The successful campaign to stop the ICE deportation of Ann Arbor’s Jose Luis Sanchez-Ronquillo

A few days ago, I met up with fellow Ypsilantian Martha Valadez, to discuss the case of Jose Luis Sanchez-Ronquillo, an undocumented 16-year resident of Ann Arbor who had been ordered by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to report to the Mexican border for deportation. Since that meeting, ICE has granted Sanchez-Ronquillo a one-year reprieve. Following is my discussion with Valadez on the successful Sanchez-Ronquillo campaign, and the current state of our local undocumented population.


MARK: Tuesday night, when we spoke, things weren’t looking so good for Ann Arbor’s Jose Luis Sanchez-Ronquillo. As I understand it, he’d been told to purchase a ticket and report to a border crossing in either Arizona or Texas on February 10, so that he could be escorted back into Mexico, where he was born, but hasn’t lived for the better part of 20 years now. But, thankfully, that’s not the case today, right?

MARTHA: On Wednesday morning, at 8:30 AM, I stopped what I was doing and I prayed. I was raised Catholic, but today my faith lies in a combination of those Catholic beliefs I grew up with and whatever salvaged collection of indigenous Mexica beliefs and traditions I’ve learned from my readings and connections with my roots as a Chicana. So, anyway, I prayed to the Virgin Mary this morning. I lit my candles and I prayed. When it comes to the last days in a Stop the Deportation campaign, hope and faith are what I depend on.

After I prayed, I called Detroit ICE Assistant Director Mark Hamilton, and I left what I think was a very assertive message. I told him that I’d learned that Raquel, of Michigan United, would be leaving for Chicago that afternoon, and I’d just heard back from the Ann Arbor Dems as to where we should fax letters in support to Jose Luis in her absence. I also requested contact information for someone at ICE to whom I could forward the calls we were beginning to get from local and national press. I hung up and went on my day. As I was walking through my front door, on my way out, my phone rang. It was Jose Luis. He said (in Spanish), “Martha, I have good news.” I told him not to tell me. “It’ll make me cry,” I said. He went on to tell me that his case had been deferred for a year. He also told me to be sure to thank everyone who had been working on the campaign. A few minutes later, on my walk over to Beezy’s, I called Raquel to confirm the deferral, and request that the great news be kept quiet until 4:30, as we had a rally already planned for then, and the family had indicated that they’d like to make the news public at that time. A few hours before the rally, the news went viral, though. In spite of that, many still attended the rally, to hear Jose Luis confirm that he’d not be getting deported.

MARK: Before we get into the specifics of the campaign, and how Jose Luis and his supporters were able to obtain the one year reprieve, what can you tell us about him? What does he do for a living? Where does he live? And what was it that led to the ICE deportation order?

MARTHA: Prior to this past weekend, I didn’t know Jose Luis. I just met him on Sunday, along with over 20 community representatives, who had come together to discuss the possibility of launching a campaign on his behalf. At the table were his two boys, his incredibly strong wife Giusela, Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights (WICIR) affiliates, Michigan United affiliates, amazing representatives from Bach Elementary, university faculty, students, and other community members. We had a 3-hour strategy session. During that session, I learned quite a bit about Jose, including the fact that he was recently promoted at the Ann Arbor restaurant where he works. I also noted the exhaustion and depression of their oldest son, Jose Luis Jr. I watched their mom cry as she tried to introduce herself. I noted the determination in the PTO members. I saw the assertiveness of the women at that table. It was a powerful session. I wish every organizing campaign to stop a deportation was this strong. It was beautiful, really. I learned a lot about him through the people at the table that day. I felt the strength of that connection that Jose Luis had with his son’s school, and knew I wanted to be there for their rally. Today, actually, I learned that Jose Luis leads an after school program at the school for students and families who want to learn Spanish. I don’t know the specifics of the program, but another Bach parent made it a point to say, “Ya’ know, Jose Luis runs that program.” Also, from Jose Luis Jr’s strength, and willingness to activate other youth in the immigrant rights group that I facilitate, I knew that this man modeled hard work and good moral values for his boys. As he said at yesterday’s rally, “I came here to work hard and move my family forward.” I guess, in that regard, he reminded me a lot of my dad.

MARK: Did your dad come to the U.S. as an undocumented worker? How about your mom?

