Cruelty Is the Point: Communities Fight Back as Threat of ICE Raids Terrorize Immigrant Families

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This weekend, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents launched a handful of raids across the country as part of President Trump’s push to detain and deport thousands of undocumented migrants in 10 major cities. Agents in Chicago reportedly arrested a mother and her children only to quickly release them. Arrests were also attempted in New York City, in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and Harlem, where immigrants reportedly refused to open their doors to ICE agents because they did not have warrants. Authorities say more raids are planned this week, prompting fear but also generating mass protests on the ground. We speak with Elora Mukherjee, a professor of law and director of the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School. She has spent the past 12 years representing immigrant children and adults along the U.S.-Mexico border. “The raids will leave children without their parents. The raids will leave children without their caregivers,” Mukherjee says. “The raids will leave U.S. citizen children without anyone in America to care for them. It is a heartbreaking situation.”

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

AMY GOODMAN: Widespread immigration raids did not materialize across the country this weekend, after President Trump announced them in advance. A handful of raids, however, did still unfold and prompted protests in support of immigrant communities. Agents in Chicago reportedly arrested a mother and her kids only to quickly release them. Arrests were also attempted here in New York City, but migrants reportedly refused to open their door to agents. Authorities say more raids are planned this week.

Democracy Now! was in Queens Sunday when residents protesting the raids were joined by local lawmakers, including Tiffany Cabán, who recently declared victory in the highly contested Queens district attorney’s race that is now facing a recount.

TIFFANY CABÁN: Today our community is getting together, not only to protest the raids, the ICE raids, but also to call for the abolition of ICE, you know, acknowledging the fact that it is a rogue agency that puts a lot of our families, especially here in Queens, in danger of family separation and deportation. And really proud of the efforts, actually. You know, we know that there has been an ICE presence in the city, but we also know that, so far, you know, we haven’t had folks in Queens picked up. And I think that that speaks to the strength of our communities, the ways that we are standing together, the ways that we’re coming out and saying we’re going to let people know their rights. We’re going to do what we can to protect our neighbors. And we’re going to continue to do it for as long as we need to.

AMY GOODMAN: This comes amidst growing outrage over dire conditions for migrants held in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions by Customs and Border Patrol, including children and families seeking asylum. On Friday, Vice President Mike Pence toured two migrant detention centers in Texas, including one in McAllen where hundreds of men were crowded into dirty cells without cots to sleep on. Many said they were hungry, had been detained for 40 days. Trump tweeted the children’s rooms Pence saw were well run and clean, and facilities for single men were clean but crowded. Pence defended conditions during an interview on CNN and refused to tell CNN’s Pamela Brown—

PAMELA BROWN: What we saw today was very different for the families versus the single adult—

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Pamela, Pamela, what you—

PAMELA BROWN: —migrants. It wasn’t the same level of care.

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Well, what you saw today was a—was a very clean facility where people were being detained indoors, and then you saw a temporary facility that was constructed because this—this facility is overcrowded. … But everyone even in that temporary facility, Pamela, is getting three meals a day. They’re getting healthcare. They’re getting hygiene.

AMY GOODMAN: Pence refused to say whether children would be separated from their parents during immigration raids announced by President Trump. Video of Pence visiting the Border Patrol facilities, looking at men in the overcrowded cells without speaking to them, then walking away, was broadcast around the world.

At the same time, people held “Lights for Liberty” in at least 900 cities in what organizers called one of the largest global mass mobilizations in history. They called for the closure of detention centers and an end to inhumane treatment in them. This is activist Linda Sarsour speaking at the vigil in New York City’s Foley Square, just across from an ICE processing center.

LINDA SARSOUR: I want to remind people that there are children who have died in these camps. And I will say their names here today: Darlyn Cristabel Cordova-Valle, 10 years old, from El Salvador.

CROWD: ¡Presente!

LINDA SARSOUR: Jakelin Caal Maquín, 7 years old, from Guatemala.

CROWD: ¡Presente!

LINDA SARSOUR: Felipe Gómez Alonso, 8 years old, from Guatemala.

CROWD: ¡Presente!

LINDA SARSOUR: Juan de León Gutiérrez, 16, from Guatemala.

CROWD: ¡Presente!

LINDA SARSOUR: Wilmer Josué Ramírez Vásquez, 2-and-a-half years old, from Guatemala.

CROWD: ¡Presente!

LINDA SARSOUR: Carlos Hernández Vásquez, 16 years old, from Guatemala.

CROWD: ¡Presente!

LINDA SARSOUR: One day, 30, 40 years from now, people are going to ask you, “Where were you when children were being stripped from the hands of their mothers? What did you do? What did you say?” And you all get to say that “I showed up and added my voice and chose not to be part of the silent majority in these United States of America that have allowed injustice to happen for far too long.”

