Immigration rights activist Victor Guijarro detained in Ohio
by Rend Smith
Matilde Maldonado Rivera, her husband, child, and her in laws were road tripping. Her husband, immigration rights activist Victor Guijarro, was driving. They were on their way from their home in Minneapolis to New York to see family members and to work on a campaign regarding Latino communities participating in the 2010 census. The family was tired but in high spirits as they chatted about stopping off in Philadelphia to see the liberty bell. But their conversation about that symbol of freedom would take on irony, as Rivera puts it, because "at that moment the police robbed the little freedom that we had."
Passing through Northwest Ohio on March 4, Guijarro --whose birthday it happened to be that night--caught sight of flashing police lights and pulled over. Rivera says she felt raw terror: "I was scared," she says via interpreter, "I felt like we had fallen into a dark room where there was no exit." But hours later it would be Guijarro and her in-laws stuck in a room without an exit. Rivera would be released on her own recognizance so she could take care of her nine-moth-old son, Christopher.
"My baby was the only citizen," says Rivera. That left Guijarro and Rivera waiting for word on whether her family would be booted out of the country. It's an old story, Rivera knows. Undocumented citizens are kicked out of the country all the time, and it enrages her." For me, there is no law that favors or benefits us. The problem in this society is that they try to classify us as legal or illegal and by classifying us, they take away our dignity. It is not about the legal situation, but what is legitimate and just, and that they return our dignity as human beings. This system is more likely to defend the rights of animals and dogs than our own human rights!"
Though there aren't very many laws standing in the way of authorities deporting "illegal immigrants," Mati and her family may still have some recourse when it comes to fighting the March arrests. "Bottom line, they were stopped because of their race and ethnicity," says Steven Renderos, a friend and colleague of Guijarro's or what's known in slang as DWB: Driving While Brown.
Mati's account seems to back up that assertion. Going back to that night, Rivera says the officer's first question had nothing to do with the odometer. "He asked if we spoke English. My husband said, “a little bit.” The cop asked “'Where are you coming from and where are you going?' My husband said, 'Min-eso-Ta,' and this really bothered the police officer. He yelled at him 'bajate del carro' --get out of the car, in Spanish--and he took him to the police car." He put Victor in the patrol car and returned to continue interrogating us. He asked us if we were citizens or if we were residents, if the baby was mine..."
Rivera says in order to get answers, the officer threatened to take away her son. "... the officer said he didn't know what to do with my baby. He asked for my papers, or he might do something with my baby. I was on the phone with [my sister] Antonia and screamed: "Truly they won't take away my baby! They won't take away my baby, will they?" Rivera's sister assured that wouldn't happen. An hour and half later, immigration showed up. By that time, Rivera's husband had been taken away in a sqaud car and Rivera had given up: "Finally, the officer was so aggressive that I gave my papers to him, and I didn't care if they put me in jail as long as they left me with my son. I sent my husband a text to find out what was happening. He responded that they were handing us over to federal agents because we were illegal. That was what the police kept saying to us."
She remembers how at some point her "husband was in handcuffs inside the immigration agent's car. They played with Victor by mockingly handing him a ticket, which he couldn’t reach because his hands were behind him. Then the officer told him "You have to pay this ticket, and if you want to challenge it you'll have to go to court. You’ll have to pay it before they deport you."
Rivera's narrative of that night paints a picture of that lawyer Mark Heller is concerned about. A lawyer with civil liberties group Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE), he is working on a class action suit against some of the area's police forces for racial profiling.
The Tiffin Advertiser-Tribune reported in 2009: "The lawsuit, filed Thursday in United States District Court, alleges the Border Patrol and police departments in Attica, Norwalk and Plymouth detained and interrogated Hispanics about their immigration status based solely on their appearance, violating Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights.”
According to a release from Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, the lawsuit was filed on behalf of 12 people, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee and the Ohio Immigrant Worker Project. ABLE attorney Mark Heller said the organization started receiving complaints of racial profiling in late spring and early summer, and several people who came forward wanted to take legal action. 'We had a lot of complaints,' he said." Contacted, Heller says he's now investigating what happened the night Rivera and her relatives were arrested.
Update: Victor was deported to Ecuador this past week.
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