MARTHA: My parents came to the U.S. at a young age with their parents, who had temporary legal status (green cards), which had to be renewed every 10 years. (My grandparents qualified because they lived along the border.) During this time, children could be here if their parents held a green card. However, according to the rules at the time, they would have to apply for their own legal status upon turning 18. Restrictions on documentation were not so extreme at this point in time, and my parents were constantly able to travel back and forth, and be with family on both sides of the border. When my parents turned 18, they were supposed to apply for their own green cards. My dad did not. So he became undocumented.

So, in 1982 my dad was a senior in high school and he sold $5 worth of marijuana to an undercover cop. In spite of just being 17 years old, he was prosecuted and convicted as an adult. He then dropped out of school, and went to work full-time to help pay his family’s house payments. My dad’s public defender wanted to close the case. He saw that my dad was young, and didn’t fully explain the deal he was urging my dad to take. So my dad signed the paper… He’d avoid jail time, but, in doing so, it meant that he gave any rights he might have for future legal status. So he took 3 years probation and loss of legal status so that he could keep working. He was never told that, by doing so, he gave up the right to fight his immigration case. Eventually, he would attain legal status, working with an attorney who argued that the public defender who took my dad’s case back in 1982 neglected to explain the actual agreement my dad was making. Here’s how it’s written on the official document:

“Failing to inform petitioner that his status as a temporary residence under IRCA would be terminated by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, there by subjecting him to deportation proceedings, further failing to inform petitioner that no waiver for such ground of admissibility exists under immigration laws, thereby constituting a permanent bar to his legalization and/or subsequent lawful entry into the United States. Failed to argue the drastic consquences of permanent exclusion/deportation in an effort to obtain a resolution that would not result in petitioner’s permanent banishment from this country. Failed to pursue conviction/sentencing alternatives in an effort to avoid a conviction that would result in a petitioner’s permanent banishment from this country.”

Then, in 1983, my dad met my mom, and my two brothers were born soon afterward. My dad and mom got married by the court in 1987. That same year, my father was working at Disneyland as a construction worker. After work one day, my father went to purchase a few beers for the crew. At the liquor store, two men were fighting outside and the police were called. The police came, saw my dad, and thought that he was involved. They asked if he was fighting. My dad said no, but the guy who was with my dad became aggressive toward the police. So, they arrested my father and his co-worker. During this time, Anaheim was heavy on detainments and deportations. The police held him under what is now referred to as a detainer. They said they would release him the next day, but, when my mom went to pick him up, she found that they’d actually called INS (which is now under Homeland Security) and transferred him over to their custody. He was detained by INS for 3 or 4 days, and eventually released on $5,000 bail.

In 1995, my dad sought an attorney to work on expunging the charge from when he was in high school. Apparently there was a rule at the time that you had to wait ten years for that particular charge to get cleared. So, in 1995, he applied to remove that record. (One thing that’s interesting about this time period is that, in 1991, my dad went to Mexico and he was able to come back as an undocumented person. All he had to do was speak English well, show the license he got from high school, and he was able to go back and forth across the border.)

In 2001, I was 13, and my mom had to become a U.S. citizen, so that she could become his sponsor for permanent legal status. So my mom and I worked with flashcards, studying things like “how many stars are on the flag,” and “what do the colors of the stripes mean.” She would go from a resident alien to a U.S. citizen. This, along with the fact that my two brothers and me were U.S. born, would make a strong case for him.

He finally received his green card in 2001. Then he had to wait 5 years to become a U.S. citizen. Today, my dad is a union organizer, an international business representative for the AFL-CIO. I guess organizing is in my blood. So, this issue is personal.

MARK: Back to Jose Luis, what else can you tell us about him? And how was it that he came to the attention of ICE?

MARTHA: He’s lived here in Ann Arbor for over 16 years. He has two U.S. born children. He doesn’t have a criminal record. He is a hard working man. He did, however, get taken in by local Ann Arbor police after getting into a verbal altercation. What happens is, when an undocumented person is apprehended, and has no ID, the authorities have no choice but to conduct a background check. And, any time they have a person without authorized legal status, local authorities run them through what’s called “Secure Communities” or “e-verify.” This means that they have to scan the individual’s fingerprints, and enter them into the system. And, if they’re flagged as undocumented, ICE is notified.

So, he came on the radar as a result of his apprehension in 2009. He was, however, never convicted of a crime. Regardless, though, ICE placed him on a list for apprehension and deportation proceedings. ICE agents then came to the family home with a deportation order, traumatizing the family… especially their sons. I mean, it’s hard for me to even write this. Basically, the way ICE acts, it’s like the wild west. It’s cruel… There’s a music video that pretty accurately illustrates the behavior of ICE agents, and the resulting fear of them in the community. It’s by the Grammy Award-winning L.A. band La Santa Cecilia. The song is called “El Hielo”… To me, It’s incredible that human beings in our community are being treated this way, and that there isn’t a greater uproar about how ICE behaves.

