Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Centuries of Betrayal

Many of the details about René Saldivar's 8 month detention by ICE I describe in an article in The Nation (June 23, 2008), but space constraints did not permit including everything, so I thought I'd elaborate here.

René Saldivar was born in Mexico in 1967. But his father, Isidoro, was born in Three Point, Colorado, in 1919 and married René's mother before René's birth, and Isidoro met the other requirements for making René a natural born citizen.

Isidoro himself first went to Mexico with his family when he was 11 in 1930. That's when about a million US residents of Mexican descent, around 400,000 of whom were either citizens or legal residents, were illegally removed from the country by immigration raids bearing a shocking resemblance to the ones occurring now.

According to historians Francisco Balderrama and Raymond Rodrigíz, in their book Decade of Betrayal: Mexican Repatriation in the 1930s (1995): "[D]eportation procedures were made to order for wholesale violations of basic human rights. Mass raids and arrests were conducted without benefit of warrants. Individuals were often held incommunicado and not allowed to see anyone. Without the opportunity to post bail, deportees languised in jail until the next deportation train" (p. 52).

Like today's oversight hearings by the U.S. Congress condemning these abuses, in 1932 the Wickersham Commission exposed and denounced these abuses: "The apprehension and examination of supposed aliens are often characterized by methods which are unconstitutional, tyrannic and oppressive" (quoted on pp. 52-53). And like today, the agencies responsible for these abuses simply ignored the charges and continued their violations until the economic climate shifted and Mexicans were once again encouraged to return.

In 1940, at the age of 21, Isidoro Saldivar returned to the United States and started working in Stanislaus County, in Riverbank, where many of his children and their families still live. Some are machine operators at the Conagra plant. René had some problems coping with his father's and mother's deaths in the late 1990s and lives with his sister doing odd jobs and battling his demons, mostly staying free of any entanglements with the law. He served his first and only time in jail last summer, a couple months for a minor drug possession violation.

René's brother-in-law, Pastor Aquiles Rojas was planning to pick him up on his release date of October 12, but René wasn't there. According to ICE spokesman Brandon Alvarez-Montgomery, who revealed this in an email to me, Saldivar had actually been put into ICE custody in September. By the time Rojas went to the Modesto Honor Farm jail, Rene´ was in an isolation cell in Eloy, Arizona. He was so traumatized that he'd become catatonic and was given psychotropic drugs.

When I asked Alvarez-Montgomery why the jail wouldn't tell Rojas of Saldivar's location, he said that seemed strange. Alvarez-Montgomery told me that ICE agents are working with the Modesto sheriff's department and they would certainly have access to the database with information about Saldivar's detention.

The same disappearing is happening by the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, which also did not tell Guzman's family of his whereabouts. They also had ICE-trained agents in their facility, and this had been the means of Guzman's deportation.

As the immigration judge told me, the US is quietly running a secret prison system, holding people without charges and keeping them in isolation from the people who might help gain their legal rights and liberty.

While Rene´ was in Eloy, his family in Riverbank was being harassed by the Modesto Sheriff's department. Twice they raided his sister's house looking to arrest René for missing his probation meetings, even though a probation officer in Modesto told me that when someone is put into ICE custody, this is entered in the inmate's release record. She also told me that this was not taken into account before issuing warrants, and that it was the inmate's responsibility to contact their probation officers, "even if they are deported" and explain the reasons for their absence.

This why Peter Guzman, another deported US citizen, was taken into custody at the border with a warrant for his arrest for missing a probation hearing. The government is abducting the weakest members of our society, and either hiding them from their families, or dropping them off in another country with $3, and then saying that the people who cannot reach their parents, wives, sisters, and children are supposed to be sending letters detailing their legal plight to a probation officer in another state or country.

Here is some more information about how hard it was to find René, as described by his brother-in-law, Aquiles Rojas, who is a US citizen, leads a congregation with about 250 parishoners in Riverbank, and is truly aghast at what occurred.

Unlike many people taken by ICE, René had someone who was a bit resourceful and was persistent in trying to locate him. Rojas said he called numerous immigration offices repeatedly, always leaving messages, never receiving any return calls. When he would reach someone, they never had information: "I left a lot of messages becasue we wanted to find out. I called immigration in Arizona in October. They told me they had no record of Saldivar. I called back to San Francisco. Nobody had no answer. But somebody had to have some record!" Rojas told me, exasperated.

In March, René called. Rojas and his wife drove 12 hours to Eloy to see René. The guards told him visitors were allowed only on weekends and holidays. But it was Good Friday, Rojas , the pastor, pointed out. That didn't count. Also, René had not submitted their names on the appropriate list authorizing visitors, so it would be too late for them to see him that weekend. "'I drove 12 hours from Central California,'" he tried to tell them, but "we weren't able to give him the papers. They don't receive papers. This is worse than the White House. I can talk to someone there. There, you can't talk to no one."

Rojas explained that his wife, René's sister, became a naturalized citizen 12 years earlier, but the other siblings had green cards. The parents "didn't know that the kids were US citizens. They applied for green cards, but i don't know why. It was a mistake. From the beginning they were US citizens."

After learning they couldn't leave the papers with the guards at Eloy Rojas drove about 100 miles to Tucson and mailed René his documents from there. "We also sent money and a pair of tennis shoes. They don't provide tennis shoes. But now I'm finding out they won't receive nothing."

I asked Rojas why he thought this was happening: "I've seen the rise of hatred towards our ethnic group. We see it happens with the Germans to the Jews, with other people, when the economy goes bad you got to blame somebody. There's the feeling that this ethnic group is causing a lot of problems."

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