BALTIMORE—Six-year-old Tomas Guillen underwent chemotherapy at Johns Hopkins Hospital without the comforting presence of his father. His dad, Ernesto Guillen, a janitor, was on the way to his son’s bedside when he and 23 other Latino workers and shoppers were arrested at a 7-Eleven Store here in 2007.
This week CASA de Maryland, an immigrant rights organization, released a video of the arrests. The video shows Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents zeroing in on Latinos in the convenience store parking lot in the Fells Point neighborhood of Baltimore where day laborers gather. Such racial profiling is a flagrant violation of federal law. Plainclothes ICE agents in unmarked vehicles posed as employers in order to trap their victims. One agent even crossed Broadway Avenue to arrest people waiting at a bus stop.
The Jan. 23, 2007, mass arrest was carried out to fulfill a quota, according to an internal report from the Department of Homeland Security. “Bring more bodies,” the report quotes a supervisor in the Baltimore Field Office telling his deputy. The deputy was instructed to go back out and make more arrests “as the quantity of arrests that were made that morning was unacceptable.”
ICE is allowing Guillen to remain in the United States as long as his son is undergoing cancer treatment but he is required to report regularly to ICE.
Casa de Maryland filed a Freedom of Information lawsuit to force DHS to release the
report. Every ICE team in the nation is under orders to make 1,000 arrests annually under ex-President George W. Bush’s “Operation Return to Sender.”
Yet the mission of these ICE teams is to apprehend “violent criminals who are in the country illegally.” Their instructions require them to show “probable cause” that a target is a criminal before making an arrest. Not one of the 24 people arrested met the criteria.
Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA de Maryland said the current enforcement of immigration policy based on quotas leads to the separation of families and civil rights violations. CASA has requested a meeting with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to appeal for an end to the dragnet raids.
June White-Dillard, president of the Prince George’s County NAACP said, “It will take time to reverse the Bush years and the abridgement of our constitutional rights but I look forward to standing with CASA de Maryland and my Latino and immigrant brothers and sisters to get it done.”
On May 22 of last year, ICE agents stormed a kosher meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, arresting 300 immigrant workers. The raid has crippled production and traumatized the little town so badly that NPR reported, “Many are wondering if the future of the town is in jeopardy.” August 27 of last year, ICE arrested 600 immigrant workers at a plant that produces electric transformers in Laurel, Miss. And on Oct. 10, 330 workers were arrested at the Columbia Poultry Farms plant in Greenville, S.C.
Lou Dobbs of CNN, Fox News, and other hate-mongers of the corporate media have whipped up a racist media frenzy scapegoating undocumented immigrants as the cause of the economic crisis.
But there is also a growing fight back. In Clallam County Washington, human rights defenders have staged vigils, and picket lines against ICE-Border Patrol checkpoints on U.S. Highway 101. More than 50 people joined a picket line Feb. 14 at Discovery Bay to protest ICE agents boarding Clallam County transit buses to arrest immigrants.
CASA brought hundreds of immigrant workers and their families to Annapolis, the Maryland state capital, Feb. 23, to oppose the anti-immigrant campaigns. They gathered in a Senate hearing room to describe widespread “wage theft” by unscrupulous employers. One worker told Senators he and other members of his crew toiled at a construction job for three days. “At the end of the three days, our wages were denied us. Many times this has happened and workers have lost thousands of dollars,” he said. The threat of being turned over to ICE is used by some employers to frighten day laborers into silence.
State Sen. Melvin Stukes told the witnesses, “You’re looking at a person who has gone through some of the same exact things you have gone through, worked in Baltimore for three dollars a day… Anyone in this room understands that struggle. I will do anything I legally can to help you in your endeavors.”
Later the crowd rallied in front of the Maryland State House holding placards that proclaimed, “Stop the Raids,” “College For All” and “Drivers Licenses for Safety.”
Guy Djoken, president of the Frederick County NAACP said, “Together we are going to win. For a long time, they have tried to divide us, Black against Hispanic. But when Dr. King fought for civil rights, everyone walked through that open door. We come together as one people, one more time.”