MARK: And this happened in spite of President Obama’s order that ICE use “prosecutorial discretion” for non-serious criminals, right? What was their reasoning?

MARTHA: Under Mr. Obama’s administration, we’ve seen the most detainments and deportations in U.S. history. There’s a long history. From crazy Tea Party politicians, like Jan Brewer, to the wild west sheriffs and police, like Joe Arpaio, our community has been under severe attack through out US history, but incredibly in these last 4 to 6 years. This, combined with racial profiling, the removal of ethnic studies programs, racist laws being passed across the U.S., racist rhetoric, the taking away licenses from undocumented people, the heightened patrolling in immigrant communities, mass court hearings with lack of legal due process, and the villainization of immigrants in popular news outlets, has had an enormously negative impact on our communities.

So, we began organizing. There were many local fights taking place across the U.S. to stop deportations. And a lot of work was happening along the border… heavy organizing to remove some of these whacko racists from positions of political power, and stronger national organizing efforts. There were wins and there were losses. Over time, networks of immigrant rights groups developed. Many were divided on their organizing tactics and demands. There was a huge fight for comprehensive immigration reform in the form of the DREAM Act. Our elected representatives failed to make it happen. So, organizers in the community decided that we needed the President to exercise his executive powers. There were coordinated efforts across the nation to increase pressure. As a result, there was a memorandum of understanding, which you noted previously, that directed ICE to exercise “prosecutorial discretion” for cases that were not high profile – involving folks who didn’t have criminal records, re-entries (meaning they’d left the country and then returned), and so on. Also, young undocumented activists were pushing the limits and taking radical steps to pressure Obama for another executive order. And, in 2012, DREAMers won Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). It’s an executive order (not a law), which states that young immigrants who came to the U.S. unwillingly with their parents, who were in good standing (were in school, and had no criminal charges), could remain in the United States, assuming they could prove they’ve lived here continuously since 2007, and arrived in the U.S. before reaching their 16th birthday.

The thing is, these two executive orders can be stricken if a new President comes into office and doesn’t like them. But this gave a significant number of folks immediate, albeit temporary, relief. It made them less vulnerable. DACA-qualified individuals still can’t go to their home countries, but they can now travel within the U.S., have access to a license, and work legally.

With prosecutorial discretion we’re able to advocate on behalf of those who are not involved in high-profile cases, but we struggle with those cases that don’t qualify. Another issue we’re forced to deal with is the fact that attorneys are expensive. And many lawyers don’t push for executive order relief, like we just did. This, in fact, is what happened in Jose Luis’s case prior to our involvement. He had attorneys who didn’t realize that they could obtain an order of relief. Many individuals, in the face of this, give up. They lose faith and don’t organize. They don’t see the value in organizing. But that’s what closed this case; organized people, informed people, motivated people, assertive people from Jose Luis’s community, working hard to #stopjosesdeportation.

MARK: And correct me if I’m wrong, but, as I understand it, this isn’t an isolated incident in Michigan. Do you have data on how many men and women are deported each year from Washtenaw County? And, of those, do you know how many, like Jose Luis, are productive, law-abiding, tax-paying members of their communities, assuming, of course, that Jose Luis has been paying his taxes these past 16 years?

MARTHA: No, this is not an isolated incident. Here in Washtenaw County, WICIR has responded to hundreds and hundreds of calls from people asking for help because a family member has been detained, or is actively involved in deportation proceedings. I don’t have the exact data on deportation counts. We’ve lost a lot of community members, though. Tough, sad cases. As for taxes, I’m not sure about that, but he has definitely been working. Really, that is all he has been doing. He works, goes to church, and plays with his kids.

MARK: How fast did all of this happen? When did Jose Luis get word that he was being deported, and how quickly was the campaign on his behalf put in motion?

MARTHA: The raid at Jose Luis’s house took place about 4 months ago. That, at least, is what his brother said in an interview with the Ann Arbor News yesterday. He was working with an attorney at the start. Then, in early December, he contacted Michigan United and talked with people at his church about his situation. Then, WICIR was informed about this case this past Sunday. From there, we created an ad hoc campaign committee and started moving forward. As we were told that his deportation date was February 10, we didn’t have much time. That’s why our facebook page was titled “Stop Jose’s Deportation, 7 Day Campaign.” But, as we soon realized, it was really more like a 5-day campaign. The first or second day that we were working on it, we were told that ICE made him purchase his flight ticket for Saturday, February 8.

