By Jose Medina
SACRAMENTO – Immigrants who have experienced being transferred to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) were the focus on a Zoom press conference Tuesday, hosted by the Sacramento Immigration Coalition (SIC), immigrant activists, and others.
The press conference was held before the Sacramento County Transparent Review of Unjust Transfers and Holds (TRUTH) Act forum set the same day. The TRUTH Act requires local governing bodies that gave ICE access to an individual during the year to hold a public community forum and provide information on ICE’s access to individuals.
The conference aimed to elevate the voices of those who’ve suffered from being transferred to ICE. The three individuals who spoke were Charles Joseph, Enrique Nambo Alcantar, and Joe Mejia. Their stories were filled with pain, sorrow, and hope for a better future.
(Editor’s Note: ICE detainees are treated like convicted criminals but in most cases, they’ve committed no crime. In a few others, detainees already completed their sentences and are on ICE holds).
A Family’s Pain
Joseph spent 11 months in the ICE detention facility and is under strict ICE house arrest. His father was deported when he was just a teenager. He described his experience by saying “I had too much anger and rage watching my mom struggle, watching my siblings and me go through life without the assistance we needed from my father.”
He never wants anybody else to go through the same experience he had. In fact Joseph’s resolve to end all types of government cooperation with ICE was made clear when he stated, “I fight for my loved ones, my heart is here, my children are here, so I fight to remain here for my loved ones and family.”
Family is the driving force behind Joseph’s activism. He reminds people that the family is the cornerstone of a strong community and that “ we need to keep the family bond so that people may live happier lives. If the family is strong then the community is strong, then things become much better.”
ICE transfers weaken the community by separating families and emotionally hurting its members, Joseph points out, adding that “it is not right to oppress people who are in a community. That’s your neighbor’s father, your neighbor’s mother.”
He recalled his time at the Mesa Verde ICE detention facility where 400 detainees were held at the time. After Joseph, along with other detainees, spoke against the injustices being committed at Mesa Verde – including a major COVID-19 break-out – before a judge ordered a cap on the facility of only 52 people.
Joseph points out that “It just shows you what those people think of us community members, they call us illegals and jam us in a place that’s fit for only 52 people and yet they put 400 people in there to maximize their pockets.”
A Father’s Tears
Alcantar shared his experience of being transferred by ICE. He recalled his long journey being transferred from the Elk Grove jail facility to five different ICE detention facilities. On his last day serving time in jail, he recalled feeling joy “ I was smiling, thinking finally I have served my time and I would finally be able to see and hug my daughter.”
Unfortunately for Alcantar, he was directed towards an ICE agent instead of his daughter. His feelings of happiness were turned to despair. He remembered pleading to the agent to let him go and see his daughter, but the agent ignored his pleas and told him “You’ll be fine.”
Alcantar held back tears as he continued telling his story. It was clear that the agent’s words haunted him as his experience being transferred to five different detention centers did not help him feel “fine.” All he could think of at the moment was how he had been robbed of his reunion with his daughter.
Alcantar recalled that once he arrived at the Woodland detention center he was allowed to make a call. He remembered calling the mother of his child and being able to finally speak to her daughter. He said with a tremble in his voice “I tried not to cry because I never wanted my daughter to hear me sounding sad, but I couldn’t.”
After being able to speak to his daughter, Alcantar recalls feeling “cold, afraid, and sadness as I faced an uncertain future. I didn’t care if others saw me cry and see me ask for forgiveness for making bad decisions.”
Alcantar’s story showed the pain that detainees felt as they were separated from their loved ones. That pain he felt was further emphasized when he stated that “there wasn’t one day that went by that I didn’t ask God to give me an opportunity to see my daughter and ask him for forgiveness from the bad decisions I made.”
A Plea for Humanity
Mejia served in prison, and while in prison he attended self-help groups and college to become a paralegal. Unfortunately, after he worked diligently to rehabilitate himself he was handed over to ICE after the completion of his time in prison. While being under custody he was transferred to three different detention facilities.
Mejia recalled the confusion he experienced while being transferred, noting, “I’ve been here since I was three years old all I knew was the US so this is my home you know,”
He pointed out how alienating it is to be seen as different from others, remembering that “In my heart or in my mind I was American and that I wasn’t different from any other six or seven year old kid I was in school we all played together, we all cried together, and we all grew up together.”
Mejia pointed out the corrupt environment and conditions put into practice at the Mesa Verde detention center stating that “it’s a very political facility there’s still some active gangs, the police pushing their agenda on inmates and accusing people of certain actions that aren’t true, ICE makes up completely crazy stories that they, they put it on people’s paperwork to ship them out.”
As a paralegal, Mejia would review cases of other incarcerated people. He pointed out the disparities within the justice system by stating that “minorities are locked up for crimes that should’ve been rehabilitated or probation terms, yet you still have these minority groups that are serving 5, 10, 15 years over crimes that White privileged people are going to rehab for.”
He continues by stating “the differences in sentencing and differences in conditions for both of these crimes is astounding and it’s incredible how inequity is playing such a big role in all this and that’s something that we need to address within our justice system and addressed within our communities.”
Mejia reflected upon these injustices and noted that the government continues to be indifferent to the suffering of detainees. He noted that the government continues to allow transfers “regardless of it affecting families, regardless of it affecting children, regardless of it affecting lives across the nation.”
He continues by pointing out that “the bottom line here is dollars, the bottom line here is that the government doesn’t care about us as a human race, the government cares about us only as a dollar sign, and that’s what I see over and over again.”
Mejia then criticized ICE detentions’ neglect of social distancing guidelines recommended by public health officials. He drew attention to the fact that detention centers continue to house detainees in crammed facilities, putting detainees’ lives at risk of a deadly COVID outbreak.
He took a step further and said “the message I get from these actions are that we don’t matter. They don’t care about our lives, they don’t care about our well-being, they don’t care about our families. This is quite disgusting the inhumane treatment that is geared towards us immigrants and minorities.”
Mejia also points out the harm ICE creates by putting immigrants into a category that makes them feel inferior to others. He states “last time I checked I bleed just like the next person, I eat, I breathe, I sleep just like every other human being so why am I subjected to these conditions and labels like if I’m inferior to everyone else?
He continued to emphasize the mistreatment of immigrants by equating deportations to death sentences noting that “they want to deport me to El Salvador, they want to deport me to Mexico, where people who look like me become targets for authority figures, become targets for cartels, become targets for local gangs.”
Mejia shared that he successfully proved to the court that he met the criteria of proving that his life was in danger if he were to be deported to these countries. Unfortunately, the Board of Appeals overturned the court’s decision on his case and he is now facing an imminent deportation.
Mejia lamented on the current state of the country and its government’s role in deportations and family separations. He pled to the attendees of the conference to stop focusing on money and prisons and instead fight towards eradicating systemic racism and strengthening communities.
He ended with “let’s educate everybody and the world that there is a dark side to all these detention centers.”, asking everyone in attendance to continue exposing the inhumane treatment of immigrants.
Jose graduated from UC Davis with a BA in Political Science and has interned for the California State Legislature. He is from Rocklin, CA.
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