Things That Matter

A Man Was Cutting Down A Tree When Police Discovered He Didn’t Have A License, So They Turned Him Into ICE

Regardless of who wins the 2020 elections and whether Donald Trump will be impeached before then or not, the past few years will be remembered by many as a traumatic period in which thousands of immigrants, many of them undocumented but some just wary of the color of their skin, lived in fear of migration authorities. There have been multiple cases of family separations and trauma that 

Jose Villalta was helping a pariente cut down a tree. His sin: not having a license to do so.

Credit: Jose Villalba / Facebook

The 31-year-old Maryland resident and citizen of El Salvador was doing something that is totally right: he was helping out a family member cut down a dead tree in his property last August 7. However, he was approached by police when he was helping because the law establishes that you need a license to do this. José Ricardo Villalta Canales (his full name) violated a state law by not having the document, a violation that is punishable with a $500 fine. However, police officers from Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources went beyond a mere fine… 

This is when things went from bad to worse for Villalta, as the officers turned him over to immigration authorities.

Credit: WJLA

According to The Washington Post, the officers took five minutes to fine him for $320, “But they detained him for more than two hours after making a routine check of a national database to see if he was the subject of any outstanding state, federal or local warrants”. They went above and beyond the standard procedure, most likely motivated by Villalta’s ethnic background. It is important to mention that Villalta had no previous criminal record. At all. But a search in the database revealed that ICE has filed an administrative warrant for deportation. 

So Villalta is now suing the police officers for handing him over to ICE.

Credit: Washington Post

Villalta is now suing the authorities for what he and his lawyers claim was a wrongful arrest. He is being supported by attorneys with the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. Because Maryland authorities are only meant to act on judicial or criminal warrants, and not administrative warrants, the officers were wrongful in detaining Villalta until the ICE authorities arrived. As The Washington Post reports, Villalta has since then been held in detention: “He was consequently arrested and has remained in ICE detention in Frederick County for more than three months.”

According to his defense, the case is far from ambiguous. Azadeh Erfani, an associate counsel at he Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs said unequivocally: “His rights were very much violated”. Also, cases like Villalta’s set a precedent for any law enforcement agency to call on ICE when they have a suspicion. And well, this suspicion is of course based on physical appearance and ethnicity… there really isn’t another way around it is there?

He is now suffering from depression. 

Villalta has been in the United States since he was 17-years-old, when he crossed the border by foot. His whole adult life has been spent in the United States, where he has a network of support. In a recent press conference, his aunt Mirna Canales informed that Jose is suffering from depression while on ICE detention, with the prospect of deportation to a country that he would barely recognize today looming over his future. In the United States he has been working in roofing in Rockville, and he has supported his partner’s children and several nieces and nephews. He is a hard working immigrant. 

Social media is finding clear racial implications in this case.

There is no way this would have happened if Jose Villalta was, say, a British man who had overstayed his visa. Because he is Brown, he was immediately found suspicious of being an undocumented migrant. Cases like these exacerbate the already stressful situation experienced by millions in the United States and most widely the world over. 

And some went even further and compared today’s environment to some of the darkest episodes in human history, while some MAGA dudes are bringing out their nastiness.

While some social media users are comparing this type of inter-agency cooperation to the methods used by the Gestapo during the Nazi regime, others have obviously brought out their nastiness. Come on, man, at least show some understanding of law before you bring out your venom. Cases like this bring out the best and the worst in people, and while some are sacando a relucir el cobre, supporters have rocked signs with legends such as “IMMIGRANT RIGHTS ARE HUMAN RIGHTS” and “HE IS NOT A CRIMINAL”. 

This Guatemalan Mom Was Separated From Her Son At The Border After Enduring A Gunshot To The Face

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This Guatemalan Mom Was Separated From Her Son At The Border After Enduring A Gunshot To The Face

@ajplus / Twitter

In an exclusive interview with People Magazine, a 32-year-old Guatemalan woman recounts her experience fleeing her home country in August 2017 after being shot in the face at a demonstration. Not only does the woman—who goes by the false name Daniella—describe the event that catalyzed her desire to leave Guatemala, but she tells of the many months spent traveling north, and the many months spent in a detention center after reaching the border, separated from her young son.