MARK: It hadn’t occurred to me that people being deported would be expected to buy their own tickets and just show up at the border. Is that really how it works?

MARTHA: It’s a highly profitable industry. We have authorities maintaining well-paid positions, we have all these bonds and fines coming in for cases, we have attorneys making big money off of these poor immigrants, we have flights being purchased, we have privately owned detention centers holding people. The way flight purchasing works, as I recall, is that ICE offers to purchase your ticket to Texas, or another state near the border. But, if you want to choose a later date, which is what many people want to do, so as to give their case more time, you have to pay out-of-pocket. You basically go to the border having lost everything – your friends and family in the U.S., any investments you may have had here – and you walk across, into Mexico, trying to figure out your next steps as you walk over. If you’re interested in knowing more, here’s a link to some great information on this very subject.

MARK: How would this likely have played out, do you think, if he hadn’t been the father of two cute, articulate kids, the youngest of whom, Charlie, was interviewed on the local NPR affiliate yesterday about the prospect of losing his father? It’s easier, I imagine, to deport a single Hispanic male than it is the “attentive” and “involved” father, as they referred to him in the piece, of an adorable seven year old who’s described by his teachers as a great student being put at risk by the imminent loss of his beloved dad. And, by saying that, I don’t mean to lessen the importance of the rest of the campaign. I’m sure that Mayor Hieftje’s support was crucial, as were the rallies, and all of the phone calls and letters to other elected officials, but I have to wonder if the kids are what made the difference.

MARTHA: I took the case of a gay man and his partner, who resided in Ypsilanti, last winter. It was a difficult case. I became involved when his court hearings were nearing the end. He had a criminal charge. And he’d actually been detained. So, that changes the narrative. The public couldn’t see him or hear him. In court, he was up on a TV screen. He also didn’t have children. And, like I said, he had a criminal charge. The definition of criminal charge, by the way, is very interesting, and it contributes to how we classify a desired immigrant. People have been trained to create a classification system for immigrants. Good vs. bad. Technologically savvy vs. unskilled. College route vs. not. It’s really sad how we compartmentalize human beings like this. This all makes it difficult to launch a successful campaign to halt the deportation of many immigrants, like this gay man in Ypsilanti, that I was working to help. It was also freezing cold, raining, as this was going down. It was a tough time for a Stop the Deportation campaign.

Also, something that was mentioned yesterday at the Bach elementary rally… many schools aren’t as organized, or as conducive to parent organizing, as this one. I mean, so many factors came into play to stop Jose Luis’s deportation. Things like political climate, the weather, the case description, the family, the immigrant’s profile, their community contributions, and their connection to a community, all factor in to a successful campaign. Also, it depends to a great degree on how much attention a campaign can capture on social media, and what other things are out there at the same time, competing for attention. Really, there are a ton of factors.

I think Ann Arbor’s reputation in the state matters. I think the fact that you had a largely white community acknowledging their privilege and stepping up was major… But, really, the organizing made it. His case was a good one, but it was a tough one too. I would definitely say, yes, the presence of the children elicited emotions and motivated people to take action. In contrast, though, the 2010 Stop Lourdes’ Deportation campaign didn’t have any children involved, because, in that case, the parents made it clear that they didn’t want them in the public light. And it was successful. I also wonder if non-Hispanic names influence people’s support. (I mean “Charlie,” come on…). I wonder about skin color, accent, class, and so on. It all factors in.

MARK: I guess it’s always been that way… that social change only becomes possible once the majority begins to identify with the minority. We saw the same thing back in 1852, when Uncle Tom’s Cabin was released. Its dramatic impact, I suspect, was mainly due to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s ability to humanize the fictional slaves about which she wrote, by focusing on the bonds between parents and children, and how truly devastating it was for everyone involved when families were broken up due to the nature of slavery. It’s really powerful when you can get people to accept the fact that these “other people,” whomever they may be, love their kids just like we do. It breaks down barriers.

