At least 12 Mexican nationals arrested by feds for unlawful presence in U.S.
About 40 people protested in front of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office in Morgan Hill the afternoon of Dec. 20, decrying the treatment of detainees and calling for the U.S. government to shut down the field office.
In late November and early December, at least 12 Mexican nationals in Santa Clara County were arrested by ICE officers, charged with unlawful presence in the United States.
At least three of these people were held at the Morgan Hill field office Nov. 29, Dec. 4, and Dec. 7, said Luis Angel Reyes Savalza, an immigration attorney and director of community empowerment at Pangea Legal Services. He attended the protest.
“Our network attorneys provided legal representation before ICE to these three individuals,” he said. “On each date, the three individuals confirmed that another six to 12 people were held with them in vans at the Morgan Hill field office.”
The Morgan Hill ICE field office is a nondescript building on Vineyard Court with no signage. During the protest, access to the entrance was blocked by two ICE officers. Dorothy Ma, a staff attorney with Amigos de Guadalupe Center for Justice and Empowerment, told the crowd that most of the Mexican nationals were at their homes about to go to work in the morning when they were arrested by ICE.
“They were denied the right to an attorney,” she said.
She described an incident in early December when an immigrant detained by ICE was denied due process and was forced to sit in a van outside the office for several hours before he was eventually transported to a processing center in San Francisco. ICE refused to allow her to consult with the detainee because the Morgan Hill field office does not have a secure meeting area, she said.
“If they can’t provide basic legal and safety rights here, then this center shouldn’t exist,” she told the crowd. “Exposing what ICE is doing in Santa Clara County is an important measure.”
Phone calls and emails to ICE were not returned. An auto-reply email said that the public affairs office was closed due to the government shutdown.
On the days the detainees were held at the Morgan Hill ICE site, they stayed in vans from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., Savalza said. They received bathroom breaks intermittently.
“Officers pressured at least one individual to waive his right to a hearing and was ordered deported by the time we spoke to him in San Francisco,” he said. “The ICE officer in Morgan Hill told this individual something to the effect of, ‘if you fight your case, you will be detained for six months. But if you sign, you can be released tomorrow. Just sign, it will be easier for you.’”
Several protesters pointed to the dangers many detainees face while being held. In May a transgender woman was beaten to death while under ICE custody. In mid-December, a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl died of dehydration and septic shock in ICE custody in El Paso, Texas. Additionally, on Christmas day, an 8-year-old boy from Guatemala died at a U.S. facility in New Mexico.
Ma said there are regulations governing the way people are supposed to be processed and regulations in place to ensure the safety of people.
ICE officials are also violating constitutional law in processing some of the detainees and the recent actions are against ICE’s own regulations, Savalza said.
“Pressuring people to sign documents they don’t understand, without access to counsel when attorneys are on the premises, is a gross violation of due process,” he said. “The one confirmed deportation as a result is only an example of the consequences of such violations of rights.”
Morgan Hill Mayor Rich Constantine told the crowd that he has a 2-1/2 -year-old daughter and that his heart broke when he heard and saw the picture of the 7-year-old girl who lost her life in ICE custody.
“I implore all of you to protest peacefully and nonviolently and raise your voices, because that is how change is done in this country,” he said. “From the very time of the (Boston) Tea Party — from that very moment — this country said that we are not going to stand for tyranny. We have to continue to do that today.”
Constantine told the crowd to call their elected officials at the local, state and national levels and voice their concerns.
‘’I’m so disheartened that we have to be here again today but unfortunately that is the time we are in,” he said. “Our leaders understand what is going on here and they are with us.”
Like the other speakers, Savalza urged the crowd to call a hot-line anytime they see ICE activity.
“This is the first step,” he said. “Exposing what ICE is doing here.”
Other speakers included Amigos de Guadalupe Executive Director Maritza Maldonado and Advent Lutheran Church Pastor Anita Warner.
After the speeches, protesters marched in a circle in front of the ICE office for about an hour chanting “ICE Morgan Hill has got to go. Hey, hey, ho, ho,” and “Stand up, fight back.”
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