DREAM 9” Activist Who Once Infiltrated ICE Detention Center Faces Possible Deportation

Web ExclusiveNovember 06, 2019
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Longtime immigration activist Marco Saavedra faces his final asylum hearing in New York on Thursday. He is requesting asylum, saying his life would be at risk if he is sent to Mexico. Saavedra has been involved in several high-profile immigration actions. In 2012 he purposely got arrested by federal authorities to infiltrate the privately owned Broward Transitional Center in Florida. A year later, he and eight other DREAMers “self-deported” to Mexico to protest the separation of immigrant families under the Obama administration.

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. It’s been seven years since two undocumented immigrant activists purposefully got themselves arrested by federal authorities to infiltrate the privately owned Broward Transitional Center in Florida, an immigration jail, to organize people imprisoned within its walls. Viridiana Martinez and Marco Saavedra, who were both brought to the United States as children, went undercover to expose rampant abuse and help people fight their deportations inside the Broward detention center, which is owned by the for-profit GEO Group. They worked with activists on the outside, including Mohammad Abdollahi, a young, gay, undocumented Iranian immigrant. It was a radical act of resistance unlike anything the immigrants’ rights movement has seen before.

Then, in 2013, Marco and a group of eight other DREAMers took another dramatic action. They self-deported to Mexico, risking it all to highlight the violence of borders and to protest the separation of immigrant families under the Obama administration. When the DREAM 9 crossed back into the United States, their actions landed them at an immigration jail in Eloy, Arizona, where they were held for two weeks. It’s run now by CoreCivic; it was run by Corrections Corporation of America.

One of the DREAM 9 is facing his final asylum hearing this week. Marco Saavedra is an undocumented activist who was born in Mexico, brought to the United States when he was 3. He’s requested political asylum over the persecution of activists in Mexico. Marco Saavedra is joining us here at the Democracy Now! studios one day before his immigration hearing.

We welcome you back to Democracy Now!, Marco.

MARCO SAAVEDRA: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: So, tell us what you face right now. I mean, you have this extraordinary history.

MARCO SAAVEDRA: Yeah. So, what we’re facing now is a final individual asylum hearing at 26 Federal Plaza Thursday morning before Judge Sam Factor, where I will be presenting my case for — asking for protection based on asylum law, based on my political opinion, my history as a human rights and immigrant rights activist, but also for other specific social categories that I’m a part of, being of an indigenous background and also being a religious minority. My folks are Pentecostal, and I’m Episcopalian. So, for all these protected social categories, we’ll have witnesses and present the strongest case possible.

AMY GOODMAN: Where were you born in Mexico?

MARCO SAAVEDRA: I was born in San Miguel Ahuehuetitlán, which was the northwest corner of Oaxaca, the southern state of Oaxaca, Mexico, which is the second-poorest state in the country.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go through your whole history and the actions you’ve engaged in that have brought you worldwide attention. But I want to ask who’s testifying at your hearing.

MARCO SAAVEDRA: Correct. So, we’ll have five witnesses lined up, and hopefully the government attorney will allow for all of them to testify. We have three anthropologists lined up: Professor Poole from Johns Hopkins University, Professor Lynn Stephen will be joining us telephonically from the University of Oregon, and Professor Gálvez from The New School. And then we will have two character witnesses: Reverend Liz Maxwell from the Church of the Ascension and my mother, will all be witnesses on my hearing.

AMY GOODMAN: And what does the judge decide then?

MARCO SAAVEDRA: Oh, so, in a most favorable outcome, the judge will grant me asylum, based on our argument for political opinion. The judge can also decide to deny me asylum, which would be the worst-case scenario, obviously, in which case we will be able to appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals, and then, even after that, if a negative outcome ensues, the 2nd Circuit.

AMY GOODMAN: If he decides not to grant you asylum, will you be arrested right there, taken into custody?

MARCO SAAVEDRA: The legal opinion of my attorney is that I won’t be deemed what is called a flight risk, because I’ve been checking in continually for the past six years. So, they’ll just allow the due process of the case to continue, and I’ll just be allowed to be free in this country as long as my case is active.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Marco, let’s go through your life story. You were born in Mexico. Your parents brought you here when you were 3. Take it from there.