On August 9, 2017, Daniella and her son, Carlos, were leaving their family’s house when they encountered a large protest against a new measure that would require people to pay for water. At first the protest was peaceful—but then bullets started flying through the air. Daniella and Carlos were just passing through, but a bullet had caught Daniella in two parts of her body: the left arm, and right below the eye.

“I threw my arm around Carlos to protect him—he was covered in blood, and I started to panic,” she told People. “Little did I know that the one bleeding was me.”

Because of rampant corruption in that part of Guatemala, Daniella knew that the police wouldn’t come—they were told not to interfere. So vigilant were certain members of the demonstration that Daniella’s father received a threatening call before she even made it to a hospital. The caller told her father that if they filed a report, he would kill the whole family. Later she learned that the man who had shot her lived just three blocks away from her mother. Fortunately, when she made it to the hospital, her husband—who had moved the the U.S. five years earlier to find work, sent money for the expenses.

After more than a week in the hospital, both bullets remain in Daniella’s body to this day.

“The doctor said that if they were taken out, I could be left in a vegetative state, or I could die,” she said. “To this day I still feel pain.”

After this harrowing experience, Daniella decided that it was time to follow in her husband’s footsteps and flee to the U.S. She knew that the journey would be anything but easy, but she could have never guessed how nightmarish a month lay ahead. Traveling by truck and by bus, there were many nights spent on the side of the road. When they finally made it to the Arizona border, they were not dropped off at an immigration center, as she had expected. Instead, she and Carlos were told to climb a tree, then jump from the tree to the border wall. From there, they could reach the other side.

“I told Carlos, ‘Mijo, you have to jump.’ He was so afraid that he wouldn’t move,” she said. “I looked into my son’s eyes, and I said, ‘Son, please trust me. Everything’s going to be all right.’

After they had both made it safely to the other side, they took just a few steps before the Border Patrol arrived. They were taken into custody and dropped off at “La Hielera”—The Icebox. There, Daniella was forced to sign papers she didn’t understand, and the officer who was present told her that the children would be taken to a shelter, then given up for adoption. Naturally, all the mothers were desperately frightened by this news.

Before leaving for court that same day, Daniella said goodbye to Carlos, unsure if they would ever see each other again. She told People Magazine that she held her son and said: “You’re a champion, Papa, and you’re always going to be in my heart.”

The mothers were not immediately told the whereabouts of their children. But five months after being moved to Eloy Detention Center in Arizona, Daniella learned that Carlos was in a New Jersey foster home.

A few months later, Daniella had her official court hearing. Her bail was posted at $30,000, and after filing an appeal to extend the bail deadline, Daniella was released from custody. She had been detained for 11 months.

The organization Immigrant Families Together had gathered the money for Daniella’s bail, and they helped her get back on her feet by providing her with food and clean clothes. They also took her to the airport to fly to Virginia, where Carlos had relocated to live with his uncle, her brother.

Daniella’s story isn’t unique—roughly 30,000 people are detained in the U.S. on a given day, and these numbers have seen major upticks throughout 2019. What makes Daniella’s story remarkable is her reunion with Carlos. Many families who have been separated at the border are not nearly as lucky.

While she and Carlos continue to deal with the psychological trauma of this experience, Daniella is grateful and focused on the future.

“Without the assistance from all the people that helped me, I wouldn’t be free,” said Daniella. “Now my only focus is my family, my son, starting a new life here in California . . . I don’t have to worry about being shot again or putting my son’s life in danger.”

Graphic New Video Of Migrant Teen’s Death Raises Questions About ICE Policies

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Graphic New Video Of Migrant Teen’s Death Raises Questions About ICE Policies

Family of Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez

When 16-year-old Guatemalan Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez died six days after arriving at South Texas processing center, Customs and Border Protection released their version of events. Now, an uncovered ProPublica video reveals a different version. 