MARTHA: You know what, I also think we need to highlight youth’s power in all of this. Jose Luis Jr. was pivotal in moving PTO members. He inspired people to take action and support his family. People saw that Jose Luis and Charlie were upset. They were acting out. We often times see this as a negative. They weren’t acting out in rebellion though. They were acting out because they were losing their father. It was powerful in this case. I mean, this community is highly vulnerable, and people could see it in the boys… There’s a disconnect and a lack of understanding, or knowledge, about immigration issues. I’m lucky to have learned a lot from local immigrant organizers and powerful community members. I have to be honest I am new and younger than a lot of OG’s who have been fighting deportations and defending immigrant rights. So, let me say I don’t know a lot and I make mistakes. The language barrier limits the ability of the undocumented to communicate with the greater community. In organizing, emotional strings are always in the forefront. You have the critical thinking part of your brain, and you have the emotional. Decision makers can be influenced by both parts. There’s both emotional and intellectual power that can be used to motivate people to act, and to see positive social change to happen.

One thing I was really interested in was Jose and Guisela’s gratitude toward the U.S. and U.S. citizens. I mean, they are grateful to be in a country they accept is not their own. They show love for those that don’t want them here. But people take sound-bites of what they’ve heard, and they run with them. So, when you see the faces, when you hear the stories, there’s something that tugs at the emotional strings and makes us feel for the suffering. The videos and photos help create that connection to potential supporters. The videos and photos make the case, and give the viewer the choice to take action and recognize our growing inability to acknowledge another human being’s pain. If we don’t see it, if we don’t feel it – it isn’t there.

MARK: How did you come to be involved in this campaign?

MARTHA: Laura of WICIR forwarded an email to me. Honestly, I was very hesitant to attend the emergency strategic planning meeting. I was exhausted mentally for an urgent campaign like this – 7 days. I was also concerned about who was at the table for the campaign. Laura, like the good organizer that she is, followed up with an urgent phone call, and pulled my ear through the phone. I didn’t know the family, but I wanted to know more about the case, and see who was involved. When I saw Jose Luis Jr.’s tired eyes, I thought, “If I don’t act, and his dad gets deported, this boy may struggle 3 times as hard as other youth to succeed in life,” and I’d never forgive myself. I felt connected to him, and I wanted him to know that people tried, and were going to fight hard for him.

MARK: What have you learned having gone through this experience? Going forward as an organizer in the undocumented worker community, how are you likely to do things differently as a result of this successful campaign?

MARTHA: I learned that, when urgency calls, I get tough dude and I use all my resources to fight. If I have a meeting, if I feel I have a contact who can help, I use that to stop the deportation. I also learned that despite all the messed up organizing, an ad hoc group of grassroots leaders can rock a campaign. People in the non-profit world always think they need 6-digit grants to make social change…. Not really.

MARK: So what’s next for Jose Luis? What can he do in order to insure that, next year at this time, he isn’t deported.

MARTHA: He will have to report to ICE. This next phase differs from case to case. Right now, he’s waiting for a letter from ICE to let him know about his new deportation proceedings. He still has to go through deportation proceedings. It’s just that his deportation was deferred. So, he isn’t here permanently. He said today at the rally that he will continue to do the day-to-day things that he’s always done – work and make sure his family progresses.

MARK: Is there any scenario in which he’ll be allowed to stay beyond this next year?

MARTHA: Yes, of course. If there’s an executive order from President Obama, I think he would be a great candidate for a closed case. I personally see this as being more likely than immigration reform. He could also see a continuation of his deferment. This would be unfortunate, though, because he’d still be deportable.

MARK: Under what circumstances do you feel as though an undocumented worker should be deported?

MARTHA: That is an interesting question. Another question to ask is under what circumstances a U.S. citizen should be deported?

MARK: I’m just trying to get a sense of the parameters here. Part of the argument behind the campaign to allow Jose Luis to stay in Ann Arbor, at least as I heard it, was that he was a law-abiding, hard working member of the community. Above, however, you mentioned that you’ve also worked on campaigns on behalf of individuals with criminal records. I’m not making a judgement here. I’m just asking if, in your opinion, are there ever instances where deportation is warranted.