MARCO SAAVEDRA: Yeah, so, my family has been subsistence farmers in indigenous territory. We’re of Mixtec background, so that’s my family’s first language. And my parents emigrated to the U.S. in 1992, because they were treated as second-class citizens in their home country. They bought a house in Mexico City. But after saving enough money here in the United States, they decided to relocate the whole family in 1993. My dad came back and brought me and my older sister across the border and relocated the family in Washington Heights.

I grew up in Washington Heights, went to middle school in Harlem, you know, went to Deerfield Academy for high school and then Kenyon College on a full scholarship. As an undocumented student, I wasn’t eligible for any loans, which worked out nicely because I was able to get a generous private scholarship through the institution. During my junior year in college, I was really depressed. I took a semester off campus. I couldn’t go abroad, so I went to Georgetown and started to organize and connect with DREAMers and other immigrant rights groups on the Hill starting lobbying for the DREAM Act and have — that’s kind of where the origin of my activism began.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you graduate from Kenyon College in Ohio, and within weeks you go to Charlotte, North Carolina. Explain what you did there.

MARCO SAAVEDRA: Right. I mean, at that point, it was kind of the climax of the DREAM Act movement. A lot of us had become super active during Obama’s first presidency, and we were hoping that the Obama administration would grant, as promised, the DREAM Act within his first a hundred days in office. But what we were seeing was a record number of 400 [thousand] deportations every year, which amounts to over 2 million over his eight years in office. And so we wanted to elevate this plight before the DNC that was scheduled to happen in Charlotte in 2012. So, the summer beforehand, we protested outside of Mecklenburg County Community College, and me and eight other undocumented youth were arrested that day. And we wanted our cases to be active leading into the DNC.

AMY GOODMAN: So you were risking a lot here to be arrested and to be undocumented.

MARCO SAAVEDRA: At that time, we were willing to make the risk, because we had seen a lot of other DREAM Act-eligible youth publicly come out as undocumented and risking arrest and deportation. So, at that instance is when I was first assigned an alien number. And we know that because all of my partners that were also for the first time in the system, we were given all consecutive alien numbers — you know, 200, 200 — 203, 132 and then 133, 134, onwards.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, talk about what you did the following year, this unusual act of resistance.

MARCO SAAVEDRA: Right. So we were continuing our community organizing. At that time, I was working as a full-time organizer with Cincinnati Faith and Justice, fighting deportations in Butler County, just north of Cincinnati. And my co-workers, my comrades, were doing the same in their respective states. In North Carolina, we had Viridiana Martinez, that also infiltrated with me. She was at that point with the NC DREAM Team. Mohammad Abdollahi was kind of going around the nation coordinating folks. We had folks in strong chapters in California and so forth. And so, we knew we had to continue to escalate. We had some form of protection through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in the summer of 2012. And we knew that we couldn’t be complacent as an immigrant rights movement, because, as it turns out, DACA only benefited 700,000 people.

AMY GOODMAN: You didn’t apply for DACA.

MARCO SAAVEDRA: Correct. I wasn’t — when I was given the chance to apply for DACA, before Judge Bain, I told the immigration judge at that point that I did nothing wrong when I crossed the border at the age of 3, and therefore I wouldn’t — I wasn’t going to take the initiative, and it wouldn’t be my prerogative to fix my status, and therefore my deportation case has been continued and active ever since 2012.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you enter the Broward detention center. How did you get arrested?

MARCO SAAVEDRA: I got arrested undercover. I had to lie and say that I was a recently arrived undocumented immigrant, that I was looking for my cousin that was also a day laborer, and I flashed my Mexican matrícula, and as bait, which the Border Patrol agent had to take and asked me — he asked me directly, “Are you undocumented?” As soon as he said that, I said, in broken English, Spanglish, “Yes, .” And he said, “You know I have to arrest you now.” And we have the audio of that, too, on file, where he arrests me. And that’s our entry point into the Broward Transitional Center, which housed 600 undocumented immigrants of low priority for detention, which we wanted to infiltrate, through our contacts on the inside of other detainees, knowing that a lot people there had been caught for the minimal infraction, whether it be driving without a license, fishing without a license, having a broken taillight — all these minor infractions that trigger them to being in this detention site. And we wanted to be there.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you get inside, you get behind the walls — the only way to know actually who’s there.

