The Creation of a Movement
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been silently hunting and raiding places frequented by undocumented immigrants. ICE has specifically targeted 800,000 recipients of an Obama-era immigration policy, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). ICE has silently hunted and raided courts, schools, work sites, and homes in search of immigrant activists or any of the country’s 11.4 million undocumented immigrants.
The community of Boyle Heights, in Los Angeles and home to 100,000 people (ninety-five percent of whom are Latino) saw the high-profile arrest of Teresa Vidal-Jaime, an undocumented immigrant. Vidal-Jaime was released, due to intense pressure from her daughter, Claudia Rueda, an immigrants’ rights activist and student at Cal State Los Angeles.
Agents from ICE’s Los Angeles field office made the political decision to arrest and eventually deport Rueda, an unregistered DREAMer, community leader and passionate activist. Rueda’s only crime? Civil disobedience for defending the undocumented. Rueda suffered the same fate as Elvira Arellano, who in 2007 was deported after taking refuge in a Chicago church.
Rueda was spied on by ICE agents close to her home, and when she stepped out for an errand, was grabbed and sent to the San Diego Detention Center. The community went up in arms and organized protests demanding her freedom. The area’s leaders and activists had a press event in front of Claudia’s home.
The protesters and Rueda’s supporters were enraged by the gross scapegoating of immigrants and Latinos by the Trump Administration. Leonardo Vilchis of Union de Vecinos asked a poignant question to the hundreds of thousands watching the news: “Are we going to have to stop ICE from taking our people in our own neighborhood?”
A few days later, another protest ensued that also demanded her freedom. The protest was organized by United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) —a teachers’ union that consists of 32,000 members as of 2016— Rueda’s family, students, and community activists. Traditional downtown sites were avoided. Organizers staged the event at Roosevelt High School, a symbolic gesture. The high school is Rueda’s alma mater.
The institution has witnessed generations of struggles faced by students, teachers, staff and parents dating back to the 1968-70 walkouts, a part of the Civil Rights struggle that accused the school board of institutional racism and discrimination. Later, the 2006–2007 Latino mega-marches and boycotts, where upwards of 370,000 individuals from California and the Southwest participated, added to such a legacy. Students joined their parents in these marches, where millions of immigrants and Latinos participated.
Roosevelt High, along with hundreds of other schools, were key in helping defeat H.R. 4437, or the “Sensenbrenner Bill,” proposed legislation that criminalized immigrants, much like policies instituted today. Thirty-six years later, these issues included immigration reform, separation of families and the anguish associated with widespread fear of deportation and raids.
Rueda was set free by the people’s protest, and of course, her own defense. The fight against ICE, the Department of Homeland Security at-large, and the far-right, conservative puppet President Donald Trump (R-NY), will continue, and once she is fully rested, Rueda will doubt join us in the struggle. By winning her freedom, the community has won a major victory that has spread like wildfire across the nation. The fact these events were staged and televised from Rueda’s neighborhood, set a precedent that’s highly important because of the psychology of fear in the barrios.
The Barrio Defense Network
Last January, before Trump was inaugurated, I met with leaders of the Hermandad Mexicana Transnacional and served as a political advisor. The informal gathering was a conversation to pursue a course of action that defended immigrants and Latinos against the brutal attacks by the Trump administration.
After listening carefully to the leaders of the organization, I proposed the creation of a “defense network” against ICE. These defense networks were to be established for communities in the San Fernando Valley, Panorama City and Oxnard, to confront ICE by bearing witness to agents patrolling neighborhoods, arrests made by these officials, and other tasks performed by ICE.
To do this, a community wide network of residents must be built and composed of volunteers from the community—these include members of local churches, unions, small businesses, and the social networks.
The first community-wide meeting for the defense network in Southern California was approved, and scheduled for that week. It was imperative to place the new grassroot leaders in the front, to lead the meeting with assistance of myself, and the president of Hermandad, Gloria Saucedo.
Additionally, a separate public exercise, un simulacro or simulation, was planned to act out the dangers of an ICE raid. A minimum of 100 people were needed to play these roles: ICE agents; undocumented parents and their US-born children; a DACA recipient and Cal State LA student; a mother suffering from the deportation process; a father with two jobs. Such an event was unanimously approved.
To lead the theatrical event, I volunteered and contacted longtime homie, José Luis Valenzuela, administrative director of the historic Los Angeles Theater Center (LATC), home to the famous “Latino Theater Lab,” to help prepare the theatrical event.
The night before the press event, the defense network met again to prepare the program and practice for the media presentation the following day.
That night, I worked on the press release all night so I didn’t sleep at all. My best friend and La Puente leader Marta Samano graciously drove me to the Valley. To our surprise, over one hundred people attended, including the Defense Network elected board, representatives of various elected leaders, including congressman Tony Cárdenas, and high school teachers and college professors.
The original plan had changed. Rather than the board present in the front, Saucedo changed the format for an all-inclusive event where hundreds of people were able to express frustration, fear, etc. Unfortunately, the agenda was not enforced, and historical figures such as Irene Tovar and longtime leader Nativo López spoke with no understanding of the purpose of the event, or their role within it.
I intervened, and forcefully clarified the event was an official announcement for the creation of a new defense network intended to combat ICE and Trump’s policies in the San Fernando Valley, and to create grassroots networks designed to confront ICE agents during silent raids. The latter process was to be executed by hundreds of civil disobedience volunteers who were to identify ICE agents entering hoods, tail them, and eventually prevent the arrests of our immigrant neighbors.
For such a defense network to succeed, a design and copyright for a super secured program is needed, using several social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter to recruit and mobilize thousands of volunteers to be on 24/7 guard. These volunteers would be the first to sound the alarm, and hopefully, create chain reaction of texts or emails informing the network of where and when ICE agents were spotted.
District area captains would confirm and launch a “red alert,” to march to the street, and home, of the individual of the network affected by Trump’s racist and xenophobic, paid troops. Of course, I appealed to the elected leaders to enter the rising defense network as key to legitimizing the network watch.
Not surprisingly, brother Nativo immediately left La Hermandad Hall after my presentation.
It was too radical, apparently.
Residents, students, and social activists recognize and understand the presence of the “ICE Monster” that has been released, attacking our families and youth. This requires immediate action. As a people, we need to organize, and create a network against Trump and ICE in the cities of Boyle Heights, East LA, Lincoln Heights, El Sereno and educational institutions such as Roosevelt, Mendez, Lincoln, Garfield, Wilson, and Puente High Schools, and East Los Angeles College and Cal State Los Angeles.
The time is now.
Javier Rodríguez is a journalist, blogger, media and political advisor and co-founder of the March 25 Coalition.