AMY GOODMAN: That was Linda Sarsour, speaking at Friday’s “Lights for Liberty” vigil in New York, was called to denounce the conditions in jails, child detention centers, adult detention facilities along the border, as well as what people believed, because President Trump tweeted it, that there would be widespread immigration raids across the country, which ultimately did not materialize, at least at this point.

For more, we’re joined by Elora Mukherjee, a professor of law and director of the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School. She spent about a week at the facility in Clint, Texas, interviewing dozens of detained children. She also represents Constantin Mutu, the youngest child separated from his family at the border, when he was just 4 months old.

Welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us.

ELORA MUKHERJEE: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: So, I want to talk about both issues, the raids and also your trip to Clint, which is where we want to begin. Pence went there and talked about the conditions being humane and acceptable. You found something extremely different in the Clint facility. Describe what you saw.

ELORA MUKHERJEE: We found children who were hungry, who were dirty, who were sick and who were scared. We found children who had been detained far longer than the 72-hour limit for CBP facilities for children. We found children who had been detained a week, even longer, weeks, nearly a month. We found children wearing dirty clothing, clothing covered with nasal mucous urine, vomit, breast milk. We found children who hadn’t brushed their teeth for days, hadn’t showered for days or weeks. We found children who smelled really bad because they had no opportunity to shower or change their clothes.

We found children who were hungry. We found children who were so traumatized that they cried consistently and wept in their interviews with me. We found children who had been separated from a parent and from other family members. We found children who had been detained incommunicado, without an opportunity to make a single phone call to their loved ones. So we took out our own phones, and we allowed the children to make calls to their family members for the first time, sometimes in days, sometime in weeks.

AMY GOODMAN: So, these children actually could reach someone in the United States. Did some wear bracelets with numbers on them, at least one?

ELORA MUKHERJEE: One child wore a bracelet that said “U.S. parent” on it. Other children—

AMY GOODMAN: With a phone number?

ELORA MUKHERJEE: With either a phone number or some other kind of identifier. Other children had little scraps of paper tucked into a pocket in their shirt or in their pants, that had the name of a family member.

You know, what’s so important for America to realize is that the overwhelming majority of these children have family members in the United States who are desperate to have their kids back. So, nearly 100% of children who are released from ICE custody are released to a parent or other family member. More than 80% of children released from ORR custody, the Office of Refugee Resettlement, are reunited with a family member in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: So, explain the decision to come forward. These visits, like you had, a group of lawyers, to interview the children, are not usually made public. Is that right?

ELORA MUKHERJEE: That’s right. That’s right. So, I have been doing this work for 12 years along our southern border, representing detained immigrant children and families. I have been a monitor for the Flores settlement agreement numerous times. Last July, I was in Brownsville, Texas, at Casa Padre, which is a controversial facility. In March, I was in Homestead interviewing children at an even more controversial facility. And in those two instances, I didn’t go public with my findings, and I expressed concern about numerous violations of the Flores settlement agreement to the plaintiffs’ counsel in that case.

But what we found in Clint was different. What we found in Clint was more appalling than anything I’ve seen in my entire professional career. I have never seen such degrading and inhumane treatment of children in federal immigration custody.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what’s going to happen? And did you testify before Congress?

ELORA MUKHERJEE: I testified before the House Oversight Committee on Friday. We are demanding immediate congressional oversight to protect vulnerable children in custody. We are also seeking the assistance of the federal courts to protect the children in federal immigration custody and to make sure that their rights, under federal law and under our Constitution, are protected.

We are also enlisting the support of the fourth branch of government—the free press—because we need assistance from everyone to make sure that children are not being abused, in our name, with our taxpayer dollars, and in our country. The American people have risen up and, across party lines, have spoken out, have participated in a public outcry to let the executive branch know that children must not be abused in our country and in our name.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the independent organization or person who has been authorized to go in, that the Trump administration has accepted to do oversight here.

ELORA MUKHERJEE: So, since the mid-1980s, there has been a case called the Flores case. In 1997, a settlement agreement was reached in that case. Part of the settlement agreement allows the Flores plaintiffs’ counsel—so, the lawyer for the children—to go into the facilities where children are being detained, to monitor compliance with that Flores settlement agreement. The Flores settlement agreement sets forth that children must be detained in safe and sanitary conditions, and, more importantly, that children must be released from federal immigration custody as quickly as possible. So, I’ve been a monitor for the Flores case.