MARCO SAAVEDRA: Correct, because as undocumented immigrants, we had been — as DREAMers, we had tried to access detention centers before, and publicly we couldn’t do it. Every time we publicly were arrested, we were never transferred over to immigration authorities, because of the accountability and the visibility. So, therefore, we knew we had to take our fight undercover. And again, as an expression of extreme solidarity, I was in Broward for 23 days.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, it’s an amazing moment. And this moment, this period, that you and Viridiana and other supporters engaged in this act, where you got yourself arrested to be in the detention facility to free others, is captured in a remarkable — I wouldn’t exactly call it a documentary. It is half you actually in the film and half people who play you, actors who play you and Viridiana and others. So I want to turn to this clip from the film The Infiltrators, based on your incredible true story of purposefully getting yourselves arrested by federal authorities in order to infiltrate the detention center near Fort Lauderdale. Claudio Rojas is someone that you meet inside. He’s a father of two, who had no criminal record, yet he spent seven months at Broward in 2012 after he was detained by ICE outside his Florida home. The scene is portrayed in The Infiltrators.

UNIDENTIFIED: Our inside man was Claudio Rojas. He just didn’t know it yet.

CLAUDIO ROJAS: [translated] My life was pretty ordinary, just like anyone else. I’d go home after work. I liked to go fishing on weekends. Family back in Argentina, I’m at the park with Liliana. Say hi, Liliana. It was a Friday morning. I woke up at 7:30 in the morning to take out the trash. I went out wearing only shorts.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s a clip of the film The Infiltrators. At the end, we see an actor playing Claudio Rojas being ambushed by ICE officers as he takes out the trash. Claudio Rojas was deported to Argentina in April. Talk about Claudio, how you met him inside and what happened.

MARCO SAAVEDRA: Yeah, definitely. Claudio was the perfect person to have on the inside, because he was charismatic and very knowledgeable, not just about individuals in Broward that had very sympathetic cases like his, but also about how the detention facility operated, which guards to avoid, what rooms to talk to, and which maybe guards and other detainees maybe to avoid, if they — because maybe for fear of being exposed. We heard about his case through his son, Emiliano Rojas, that was initially detained with Claudio in Broward. They were detained together before going before a judge, where Emiliano is DACA eligible, so he was granted deferred action. But his father, Claudio Rojas, was asked to leave the country, which he clearly disobeyed and therefore was redetained. And that’s kind of where The Infiltrator starts, just me meeting Claudio.

And Claudio really devised a strategy to disseminate our hotline to all 500 men. There were a hundred women that eventually Viridiana made contact with. But he was just so strategic in the organizing. Almost it came naturally to him. And he believed in it, really just from our own word of mouth and also because his son had told him that I was going to be turning myself in. And he was fully into it. By the third week that we were working together, Claudio wanted to escalate, so he started to do a hunger fast, which he maintained for about, I think, beyond a month, until he was released.

AMY GOODMAN: So, this is Claudio Rojas himself, speaking from Argentina to the Miami Herald after he was just deported.

CLAUDIO ROJAS: [translated] After all I’ve been through, my hope is that, even though I’m here in Argentina, I’m hoping there will be an administrative error or I’ll be awarded a T visa so I can go back to the United States and be reunited with my family. I won’t lose hope. I’m trying my best, trying to be strong.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that was over five years ago, and he just got deported after five years of being processed through the system. Is that right?

MARCO SAAVEDRA: Correct. He was deported earlier this year, almost at the same time as The Infiltrators was released. So we were fearing that this would be retaliation for him speaking out and being an activist.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Claudio was deported this year.

