By Josh Leach on July 14, 2017
On Thursday, July 13, members of Love Resists linked arms with friends, family, and supporters of community member and father of two, Francisco Rodriguez, as he walked into the Boston field office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for his scheduled appointment. We were there to support the Keep Francisco Home campaign organized by Massachusetts Jobs with Justice. We were there to show up for a neighbor in danger of deportation, and a family at risk of being separated from their beloved son, husband, and father. Within the hour, these fears became a reality. Rodriguez was detained, pending deportation.
Shortly before he entered the office, Rodriguez spoke at a press briefing outside about his fear of returning to El Salvador, a country he fled ten years ago after the murder of his co-worker. Roxana Rivera, the vice president of the local Service Employees International Union (SEIU) chapter to which Rodriguez belongs, spoke tearfully of dropping her own two children off at school that morning and imagining what it would be like to be taken from them against her will, as Francisco is now experiencing. The co-chair of the Sanctuary Committee of First Parish in Bedford UU, Christine Dudley-Marling, quoted words from Love Resists’ Declaration of Conscience, reminding us to live “on the side of love with the most vulnerable among us.”
Francisco was far from alone. In addition to our team, he was also accompanied by Yessenia Alfaro (pictured above), the Deputy Director of the Chelsea Collaborative, of which he is a member. He received letters and statements of support from Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, Congressman Mike Capuano, and the president and senior leadership of MIT, where he works as a custodian. ICE itself has previously granted him a stay of removal for years, under their prosecutorial discretion that used to be routine in cases like his. There was nothing to prevent the field office from exercising a modicum of compassion by extending it again.
Another extension is what we still hoped would happen, as Lily Huang, an organizer with Massachusetts Jobs with Justice, led us in a slow march with Francisco to the door of the office, singing “Courage, my friend / You do not walk alone.” Camping out on the ground in front of the office, the support team kept its spirits up with songs like “This Land is Your Land” and “We Shall Not Be Moved.” After hearing from all the supportive voices, we expected to see Francisco emerge from the same door he had just entered, knowing that he was here to stay.
Then, a member of a local media film crew ran past our group, in such a hurry that he left a headset dragging from a cord several feet behind him. A member of our group who had moved off from us returned, saying that ICE had just taken Francisco into detention, loading him into a black van and driving out from behind the office. “Link arms! Link arms!” the organizers urged us, and we moved into the center of the parking lot, trying to block the exit.
Some of us starting singing again, but now with a tremor of alarm in our voices. I was suddenly aware of my own fear of arrest. I thought of what it would be like to be handcuffed in this parking lot and taken someplace against my will, rather than being able to get in my car at the end of the rally and drive home. The incredible violence committed against Francisco and his family was brought home to me. A person who had just been walking freely, a person who had done nothing wrong, was now behind bars, set to be put on a deportation plane sometime in the next 30 days. Our attempt to prevent the van from leaving the office not successful – it drove away by a different route.
ICE’s decision was astonishingly cruel. To those gathered, especially to the friends and family of Francisco, it felt like a breach of civilization. As an announcement from the Keep Francisco Home team put it shortly afterward: “ICE seems to think they operate in a different world than the rest of us, independent of human decency, public opinion, and even the rule of our elected officials.” Matt Cameron, one of Francisco’s attorneys, asked the press with desperation: “Where is the discretion? If not in this case, then what case?”
Sadly, this pattern is not limited to the Boston field office. It is happening all over the country. ICE targets those who are least able to resist or escape; those who are already in its custody or who have voluntarily shown up to an ICE appointment. They have raided the sick and the homeless. They are trying to deport four children from the Berks detention center who have already been granted Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) status due to a history of abuse or neglect, putting their lives in jeopardy. It is targeted long-term Iraqi residents with prior removal orders simply because it knows where they live, and because the Iraqi government has been strong-armed into accepting their return.
Horrifying reports are emerging of ICE using unaccompanied refugee children as “bait” to arrest their relatives and charge them with “smuggling” for bringing the kids to safety (thereby putting into effect the worst threats of the DHS memos released in February). ICE is even punishing immigrants who, like Francisco, follow its own rules.
ICE justifies its outrageous actions always by an appeal to “the law,” just as this administration, in general, seeks to portray the communities most impacted by its policies as “criminal.” In a statement following the detention, ICE asserted simply that Francisco Rodriguez is an “unlawfully present citizen of El Salvador” with a prior removal order. In the face of such rhetoric, the words of Rev. Peter Morales that Christine Dudley-Marling shared at the rally are particularly apt: “[W]e must never make the mistake of confusing a legal right with a moral right. The forced removal of Native Americans from their land and onto reservations was legal. The importation and sale of African slaves was legal. South African apartheid was legal…The powerful have always used the legal system to oppress the powerless.”
As a human rights organization, UUSC declares that there is a law of humanity higher than the law of any government. As Clarence Darrow once wrote: “I do not believe in the law of hate. I believe in the law of love.” When the law of the land becomes a law of hate, then love must fight back. Love resists.
August 4, 2017 update: ICE has held Francisco since July 13, even preventing him from being with his family when his wife gave birth to their third child and underwent an emergency C-section. His attorneys continue to explore legal options to halt his deportation. Hope remains that the Board of Immigrant Appeals will grant Francisco a stay of removal, or that the government will abandon its cruel and unnecessary action against him. The violence that has already been done to this family, however, cannot be taken back. Lily Huang of the Keep Francisco Home team has compiled a list of action steps to support the family at this difficult time.