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”. 

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Activist Couple Was Married At The Border Wall Where They First Met Six Years Ago

Things That Matter

Activist Couple Was Married At The Border Wall Where They First Met Six Years Ago

Alexandra Mendoza / Getty Images

With all the uncertainty and traumatic news happening around us, it’s so encouraging to hear stories like this one. And that’s exactly what this couple had in mind when deciding to have their wedding ceremony at the U.S.-Mexico border wall in Tijuana – the same spot they met six years ago.

In marrying at the border wall, these two deportees wanted to bring attention to their respective causes (they both head support groups for recent deportees) while giving hope to those who are facing deportation.

Their message for those who face the traumatic experience of deportation is that life goes on and no matter which side of the border you are on, you’ll fine love, be embraced by family, and chase your dreams.

An activist couple celebrated their marriage with a ceremony at the U.S.-Mexico border wall.

Yolanda Varona and Héctor Barajas celebrated their love for another this past weekend, in front of the wall that divides San Diego and Tijuana. The same wall that separated them from their loved ones. The same wall where they met.

The couple met six years ago to the date, on the Mexican side of Friendship Park, while defending their respective causes. Varona is an advocate for recently deported mothers while Barajas works to help recently deported veterans.

“Someone told me go to the wall and that I’d find a veteran who was also deported and maybe with him I’d be able to do the activism that I long had wanted to do,” she told the San Diego Union Tribune in an interview.

She added that the veteran kind of intimidated her with his uniform and good looks so she asked him if she could take a picture with him to help break the ice. The pair have been inseparable ever since that ‘date’ in 2014.

Having legally celebrated their marriage back in August, the couple decided to host the ceremony with family and friends at the same spot they first met.

For both, this ceremony was important to send a message of hope to other migrant families.

Credit: Alexandra Mendoza / Getty Images

In an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribue, Varona, who leads the DREAMers Moms group in Tijuana, said, “It is very symbolic because this wall separated us from our children, but it reminds us that there is life out here too and we can continue fighting from here.”

All too often the story of deportation is one of an ending. However, regardless of how traumatic and difficult the experience is, it’s important to remembre that life goes on. There is a strong community in Mexico formed from those who have been deported – and many different resources to help those readjust to their new lives.

During their special ceremony, the groom couldn’t hide his happiness. “She has always been there for me, and I want to continue to be a better person, and I know good things will come for us,” he said during their ceremony.

The couple were accompanied by friends, including members of their communities: deported mothers and veterans. The ceremony was brief, given that the beaches of Tijuana are open on reduced hours due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, there was no lack of dancing between the couple in front of the sunset.

Their activism work brought them together but they both share similar stories as well.

Varona, who lived with her family in San Diego, was deported more than a decade ago, while Barajas, a former United States Army trooper, was involved in an altercation and after serving a year and a half in prison was repatriated to his native Mexico in 2004.

Determined to return to the U.S, Varona made another attempt at living in the U.S. without documentation but she was subsequently deported again in 2010. Upon being sent back to Tijuana, she founded the support group for deported mothers.

Barajas founded the support group for deported veterans after arriving back in Tijuana. However, in 2018, he was granted a pardon by then Governor of California, Jerry Brown, and he was able to return to the U.S. to complete the naturalization process to become a U.S. citizen.

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In Bombshell Report, ICE Agents Are Accused of ‘Torturing’ African Asylum-Seekers to Get Them to Sign Their Own Deportation Documents

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In Bombshell Report, ICE Agents Are Accused of ‘Torturing’ African Asylum-Seekers to Get Them to Sign Their Own Deportation Documents

Photo: Bryan Cox/Getty Images

A bombshell report published in The Guardian alleges that ICE officers are using torture to force Cameroonian asylum seekers to sign their own deportation orders. The report paints an even starker picture of Immigration and Customs Enforcement–an agency that is already widely criticized as corrupt and inhumane.

The deportation documents the immigrants have been forced to sign are called the Stipulated Orders of Removal. The documents waive asylum seekers’ rights to further immigration hearings and mean they consent to being deported.

The asylum seekers allege that the torture in ICE custody consisted of choking, beating, pepper-spraying, breaking fingers, and threats on their lives.

“I refused to sign,” recounted one Cameroonian asylum-seeker to The Guardian. “[The ICE officer] pressed my neck into the floor. I said, ‘Please, I can’t breathe.’ I lost my blood circulation. Then they took me inside with my hands at my back where there were no cameras.”

He continued: “They put me on my knees where they were torturing me and they said they were going to kill me. They took my arm and twisted it. They were putting their feet on my neck…They did get my fingerprint on my deportation document and took my picture.” Other witnesses recount similar violent experiences.

Experts believe that the escalation of deportations is directly related to the upcoming election and the possibility that ICE might soon be operated under a different administration. The theory is that ICE is coercively deporting “key witnesses” in order to “silence survivors and absolve ICE of legal liability.”

“In late September, early October of this year, we began to receive calls on our hotline from Cameroonian and Congolese immigrants detained in Ice prisons across the country. And they were being subjected to threats of deportation, often accompanied by physical abuse,” said Christina Fialho, executive director of Freedom for Immigrants, to The Guardian.

Many of the Cameroonians who are in the U.S. to seek asylum have legitimate claims to danger back in their home countries. Many of these Cameroonians come from an English-speaking minority in Cameroon that are violently target by the government there–some have died. The violence has been condemned by The United Nations and Amnesty International.

As with many immigrant stories of people who are seeking asylum, these immigrants’ lives are in danger in their home country. They are coming to the United States for a better life. But instead, they are faced with the agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, whom they claim brutally mistreat them.

According to report, the U.S. is deporting entire airplanes full of asylum-seekers back to their home countries–deportations that have not been given due process and have been authorized under duress.

An ICE spokesperson contacted by The Guardian called the reports “sensationalist” and “unsubstantiated” while roundly refuting the claims. “Ice is firmly committed to the safety and welfare of all those in its custody. Ice provides safe, humane, and appropriate conditions of confinement for individuals detained in its custody,” she said.

Read the entire report here.

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