MARCO SAAVEDRA: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: But back in 2012, when you did this, Viriidiana is with the women in the prison, and she is galvanizing them and gathering information to see who is inside the prison. And you’re with the men, and you met Claudio and others, hundreds of men who were inside Broward. And then there were the activists who were outside. When we were at Sundance recently, at the Sundance Film Festival, we had a chance to interview the directors and one of the activists outside. He is Mohammad Abdollahi. Mohammad reflected on the infiltration of Broward in 2012.

MOHAMMAD ABDOLLAHI: The goal of Broward was — this came right after DACA. That was like the important thing for us. When DACA was announced, the folks from the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, we were occupying Obama’s campaign offices. We were still sitting in his offices the day after the announcement, sort of trying to tell the world that there are going to be DREAMers getting deported, this policy is not going to be executed fully. And we sort of found our voices going into the void.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Mohammad Abdollahi, undocumented Iranian queer man.

MARCO SAAVEDRA: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Also risking so much to coordinate with you on the outside. Explain how that happened.

MARCO SAAVEDRA: Yeah, I feel like, from my vantage point, it was much harder to be on the outside, because they were getting calls nonstop through our hotline from loved ones of detainees, as early as 7:00 in the morning ’til midnight. So, this was — they were working around the clock, making petitions online, spreading those around through social media, building public pressure, holding vigils, holding press events, talking to congressional representatives to advocate for these cases. And ultimately they received 28 congressional representatives to sign on to a letter asking for a full accountability review of the Broward Transitional Center, after we had compiled well over a hundred online petitions for individual men, with just — individual men and women.

The work had been so much from the team on the outside — Mohammad, Santiago, Luis [phon.] in law school, and then other folks in their respective states helping as best they could, and allies that could be able to visit me and Viridiana to share documents, share information. So, this was a group-run effort, and I think everyone contributed so much. In a way, I feel like my job was somewhat the easiest, because all I had to do was really talk to people, which, I mean, I enjoy doing anyway, so it was just much easier, because everyone in that detention center was fighting their deportation. so I could just approach anyone and just start that conversation.

AMY GOODMAN: So, now, in the last of the series of clips we have about the film, and The Infiltrators is so important to this day — I mean, tonight, right before you go for your immigration hearing, you’re going to be playing The Infiltrators at The New School here in New York.

MARCO SAAVEDRA: Correct.

AMY GOODMAN: The co-director is Alex Rivera. And when we were at the Sundance Film Festival, we asked him to talk about why he made the film.

ALEX RIVERA: In 2010 we saw something that we’d never seen before, which was undocumented immigrants risking deportation as part of an act of political protest, doing sit-ins, blocking roads, sitting in John McCain’s office, and risking deportation to sort of force a decision on behalf of the government about their status. And it was a disturbing thing to see in the news. It was shocking. And I wanted to understand it better.

And so, through some mutual friends, I reached out to what would become the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, to Mohammad and the group of other young undocumented folks who surrounded him or who worked with him, and said, “I want to make a film.” And I thought I was going to make a short film; it would be a month or two. And every time I tried to edit the film, they went and did something more interesting, more radical. And so I had to stop editing, and Cristina and I just started to kind of film and try to wrestle with what was unfolding in this moment of great activism and sort of experimentation.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s a co-director of The Infiltrators, Alex Rivera, talking about the film, that is really based on the action of undocumented immigrants organizing. And you’ve used this film to this day to show around the country. And I think what’s so fascinating about this, as you point out over and over, this wasn’t during the Trump years. This was during the Obama years, very much part of the reason why even among his immigrant right allies, President Obama was called the “deporter-in-chief.”

MARCO SAAVEDRA: Right. In a way, I mean, we knew that Obama, because he had promised the DREAM Act within his first 100 days in office, because he had campaigned on a platform that was pro-immigrant, we knew that at least we could hold that administration accountable and had to hold him accountable, because he was compromising so much, because he was deporting 400,000 people from our community every year — and still holds the record number of deportations. We knew that, I mean, we had to come to the table at some point and say, “If you’re going to continue doing this, at least give some sort of relief beyond DACA,” which Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals was only an administrative measure, which now is being heard in the Supreme Court because President Trump has done the worst, our worst fear, which is, tried to strip us of deferred action.

