Saturday, April 23, 2011

Victims of ICE abuses share shocking stories (The Arab American News)

Victims of ICE abuses share shocking stories
By Natasha Dado
Friday, 04.22.2011, 12:49pm
DEARBORN — A young Russian man from Michigan was forced to watch his mother get strip searched in immigration detention. Ivan Nikolov remembers his mother crying the whole time, and begging the officers to stop humiliating her. He says instead of responding with human decency, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer told her to be glad they didn’t shoot her in the head.

Nikolov and his mother were arrested at their home and taken to detention, where he spent almost four months. He says every detainee is treated poorly. "The officers made racial slurs at all of us, especially the blacks and Latinos. The officer in charge of immigration at the jail even taunted us with a little song that went something like, 'Some are black, some are brown, some are white, but they're all mine,'" Nikolov said.

After complaining about the poor treatment of detainees, he was accused of attempting to incite a riot, and moved to a violent criminal unit at the detention center.

In recent weeks ICE has also been accused of surrounding an elementary school, conducting warrant-less, illegal searches and refusing to let a pregnant woman have access to her medication while in detention.

Nikolov and others involved in similar incidents shared their stories during a rally against ICE abuses at a UAW office in Dearborn on Monday, April 18, with nearly 1,000 in attendance, including dozens of Arab Americans and American Muslims.

Juana Jimenez is a mother of two U.S. born children and is facing deportation. She was stopped by the River Rouge Police late January, handcuffed and taken to immigration detention for about seven hours. Jimenez says officers told her she was in custody because she wasn't from the United States. "They treated me like you have no idea…That's something I don't want for anyone," she said at the rally.

Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) joins U.S. Congressman John Conyers (D-MI) at a rally in Dearborn against recent abuses by ICE agents in Detroit. Nearly 1,000 attended.

Martha Valadez, a member of the Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrants Rights, said the organization has received over 255 calls, and 191 are complaints about deportation, detention and ICE. She said 85 of the cases resulted in children being separated from their parents, and others involved assault from local police. "ICE is responsible for the separation of thousands of families, and increasing numbers of single parent households," Valadez said at the rally, which was sponsored by the Alliance for Immigrant Rights and Reform (AIR) of Michigan.

Speakers at the rally included Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), Rep. John Conyers of Michigan's 14th Congressional District, Rep. Hansen Clarke of Michigan's 13th Congressional District, State Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit), State Rep. George Darany (D-Dearborn), State Rep. Harvey Santana (D-Detroit) and UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada, among others.

"When those we have trusted to uphold the law, take the law into their own hands, all of our civil liberties are at stake. Every ICE action, every deportation, and every new escalation has a lifetime of consequences for our families. The toll in immigrant communities across the country has been huge and the stories I am hearing on my tour are heartbreaking and harrowing," Gutierrez said.

Leaders meet with ICE officials

Three days earlier, on Apr.15, Detroit-area community leaders privately met with ICE National Assistant Secretary John Morton at the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services' office in Dearborn to discuss a similar list of alleged ICE abuses. Morton flew in from Washington for the meeting.

Morton was asked to respond to allegations of unfair treatment by his agency. The violations range from surrounding elementary schools and scaring parents and children to illegal searches of homes. ICE recently issued a statement admitting it broke its own policies by intimidating and tormenting families at Hope of Detroit Academy on March 31.

A list of demands was submitted to Morton, including that ICE immediately respect their own policies and end all warrant-less searches and raids of homes as well as enforcement activities near schools, churches, mosques, community centers and health clinics.

Additionally, the leaders demanded to know who authorized the enforcement actions at schools, if anyone, and why. Community leaders also demanded that officers involved in the incidents at Hope of Detroit Academy be identified and disciplined along with the officers involved in the warrant-less searches of homes.

Detroit Field Office Director Rebecca Adducci was asked to submit a civil rights plan to the community that specifically addresses how such problems will be prevented in the future.

Following that meeting a press conference was held at the Detroit Hispanic Development Center in Detroit. "We demanded answers. We demanded an investigation, but most of all we demanded accountability. It is not enough to have new policies. It is not enough to have apologies. We need to know that those responsible for these abuses will be disciplined, transferred or removed," AIR Director Ryan Bates said at the conference.

"Policy change in the future doesn't mean anything if ICE has proven that it will violate its own policy," he added.

Executive Director of the Center, Angie Reyes, said Morton agreed to complete a review on the violations and respond within 30 days.

Other abuse incidents were highlighted at the press conference. In Cincinnati, Ohio an immigrant father was thrown against a wall during an enforcement action, and one U.S. citizen woke up to the sound of three ICE agents in his home with no warrants or consent granted.

Ruben Torres, an engineer for Detroit Public Schools, was stopped by ICE officers on Mar. 24 while waiting at a traffic light. Torres was born in the U.S., but the ICE officer claimed he stopped him because he had an expired work visa from 2003 or 2004. Torres believes he's a victim of racial profiling.

"This is a pattern we see with ICE. We see an abusive pattern of enforcement and searches without warrants, but also they lie to folks in enforcement situations. In this case by telling Mr. Torres that they know his visa is expired when they have no evidence. In other cases threatening families that they can be arrested for obstruction of justice if they don't open the door and let them in, or other sorts of situations where they're not telling the truth, and they're doing it to try and trick folks," Bates said.

Torres told the officer he was born in the United States, so he didn't have a visa, but the agent continued asking for it. He supplied his driver's license and other identification.

Despite offering proper identification, the agent told Torres it was going to be his final chance to tell the truth about his citizenship after much questioning. "He said he didn't want anything, and he just wanted me to provide my visa," Torres said, speaking at the conference.

An additional three ICE agents arrived at the scene, and asked Torres the same questions, including where his parents were born and where he attended school. Torres says he has no record of criminal history.

He thought he was being stopped by an undercover officer because the ICE vehicle was unmarked. "He said he needed my birth certificate. I said, 'Who drives around with a birth certificate in their wallet? I was born in the United States…' I just couldn't understand why he wanted me so bad. And I didn't like the feeling they were going to drag me downtown for finger printing and possible deportation," Torres, 45, said.

The day after that incident, ICE issued a statement admitting it had broken its own polices and conducted improper searches at schools, including Hope of Detroit. Witnesses say they saw ICE at another elementary school in Southwest Detroit. Maria Castellanos, 53, of Detroit said she saw ICE agents raiding Neinas Elementary on Apr. 7.

"…I'm here to say that I have seen ICE and immigration surrounding schools, and this leads to panic among the parents, and I've seen parents being taken away," she said.

Congressmen Conyers and Clarke are expected to hold a forum on racial profiling and ICE violations April 27 at the Hope of Detroit Academy from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

No comments: