with David Cahn/ Social Issues Resource Center
Guestworker program, path to citizenship, border enforcement, national security: all buzzwords in the immigration debate. What’s missing: the voices of immigrant women. This Monday, five of the women who were detained in a recent Immigrations and Customs Enforcement raid—Margerita, Maria Luisa, Porfiria, Carmen, and Lorena—are going to speak at Western “Living in the I.C.E. Age: Gender, Immigration & Militarism.”
“I was working on August 30 in an industrial laundry,” said Porfiria Lopez at an immigration reform hearing at Bellevue Community College on October 18. Lopez is one of the women who will speak this Monday.
“We had some I.C.E. agents arrive. They surprised us. We were doing our jobs, working. About 50 of them arrived. They came with many vehicles and they yelled at us that we had to move to the back. They put us to the back of the building and began to separate us into groups: the Mexicans, the East Indians, the Ukrainians, and the American, white Anglo people. They separated us and they let the other groups. They only came and spoke to the people from South America and Mexico, and they said that everybody else had their documentations and we didn’t. I felt that this was a big discrimination against us and it was wrong.”
“They began to treat us like terrorists, like we were criminals,” said Lopez.
Rosalinda Guillen, Executive Director of Community to Community Development, a local food justice and immigrant rights community organization explains that these women may be undocumented, but have been part of this community for five or more years, some since they were teenagers. While these five women get to stay here to be with their children for several more months, their husbands, brothers and sisters are still in detention or have already been deported. Being the primary caretakers of their children, they get to stay in Bellingham, awaiting trial and possible deportation in April.
According to Community to Community Development, these increasingly militaristic and aggressive raids by I.C.E. across the nation are reflective of the U.S. Government’s changing stance towards immigrant communities they have all but welcomed with open arms the past twenty years. With the formation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2003, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement replaced Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) – becoming the second largest police force in the nation, and emphasizing enforcement as opposed to naturalization.
The I.C.E. raids are picking up as anti-immigrant sentiment grows in the United States. Rosalinda Guillen, director of Community to Community Development, believes anger at immigrants is misdirected. “[Participate] in dialogue about NAFTA’s impact on our immigrant families, family farmers and community over all,” she said with anger. “They should join us in finding ways of removing or modifying the agricultural plank in NAFTA.”
According to Community to Community, the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement raids have not been without a deep impact in the immigrant community.
“I.C.E. has raised the level of fear the highest we ever have seen,” said Guillen. “C2C [Community to Community] opposes this type of enforcement, this type of terrorist-like enforcement. It divides our community and creates an unhealthy environment for our immigrant families.”
The Bellingham Herald reported the people detained as “Mexican Nationals,” but Community to Community reports that they were people from Mexico, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala. The undocumented workers picked up in the August 30 raid were taken to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, a privately run facility owned and operated by Correctional Services Corporation.
On September 29, concerned students and community members traveled to Tacoma to protest at the detention center. The protest was in response to the Bellingham raid, and other raids Washington State that have occurred in Yakima, Tacoma, Everett, and other areas.
Antasia Parker, a junior and political science and economics major, attended the Tacoma protest.
“I compared it to… a modern day internment camp,” said Parker. “That’s what I got from it. It was high fences with barb wire. Men dressed in all black. They didn’t have guns, but big sticks. It was like: wow, these are immigrants. What are they going to do to you? It seemed over the top for its purpose.”
According to Parker, the guards showed an unusual amount of presence towards the protesters.
“It was very intense because while we were there some immigrants were being brought in, and they saw us,” said Parker. “I’m sure that was very impactful for them. We went over to where the bus was and stood in front if it with the signs.”
Parker—who will be performing a spoken word poem at “Living in the I.C.E. Age”—believes this is an issue students should care about.
“I think it’s important to hear personal testimonies to see a face to the issue you’re talking about,” she said. “It’s easy to disconnect. I think it’s important to put a face to what you’re going through.”
Rosalinda Guillen said students should come to find out how I.C.E. operates in Whatcom County and hear how they are enforcing immigration law.
“The laws being passed in the name of homeland security and immigration reform will impact all of our civil rights. The Department of Homeland Security is gaining more and more power to invade all of our civil rights. Not just immigrants,” she said. Guillen believes it is important to hear first hand how immigration enforcement is done from the perspective of immigrants.
Representatives of Community to Community hope that students will see immigrants as honest people and come to have a better understanding of their own situation in the world.