And this has been the only victory in a quarter-century, since 1986 amnesty. So, we still have 11 million undocumented immigrants with any lack — with lack of protection in this country, and assaulted by President Trump on the daily. Maybe he doesn’t have the record number of deportations because he’s focused so much of his efforts on just stopping asylees from even coming into the country. But we know that he’s just built on this enforcement that has, you know, started well before that, before — you could even look at the Clinton years with the 1996 anti-immigrant laws and the Bush years of forming ICE after 9/11 and really going after immigrants during the “war on terror.” And this has just escalated during my lifetime.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Marco, I wanted to go to 2013, when you were part of the DREAM 9. Explain this action. You had just recently been released from Broward, again risking your own deportation, and then you did it again in a whole other way.

MARCO SAAVEDRA: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what you did.

MARCO SAAVEDRA: Exactly. So, the tenets of the National Immigrant Youth Alliance at that time were three. There was education, so we were all about the DREAM Act, but also empowerment, so community organizing, and thirdly was escalate, which means that every time we built an action, we wanted to build on top of it. So we fought deportation on case-by-case basis, so, therefore, the escalation point was to go to an entire detention center and hold the entire facility accountable. And to build on top of that, we knew we had to take our movement transnationally, because we had been, in a way, locked up in the U.S. for so long that we couldn’t connect with other DREAMers in Mexico that had been deported under the Obama administration or that had self-deported prior to deferred action because they couldn’t use their degree to get a work permit or to get a driver’s license. And we understood that there was a very need — this is a very crucial need in our community.

And through our social networks, we contacted and communicated with six of them. And me in New York, Lizbeth Mateo in California and Lulu Martinez in Chicago all self-deported to Mexico to reconnect with these DREAMers in migrant shelters in Nogales, Sonora, and together, after three days of intense preparation for our asylum dockets, marched towards the border asking to be allowed into this country, first under humanitarian parole, but, lacking that, under asylum.

AMY GOODMAN: Where did the graduation outfits come in?

MARCO SAAVEDRA: The graduation outfits were just to demonstrate — symbolize, really, that we had taken this DREAM Act movement internationally, that we were no longer just confined to the U.S., but we had to advocate for people that had already been displaced and removed from this country, because these are the recently arrived, and the people that have had multiple deportations are the ones that are always left out of any form of immigration relief, are always the first criminalized. And we knew that we had to use our own privileges that we had as DREAMers under the U.S. to build and use that to the benefit of others.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you wore the outfits, the graduation gear, as you crossed the border?

MARCO SAAVEDRA: Correct. I mean, to demonstrate — I think that those outfits by that time had become so popular in the national media and everywhere around the world that knew that there was a group of 2 million undocumented immigrants that were DREAM Act eligible that couldn’t exercise their rights to travel, to work, to live permanently in the only home country that they had known. And therefore we decided to wear the cap and gown as we marched across the border.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s turn to another of the DREAM 9, Lulu Martinez. She was speaking to Al Jazeera in 2013.

LULU MARTINEZ: We all came collectively to a conclusion that nothing’s going to change unless the people that are most affected take the risk to do something about it.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Lulu Martinez, speaking soon after the action. What has happened in her case? Again, the first of the DREAM 9 to go to trial.

MARCO SAAVEDRA: So, yeah, thankfully, Lulu Martinez has already won her asylum case, both for her political opinion and also her background as a queer woman and the persecution she would face because of her identities in Mexico. So, we know that, sadly, Mexico has record numbers of homicides and persecution of multiple groups, and queer folks, in particular, are targets. I mean, we are looking at 103 homicides every day in Mexico currently. And this is all well documented. So, Lulu Martinez, earlier this year, was able to win her asylum case.

AMY GOODMAN: And now you’re the second person, because this asylum hearing that you’re going to have comes directly out of this case, is that right?

MARCO SAAVEDRA: Correct, yeah. This is the —

AMY GOODMAN: Out of the DREAM 9 case.

MARCO SAAVEDRA: — continuation of the DREAM 9. It’s, in a way, the culmination of this action.

