barrera is out of ICE detention, the fight is not over yet. Bell says that she hopes that Barrera’s case becomes an example of what happens when people come together to bring awareness to a good cause. 

“We don’t think that she should be returned to El Salvador, where we are gravely concerned for her well-being,” Bell told the Daily News. “Trans people in detention are at a special risk of abuse because of their special medical needs, often, and [because of] their gender identity. So we just want to draw attention to the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other trans people who are seeking asylum, who are in immigration detention [and] who should be released on parole

Barrera is currently being represented by Rebekah Wolf of the Equal Justice Coalition, who fought and brought awareness for her release. While she seeks refuge, Barrera will stay with a sponsor from the TransLatin@ Coalition. 

According to the Washington Blade, ICE estimates that at least 111 transgender people who are being held in U.S. detention centers. The number is an increase that what ICE estimated just five months prior and it does not include detainees that might have been uncounted. 

READ: Mexico Has Become The World’s Second-Deadliest Country For Transgender People To Live And Many Are Worried