MARTHA: I mean, that’s a tough question for me. Look at my dad, his trials, and where he is now. People make mistakes. This issue is so closely tied to the prison industrial complex and lack of true rehabilitation for disadvantaged populations. So, this question is tough for me to answer, honestly. I think that serious criminals like murder’s, domestic violence cases, child abuse, child molestation, those terrible charges those would be highly warranted in our society as serious criminals and their cases don’t ever see possible stops of a deportation. They go straight into the criminal system and on to deportation proceedings. But, really, those cases, among all the deportation cases, are low. We see more non-serious criminals deported than these “serious” criminals. ICE says they’re getting these “serious criminals,” these “bad guys,” but are they really getting any and all? Just like what we saw in the November raid in Ypsilanti Township. ICE says they’re going for the serious criminals with a search warrant in hand. They may know where that person is during the investigation, but they abuse the search warrant and they hang out all day waiting for people to come by who look illegal (whatever that means). So, they stick around all day and they pull people over who are in the area and have nothing whatsoever to do with the search warrant. They also define the boundaries of the investigation very broadly, allowing them to freely roam the neighborhoods around the area they’re focused on. In November, the raid was off a main street, and in a business area that was frequented by Latino immigrants. So, they had free rein to detain anyone who they determined could be illegal. That’s what we saw with many of the people who were detained in November in that huge Ypsilanti Township raid. If you look illegal and like you might be a serious criminal, you’re pulled over and asked for your papers. ICE has gotten smarter. They use prosecutorial discretion to their advantage. They say they’re going after serious criminals, but then they operate in such a way as to get a great deal of collateral – undocumented people who don’t pose a threat.

MARK: Our Governor came out a few days ago with a plan to lower immigration barriers for “skilled” workers – those individuals from India, China and elsewhere, who have technical skills deemed to be of value to American corporations. I’m curious as to how you feel about the disparity in the way these two groups of individuals are treated.

MARTHA: This goes back to “undesired” and “desired” immigrants. Personally, I appreciate the laborer who is cooking my food at a restaurant, a construction worker, a gardener, a cleaning lady, a factory worker… I think these skills and workforce profiles are important too.

MARK: Do I understand correctly that there’s a movement afoot to institute a program through which undocumented workers might be able to obtain official IDs in Washtenaw County?

MARTHA: Not exactly. WICIR and other community groups are working to develop a ID program that is accepted at institutions within the County. This is a form of identification that could help people open bank accounts, obtain a library card, apply for housing, etc. This will particularly help a diverse group of vulnerable populations. For undocumented people, it’s primarily needed so that, if a person is pulled over, or engaging with authorities, they have a form of ID. Many people from the immigrant community are taken in because they don’t have a form of ID. And, then, like Jose Luis, they’re fingerprinted, and processed through to ICE. So, we‘re hoping that a county-wide ID will be approved and accepted by institutions like the police departments.

MARK: Generally speaking, how would you assess the current state of our undocumented population in the Ann Arbor – Ypsilanti area? What issues, if any, do you think that readers of this site should be aware of?

MARTHA: Overall, there’s a lack of connectivity to the greater community… Lack of licenses. Lack of access to education opportunities. There’s a desire to learn English, but, forced to work low-wage jobs, it’s difficult. And, for the same reason, it’s difficult to work on skill development. And, of course, there’s the constant fear of being apprehended and deported, and the lack of funds for an on-call attorney. There’s also racial profiling, discrimination in schools and in the community, lack of representation in politics and public issues, and the fact that these people are sporadically dispersed in isolated areas, segregated from the rest of the community, and missing friends and family back in their home countries. In spite of this, however, it’s a strong and resilient community.

MARK: If you can help me line something up, I’d love to interview a recently arrived undocumented worker for my Ypsilanti Immigration Interviews series.

MARTHA: I am going to think on this. If I run into a recent arrival, I’ll keep you in mind. I’m trying to think if I know anyone, but no one comes to mind. You said you do exit interviews too… Why not Hugo? The gay man who now lives in Mexico while his partner remains in Ypsilanti. Although, I think he may have moved too.

MARK: Interestingly, I just received the following news alert from CNN, and I’m curious to know what you think: “Americans overwhelmingly favor a bill that would give most undocumented immigrants a pathway towards citizenship, according to a new national poll. The CNN/ORC International survey also indicates that a majority of the public says that the government’s main focus should be on legalizing the status of the undocumented rather than on deporting them and beefing up border security. The poll was released Thursday, the same day that House Speaker John Boehner signaled any action on immigration is unlikely this year because House Republicans don’t trust President Barack Obama on the issue.”

MARTHA: I was informed by the most brilliant activist in Detroit. “Martha,” he told me, “it’s the same shit. It’s the same thing. Just repackaged.” He told me not to waste my time with it. Just to focus on stopping deportations. “It’s just a distraction,” he said. “They’ll come up with a heavy, enforcement-based policy, with an unrealistic pathway to citizenship, and then it won’t even get passed in the House.” He told me not to waste money, energy or time going to lobby in D.C. for just and humane immigration reform. He was right. That was from the brilliant Jose Franco of One Michigan. Everyone should donate to that organization and support their approach. Unlike others, they actually listen to the people affected. This is a grassroots undocumented AND unafraid youth group that takes control of their community, and fights a real fight. They were pivotal in seeing DACA become a reality through their national affiliates… Boehner doesn’t care about immigrants. He doesn’t.