AMY GOODMAN: So, before we talk, finally, about your case, I wanted to go to that famous moment when Donald Trump comes down the escalator in Trump Tower in New York and announces his candidacy for president.

DONALD TRUMP: When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

AMY GOODMAN: Where were you when Donald Trump announced his candidacy for president? Did you particularly care at the time when he talked about Mexicans as rapists and criminals? Did you think he even had a chance?

MARCO SAAVEDRA: No. To be honest with you, I was at La Morada restaurant. So, in the years since my activism, I’ve had to contribute more to my family. My parents are both disabled. So I’ve —

AMY GOODMAN: That’s your family’s restaurant.

MARCO SAAVEDRA: My family’s restaurant named La Morada in the South Bronx. So that’s where I’ve been for basically the years since this severe activism.

AMY GOODMAN: And “La Morada” means?

MARCO SAAVEDRA: “La Morada” in Spanish means both the color purple, but it also means an abode or a shelter. So, we try to make it a welcoming community space for all to share a meal, but also to learn about our culture.

And just leading up to Trump’s candidacy, I don’t think many of us took him seriously. And I feel like — I mean, I’ve grown up with all of this hate shot at me, you know, since the age of awareness, so I just kind of always have had to tune this out. You know, at the same time, like, we understand that Trump is like in a particular context, in a wave of hostility and racism that has emerged, you know, through various means. I mean, I think he takes advantage of a lot of people’s real fear of people losing their jobs and being in poverty, and tries to summarize it by fearmongering and also champion kind of this anti — this racist sentiment in the years following Obama’s presidency. So I think that there is a very real context in which Trump was allowed to become president, and a real movement behind him, which, I mean, as immigrant rights activists, we’ve always tried to combat and reach across and build neighbors, not hate.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about your own family, your parents, your sisters, and their legal status and what that means to you right now. I mean, you, from the beginning, have risked everything all the time.

MARCO SAAVEDRA: Yeah. So, there’s a very real fear within my family of living almost three decades in this country without papers, living in the shadows. And, obviously, at first, my parents were very hesitant. We grew up very overprotected. My father was born in 1967, and my mom in 1969, so they straddled the year 1968, when we had the massacre of Tlatelolco in Mexico City, where hundreds of student activists are gunned down, while Mexico is hosting the Olympics. So they’re born in the years following that, as second-class citizens, as indigenous folks in Mexico City, having to work since their teenage years and move their home from Mexico City — from Oaxaca to Mexico City to New York City, to be as far from the border as possible. So, I mean, obviously, they were very hesitant and very fearful. But I think the severity of the activism also demanded that they come out as undocumented and be in full support. And they have been the best of loving and supportive parents. And my older sister is also an activist. She’s a DACA recipient. And then my younger sister is the only citizen in our family, and her baby niece. And my younger sister is also an activist. I mean, I feel like my whole family is. And she’s also an educator at Stone Barns agricultural center, so in a way reconnecting to our indigenous agricultural roots.

AMY GOODMAN: As we do this interview, news is just breaking in Sonora, Mexico, of an entire Mormon family of children and women being gunned down, it’s believed, by a drug cartel that they were challenging, at least nine members of a prominent Mormon community, who were both Mexican and American. And they are nine people of some 100 people every day who are murdered in Mexico. This incredibly painful story, will this be weighed by the judge tomorrow?

MARCO SAAVEDRA: I would think so. I mean, this story just paints the picture of the hostility and danger that exists in Mexico. I was in Sonora when we did the DREAM 9 campaign, strategizing for our cases. And we stayed, you know, in the shadows. We had to be as minimal — leave as minimal of a footprint as possible while we were staying at Padre Kino shelter right there on the border, because we know the severe presence of organized crime that benefits from extorting migrants, kidnapping and also drug smuggling. You know, the drug smuggling is a $20 [billion] to $40 billion industry every year, that has a larger revenue than petroleum, tourism or remittances sent back to Mexico. So these are the most powerful people in the country, that collude and buy off local government, resulting in impunity. So you just have a lack of accountability and due process to anyone that stands up to them, that hurts their business.

