To mark President Biden’s 100th day in office, the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition joined with organizations across the country to conduct their own, independent Truth and Accountability Forum on the country’s immigration enforcement arm. Nine community members from across Colorado who have been personally impacted by ICE gave eyewitness accounts on Friday to the agency’s devastating impact in the state and called on Biden to take immediate administrative action to stop the agency’s abuse. Over 400 people tuned in on zoom and Facebook live to attend the event.
The forum was accompanied by a live march in Longmont, CO led by No Más Chuecos and CIRC. Local immigrant rights leader Ingrid Encalada Latorre, who has been in sanctuary in a church in Boulder for three and a half years, noted, “People are marching because President Biden made big promises the day he took his Oath of Office. He has now been in office for 100 days. We want changes now. We want to see immigration reform now. We do not want any more families separated. My community and I marched today to make our voices heard!”
The forum and march come as the Biden administration embarks on an audit of the Department of Homeland Security, including a full-scale study on current practices at ICE and CBP. “We believe that it is critical that the Biden Administration and all elected officials witness what ICE enforcement in our communities really looks like. People impacted by ICE activity are not just numbers on an official report to gloss over. They are real families who have been torn apart, and they are real friends and neighbors who have been taken from our communities,” said Siena Mann, event organizer and campaign manager at the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition.
Elected officials from throughout the state were invited to the event. Following the powerful testimonies of community members, CIRC laid out six demands for the Biden administration:
- Halt deportations by directing ICE to grant Stays of Removal to all individuals facing deportation and conduct a review to release every person currently in detention. 120 legal experts and law professors have explained that the temporary restraining order issued by a Texas judge does not bar the Biden Administration from taking these actions.
- Close detention facilities and end the use of private prisons and state and local jails
- Stop fusing policing with mass deportation by ending the 287(g) program, the Secure Communities program, and the use of ICE detainers
- Close hundreds of thousands of pending deportation cases on the immigration court docket
- Adopt prosecutorial discretion guidelines that provide relief from hyper-criminalization, not more punishment
- Allow people seeking asylum at the southern border to enter the country—instead of detaining or turning them away
CIRC asked that state and local elected officials do everything in their power to champion these demands in their communities and with their members of Congress and for Colorado’s congressional delegation to do everything in their power to push for these changes in Washington DC.
“When we think about an immigration overhaul, we think we have to wait on congress,” CIRC regional organizer Nayda Benitez concluded. “But there are things Biden can do right now to make things safer for our communities. Our time is now.”
This forum was part of a series of local forums that will culminate in a nationwide forum, in which immigration reform leaders will present first-hand accounts gathered and assess the administration’s first 100 days and where President Biden stands on combating the cruelty, corruption, and bloat of the current deportation machine. The Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, will be invited to attend.
The following are quotes from the testimonies of select participants:
Patricia Cimino on her husband’s imprisonment and deportation:
“In August of 2020, my husband was walking my dog and was picked up by ICE. They have ignored several requests for bond and parole, even after we submitted medical records regarding his health. We then took it to the judge who also failed to take his medical conditions into consideration. Due to both GEO and the judge’s neglect, my husband tested positive for Covid-19 earlier this year.” Her husband has since been deported, and continues to struggle to access necessary healthcare. “He deserves to be here,” she says. “He’s my person, the one I’m supposed to grow old with, to watch our children, our grandchildren with. We need Biden to take action now to ensure no one else goes through this nightmare.”
Hilda Martinez on her husband’s deportation and her own detention in February, 2021:
“It’s important to demand that Biden takes responsibility as the president and follow through on his promises to stop deportations. We no longer want our families to be detained and deported. We want a free country. The people who were deported, who were forced to leave their families, we need them here with us. My husband was deported and we need him. Two months ago we suffered an eviction due to economic hardship so it’s very important that he is able to return to be with us. We need Biden to follow through with his promises. While he does not take action, deportations continue happening, we need him to say no more deportations. There are too many of us who’ve lived through this trauma.”
Wendolyn Omaña on the Durango raid:
“There are actions that president Biden can take right now to halt deportations, detentions, and the separations of families, and we demand that he take action, especially today after experiencing one more raid in Durango, Colorado.”
Keinada Andereas, on her experience being detained as her father drove her to college:
”I was on my way to tour the campus, I was on the road with my father, and we got pulled over by ICE and got detained for two and a half months. As an eighteen-year-old, this was very traumatic. The moment when I had to say goodbye to my father — at this point, we were in handcuffs when we were at the facility, and the ICE officer told us that this would be the last time I would see him. We weren’t allowed to touch each other, all I could do was put my head on his chest. He said, “I’m sorry.” But I don’t think that he was the one that should be saying sorry to me.
One thing I learned in detention is that you need good story tellers, but good listeners as well. In a dorm of 80 other women, I was able to hear their stories and learn from them. We need people to listen to us and do something about it. We need action.”
Zuleyma Arias on her brother’s detention:
“My brother was held in the county jail and then GEO. We were only able to visit him for a few minutes or an hour. It was so hard seeing him in that way. We hired lawyers, had multiple hearings to fight his case, but in 2008 he was sent to Mexico with $30 in his pocket. I saw how much this cost our family and my mom. Now as a DACA recipient and a mother, the threat that I could leave my kids behind terrifies me.
We need to call on the Biden administration to take executive relief. He has the power to stop what is happening right now. Please continue to fight with me so that no other family has to go through this, I don’t wish it on anybody.”
Sofia Gonzales on the community harm of police-ICE collaboration:
“My brother was deported last September after years of being here. He got called by the police department to go pick up stuff, and immigration was waiting for him there. This scared everybody. It’s already scary to be undocumented, and we struggle having ICE collaborate with the cops and sheriff department. Everyone is afraid to call the police, to report crimes. With this recent event, people are afraid to even answer a call. What if the same thing happens to us? We want to have a secure community, to be free, to be safe, to trust that the police and sheriff are here to protect us, not to condemn us or hold us for ICE. We want to stop fusing police with ICE.”
Kathy Bougher on U.S. failure at the southern border:
“The United States is violating international and U.S. law, as well as any sense of justice, humanity, and decency, by not allowing the majority of asylum-seekers to enter the US and make a claim for asylum, despite the fact that recently Biden has allowed limited groups to cross.
I was in Brownsville at the end of February this year when the US finally began allowing some asylum seekers who had been living in extremely dangerous, unsanitary conditions in tent encampments along the Rio Grande river for more than two years, to cross into the US, travel to where their families live, and fight their asylum cases while living with some degree of safety and humane conditions.
None of this needs to happen. People are fleeing the northern area of Central America because of the structural inequalities caused by decades and decades of US policies that have created those conditions and maintain them in place today. Those fleeing for their lives have the right to present themselves at a US port of entry and request asylum. We demand that the United States government follow international and US law, that they treat asylum seekers humanely, and that they allow them to enter the country, find refuge with family or sponsors, and exercise their rights to pursue their asylum claims.”