AMY GOODMAN: During an interview on CNN this weekend, Pamela Brown pressed Vice President Pence in questions about family separation. She asked him if he was, quote, “concerned families will be separated.” And this has to do with the raids. She kept saying, “Will families be separated?” Pence replied, “People will be separated from this country who our courts have ordered to be deported.” When pressed again if families would be separated, Pence said, quote, “The priority is going to be on individuals who have committed crimes in this country, people who—members of MS-13, and people who have engaged in violent acts in this country in many cases.”

So, let’s go to the second point, these nationwide immigration raids that President Trump threatened the country with. They may not have materialized in force across the country, but certainly the terrorizing of immigrant communities did. But also, the flipside of that is the organizing.

ELORA MUKHERJEE: Right. So, the point of these raids is cruelty. These raids are not necessary. The data is very clear that when asylum-seeking families have access to counsel, they show up for their immigration proceedings 99% of the time. When asylum-seeking families participate in the ICE case family management program and are paired with a social worker, they show up for their immigration court proceedings 99% of the time. The point of the raids is cruelty. The point of the raids is terrorizing immigrant communities and playing to Trump’s base.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, oddly, just him announcing this—it was amazing to see Pence say he wasn’t going to say when they would happen, because, you know, that would undercut the effectiveness of the raids, and yet his own president, who he works for—his own president was the one who announced it around the country. Maybe his point was not actually to carry them out, but just to terrorize. Maybe it was because of, you know, this census question, that he didn’t get, that he wanted, the question of citizenship, that he wanted some kind of retaliation for not being able to identify undocumented immigrants.

ELORA MUKHERJEE: It is a heartbreaking situation. And the raids will leave children without their parents. The raids will leave children without their caregivers. The raids will leave U.S. citizen children without anyone in America to care for them. It is a heartbreaking situation.

AMY GOODMAN: Knowing your rights—forums were held, workshops, people calling in to find out what their rights are. Explain the issue of the warrant. While there weren’t nationwide raids on the level that President Trump promised, there were reports, here in New York, of people not opening their doors to agents. Explain.

ELORA MUKHERJEE: Right. So, if you are someone who is undocumented and ICE is knocking at your door, here are your rights. You do not need to open the door. You should ask, through the door, whether the officers have a warrant. If they have a warrant, ask the officers to slip it under the door. Then check the warrant to make sure that it is signed by a judge. Very often ICE shows up to carry out raids without a warrant or with a warrant that is not signed by a judge. Unless the warrant is signed by a judge, you do not need to open the door.

You also have a right to remain silent when ICE is carrying out a raid. You do not need to provide your name. You do not need to state where you are from. You can state, if you want, that you wish to speak with an attorney. If ICE breaks down your door and comes into your house without your consent, you may also state, “I do not consent to this search.”

And for anyone else who is witnessing a raid, I encourage everyone to be an upstander. Stand there. Bear witness. Take videos. Document what is happening. Try to protect those in our community who are asylum-seeking families, who are refugees, and who have the right to due process while they are in our country.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to end by going to Brooklyn’s Sunset Park. While the wholesale raids did not happen, the immigrant community was terrorized. Fabiola Mendieta is an organizer with the New Sanctuary Coalition. She told Democracy Now! about the effects of just the threat of the ICE raids.

FABIOLA MENDIETA: Fifth Avenue, I have to say, if you come on a regular day, if you come on a Saturday, Sunday, if you go up to the park, up to Sixth Avenue, you see a lot of people. If you go to the laundromat, you see we’re full of people, because usually people is off on Saturday and Sunday. Today, we’ve been in the neighborhood since 6:00 in the morning. Some of my and other friends, they’ve been here since 5:00 in the morning. Everything was empty—no people in the streets, no people in the supermarkets, no people in the restaurants. … I think everybody is just afraid to go out, and, you know, even to go to the supermarket. They don’t want to do that anymore, at least, you know, for—I guess, for this weekend and the days for this week.

AMY GOODMAN: Elora Mukherjee, your final response? Because the week isn’t over. President Trump has threatened that these will—the raids will materialize.

ELORA MUKHERJEE: Yes, it’s certainly possible that more raids will be carried out, that more families will be targeted. But Immigrants’ rights lawyers will fight back. We will represent these families. We will ensure that they have a chance to present their asylum cases to the courts. And it’s telling that one of the families that was arrested in Chicago was immediately released—a mother and her children. These are not people who pose a danger to our communities.

AMY GOODMAN: Elora Mukherjee, I want to thank you so much for being with us, professor of law and director of the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School, spent about a week at the facility in Clint interviewing dozens of detained children.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we go to Mancos, Colorado. Denver was one of the places they threatened these raids. Well, hours away is a woman who has taken sanctuary in a church. Stay with us.

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“We Are in Fear”: Undocumented Immigrant in Sanctuary Responds to Raids from Colorado Church

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