And I think all of this is going to be presented both in my legal file by our key witnesses, the academics testifying tomorrow, and also my own personal testimony and the testimony of other human rights activists. And it just shows that, you know, last year, in 2018, 34,000 homicides occurred in Mexico, and this year, the first half of this year alone, 17,500 people have been killed. And it’s just the context of my home country, that it’s unsafe wherever you go, especially if you raise awareness about the reality.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, Trump has said we have to engage in a so-called war on drugs in Mexico, and AMLO, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the new president of Mexico, has said, “This is our issue, not yours,” although something like 70% of the weapons used in these murders are believed to have come from the United States.

MARCO SAAVEDRA: Yeah, I mean, we believe, as you said, that both administrations, in Mexico and in the U.S., are just looking at this the wrong way. They’re just furthering militarization and criminalizing immigrants instead of actually going after the actual perpetrators. Particularly, Mexico recently just had a standoff in Culiacán, where the son of El Chapo was captured momentarily, but the national army, when faced with 2,000 armed cartel members, had to turn over and liberate Chapo’s, Joaquín López’s son. So, this just shows the level of impunity and the lack of protection that the Mexican government has. And their collaboration, too, with the Trump administration, in exchange for, you know, trade packages, really AMLO has formed the National Guard and sent 17,000 troops to the southern border just to stop Central Americans from even coming to the U.S. So, in a way, AMLO, although he came into office as a leftist president, has completed a lot of the work of Trump and, in a way, has built Trump’s own invisible wall on the southern end of Mexico.

AMY GOODMAN: So, the kind of dangers you face, I think about Hugo Castro, who, two years ago, in 2017, a U.S. citizen, went missing in Mexico, was kidnapped for something like five days, after he pled for help on Facebook. He was on his way to help refugees in southern Mexico on behalf of the San Diego-based group Border Angels.

MARCO SAAVEDRA: I mean, I think that this steadfastness exists in a lot of human rights activists, immigrant rights activists. I mean, we believe so much in our cause that we’re willing to risk everything, because we just see the severe brutality of the situation. I don’t know Hugo Castro’s case, in particular, but I know of others. You know, Padre Solalinde, who we have met with at La Morada, at my establishment, who holds a migrant shelter in Ixtepec and has written a letter of support for my case, has received death threats and has been in protection since 2010 because of his activism and speaking out against injustices. We know of the case, most recently, of Cristóbal Sánchez, another human rights activist, that helped a lot of these caravans, caravans organized by activists and also with migrants themselves, that are just much safer than resorting to smugglers to get across Mexico. And because of his work and involvement in the caravan, he was charged as a smuggler himself and held in detention unjustly, and only recently released earlier this year. So we know that there’s been also — not only are we looking at the problem the wrong way, but we’re targeting the wrong people. And those that are in power, those that are the cartels, are just left immune from all of this persecution.

AMY GOODMAN: So, finally, your trial on Thursday, could it mean, if you are granted political asylum at the trial, that that then begins your road to becoming a citizen of the United States? Is that automatic?

MARCO SAAVEDRA: Right. I mean, it would be so life-changing — right? — if we get the best possible outcome tomorrow. I would be, for the first time, looking, you know, and being able to plan my life, you know, 10 years down the road, and for the first time, actually, you know, feel fully accepted in the only country that I’ve known for most of my life. So I think that it would be monumental. And then I think, more significantly, it would be monumental for the immigrant rights movement that someone with my track history could benefit from this protection and set precedent for other human rights activists that could also benefit from this very severe war that exists in my country with organized crime and drug trafficking, and could hopefully also be seen as merit — worthy of asylum.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Marco Saavedra, I want to thank you so much for being with us, undocumented activist who infiltrated a immigration jail in Florida, the Broward Transitional Center, in July 2012, was released after well over a month, only to be arrested again, shortly after, for engaging in another action, the DREAM 9. And that is what he will have his asylum hearing about tomorrow. He self-deported with a group of undocumented youth. And this case comes out of that. We will continue to follow your case, Marco.

MARCO SAAVEDRA: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

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