MARK: If I can play Devil’s advocate for a moment, I’m curious how you respond to those in the community who would say that there are established guidelines for immigration, and, by choosing to circumvent them, you’re not only breaking the law, but hurting the chances of those would-be immigrants who are playing by the rules?

MARTHA: I would ask those people to consider how and why these people have come here. Walk in their shoes, or chanclas, dude. Consider their lifestyle. Consider their struggles and the day-to-day. Consider the type of work they obtain. Consider the risks they have of losing work. Consider their health risks and access to resources. This is the most vulnerable and exploited community in the United States. Consider our (U.S.) role in other countries and why people are coming here. Read about how NAFTA has negatively impacted these countries. Read up on the modernized NAFTA, the TPP! Consider who is benefiting from them being here. Consider how you benefit from them being here. I would tell people to take some time to research the application process. I would encourage them to talk to immigrants. I would tell them that immigration is a complicated issue… The application process isn’t a “fill out a form and then your documented” kind of thing.

I would tell them to think critically when they hear about immigration reform or immigration issues. Certain people from certain places can come here, and certain people from certain places cannot. The immigration laws are created with a ineffective framework by folks who are disconnected from the people who would be affected.

Finally, I would look them right in the eyes, and I would put my hand on my hip and say, “When a law does not function, or is discriminatory, things fail, and people organize, and ask questions. That’s how social change happens and true organizing becomes effective.” Then I would do a air Z-snap and a “talk to the hand” gesture… Just kidding.


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  1. C. Abbott
    Posted February 7, 2014 at 6:22 am | Permalink

    Given the publicity of this case, I hope that Mr. Sanchez-Ronquillo is able to keep his job.

  2. anonymous
    Posted February 7, 2014 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    It’ll be cool once these DACA kids start running for elected office.

  3. Dan Foreshay
    Posted February 7, 2014 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    Much as with the abortion debate, my thoughts on this subject are conflicted. On one hand, I have a great deal of sympathy for undocumented. They lead difficult lives on the fringes of society. They’re paid little, have next to no voice in the American system and live in constant fear of deportation. Furthermore, I recognize the fact that, in their position, I too would cross the border from Mexico in hopes of making a better life for my family. They risk everything so that their kids can grow up here and have a shot at making something of themselves. That’s to be commended. On the other hand, we are a nation of laws, and, when you choose to live here, you have to accept the possibility that, sooner or later, you might be put in a position where you’ll be held accountable for breaking these laws. I acknowledge that, in certain circumstances, it’s necessary to stand up against unjust laws. I wouldn’t say, for instance, that black Americans in the 1960s should have just accepted Jim Crow. They were right to rebel. In this instance, however, I don’t think it’s as clear cut. These people are living here, benefiting from our economy, but they are not contributing financially by way of taxation. If I were to stop paying taxes, I would be put in prison. Why is it in the case of Sanchez-Ronquillo, though, we’re supposed to accept it? I understand that there isn’t a system in place which would make it easy for him to do so, and I also understand that, as he doesn’t enjoy the benefits of citizenship, like the ability to vote, it might be unfair, but that doesn’t make it right that a black market economy exists off the books. The restaurant he works at is paying him under the table. That means that they’re not following the law. They’re not reporting their true revenue. We need comprehensive reform across the board. This is a bigger issue that one man in Ann Arbor. This is a system built on exploitation.

  4. Elf
    Posted February 7, 2014 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    The reason these laws will never change is that we have people like Rush Limbaugh dictating public discourse.

    “Some people are just born to be slaves.” -Rush Limbaugh

  5. Kim
    Posted February 7, 2014 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    ICE has nothing to lose by deferring a year. He’s not a danger to the community, and, in a year’s time, the public uproar will likely be less coordinated.

  6. josh
    Posted February 7, 2014 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    Many (most?) undocumented workers pay taxes.

  7. Meta
    Posted February 7, 2014 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    Everyone pays sales tax.

    Speaking of Limbaugh, the Wall Street Journal thinks that Republicans aren’t voting on immigration reform because they fear right wing talk radio.

    So great is the House GOP fear of a talk-radio backlash that it won’t even pass smaller bills that 75% of Republicans agree on. There will be nothing to codify the legal status of children of illegal immigrants who have lived here for decades. And no expanded green cards for foreign graduates of U.S. colleges, a policy Mitt Romney endorsed. And no cleaning up the work-visa morass that has obliged U.S. farmers to hire illegals to harvest their crops.