When Carlos died in May, acting Customs and Border Protection commissioner John Sanders said an agent found Carlos “unresponsive” after checking on him. However, ProPublica acquired a video of Carlos’ last hours that dispute he was provided with adequate healthcare. 

Carlos is the sixth migrant under 18 years old to die in federal custody under the Trump administration, according to the New York Times. Here’s what really happened.

Hours before he died, Carlos had a fever of 103 degrees, according to records.

The day before he died, a nurse instructed authorities to check on the 16-year-old in a couple of hours and said he should be taken to the emergency room if his sickness worsened. They did not follow the orders. Carlos was diagnosed with the flu, fearing he would contaminate other migrants agents moved into a quarantine cell. The next morning another sick boy in the cell found him dead.

The video shows that Carlos was visibly incredibly ill. It shows that the only way you couldn’t have noticed this teenage boy needed urgent care was if you were willfully ignoring him.

“The cellblock video shows Carlos writhing for at least 25 minutes on the floor and a concrete bench. It shows him staggering to the toilet and collapsing on the floor, where he remained in the same position for the next four and a half hours,” according to ProPublica. 

ProPublica referred to a Border Patrol “subject activity log” where it said an agent checked on him three times on the morning of his death but reported nothing out of the ordinary. The article suggests that “agent charged with monitoring him failed to perform adequate checks, if he even checked at all.” 

ProPublica believes the video disputes CBP’s account of Carlos’ death. 

The security video shows that it was Carlos’ cellmate who discovered his body, not any agents doing a welfare check, as CBP alleged in their press release. The video shows no welfare checks taking place at all. However, ProPublica discovered a four-hour gap of missing footage that coincides with the times an agent reported doing the welfare checks. CBP would not comment. A coroner heard secondhand that an agent may have checked by looking through the cell window. 

“On the video, the cellmate can be seen waking up and groggily walking to the toilet, where Carlos was lying in a pool of blood on the floor. He gestures for help at the cell door. Only then do agents enter the cell and discover that Carlos had died during the night,” ProPublica described. 

When ProPublica reporters asked Department of Homeland Security if cell footage of Carlos’ final hours were shown on the live video monitors, they would not comment. 

“While we cannot discuss specific information or details of this investigation, we can tell you that the Department of Homeland Security and this agency are looking into all aspects of this case to ensure all procedures were followed,” CBP spokesperson Matt Leas said.

Medical experts condemn the circumstances of the teenager’s death. 

“Why is a teenaged boy in a jail facility at all if he is sick with a transmissible illness? Why isn’t he at a hospital or at a home or clinic where he can get a warm bed, fluids, supervised attention and medical care? He is not a criminal,” said Dr. Judy Melinek, a forensic pathologist that reviewed Carlos’ death records

The New York Times notes the tens of millions of dollars have been funneled into migrant healthcare, with medical practitioners near the southwestern border increasing over tenfold. However, an examination by the paper found that most Border Patrol facilities in the area are insufficient in their ability to asses migrant health, despite years of internal warnings on the matter. 

“Flu can progress rapidly, but it’s not like a heart attack. Even when fast, it worsens over a period of hours. There should have been signs that indicated he needed to go to the hospital,” Dr. Joshya Sharfstein, who works at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health said.

Former commissioner Sanders has since resigned and expressed remorse over the situation blaming the largely Democratic Congress for being “unresponsive” — not necessarily the Trump administration for the problem, according to ProPublica

“I really think the American government failed these people. The government failed people like Carlos,” he said. “I was part of that system at a very high level, and Carlos’ death will follow me for the rest of my life.”

Carlos’ death was not entirely in vain. The loss of his life prompted new regulations for Border Patrol agents which require they physically enter the cells of sick detainees, conduct regular welfare checks, and take their temperatures.