    Read more:

  8. Meta
    Posted February 7, 2014 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

    Talking Points Memo on the bind that Boehner has gotten himself into.

    Door No. 1 will infuriate your core supporters, spark a civil war within your party and subject you to a coup d’état — all without a guarantee of success.

    Door No. 2 will anger your wealthy donors and make your party irrelevant to the electorate of the future, your own strategists say — and it’ll be on you.

    That’s the terrible, horrible predicament before House Speaker John Boehner on immigration reform — perhaps the most daunting challenge of his career. And he’s struggling mightily with it. Exactly one week after taking two steps forward by releasing a pro-reform blueprint last Thursday, he took three steps backward by kowtowing to his anti-reform flank and pouring cold water on it.

    Read more:

  9. Posted February 7, 2014 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

    ” These people are living here, benefiting from our economy, but they are not contributing financially by way of taxation.”

    Really? I still haven’t figure out how to get away with not paying sales tax when I buy stuff at the store, or gas taxes when I put gas in the car, or car registration, or the property taxes my landlord pay by proxy for me when I pay my rent, or special taxes on beer and cigarettes and restaurant food, or highway tolls, or any of the other numerous taxes that everyone has to pay every single day.

    This, of course, ignores the fact that many undocumented workers DO pay federal and state income taxes AND that even documented immigrants pay social security, medicare and other taxes but DON’T qualify for benefits.

    Immigrants largely pay into a system they can’t benefit from, while playing an important economic role as a source of cheap labor.

    What world do you live in?

  10. Posted February 7, 2014 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

    I love the “these people” quip…. as if undocumented people are objects.

    Fuck you.

  11. Jean Henry
    Posted February 8, 2014 at 12:43 am | Permalink

    I am so proud of the community for rising so swiftly and effectively to this challenge. They did so I think, because the family is engaged in the community. My son goes to school with their youngest son, and they have been at every school function that I have been able to attend. I don’t see any reason why the community won’t follow through on their efforts. We had 7 days to get this done. Imagine the resources we can bring to bear collectively in a year. I can’t imagine that we will be able to abandon the work when we see that family on a regular basis. Inaction requires distance. So much activism that seems political has its basis in personal experience and in relationships. That’s where we find our humanity and our courage. I like what Martha said about us ‘acknowledging our privilege.’ I think it’s accurate. We have learned something about ourselves. We have been buoyed by positive action. The community is woven more tightly for it. I know a lot of the kids feel empowered politically. This experience makes a strong argument for greater diversity and inclusion in our schools and communities, for less separation. I don’t know if Jose Luis’ deportation can be prevented, but I believe this community will bring everything to bear to make it so. Thanks for adding some breadth to the story, Mark.

  12. Frosted Flakes
    Posted February 8, 2014 at 12:40 pm | Permalink


    You are absolutely correct. Dan’s assumptions about undocumented workers are almost entirely incorrect. They contribute a lot in terms of taxes and often do not receive benefits for their contributions. However, please stop with your assumptions about other people’s character based upon almost nothing. To say he is objectifying people because he used the term “these people” is very silly. In the future I would appreciate it if you tried to be a little more HONEST in your exchanges with others. Homework assignment: Think about why you often try to make people out to look bad. You seem to go out of your way to attack the character of others. To me you always have come across as very slanderous when you argue. I don’t think it is right and believe it or not it really makes you look bad. Something to think about…

  13. anonymous
    Posted February 12, 2014 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    Jon Stewart last night on immigration reform.

  14. Posted February 12, 2014 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    “However, please stop with your assumptions about other people’s character based upon almost nothing. To say he is objectifying people because he used the term “these people” is very silly. In the future I would appreciate it if you tried to be a little more HONEST in your exchanges with others. Homework assignment: Think about why you often try to make people out to look bad. You seem to go out of your way to attack the character of others. To me you always have come across as very slanderous when you argue. I don’t think it is right and believe it or not it really makes you look bad. Something to think about…”


  15. EOS by proxy
    Posted February 14, 2014 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    [EOS was asked in another thread to comment on this subject. Here is his response.]

    I think illegal aliens should be prevented from working, obtaining ID, and attending schools. If I know of a business that hires illegal aliens, I would not spend my money there. If we enforced existing laws, we would not have large numbers of persons illegally entering our country. We don’t need to tie up court dockets with hearings and we don’t need to buy plane tickets and escort them home.

  16. Facts?
    Posted April 23, 2017 at 9:59 am | Permalink


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