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After arrest, undocumented immigrant says Trump targets activist leaders for deportation

  • Migrant Justice activists Zully Palacios (left), 23, from Peru and Enrique Balcazar, 24, from Mexico speak during a forum at Unitarian Universalist Church in Concord on Tuesday, May 16, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Enrique Balcazar, 24 from Mexico talks about his experiences as a migrant worker during a forum at Unitarian Universalist Church in Concord on Tuesday, May 16, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Migrant Justice activists Zully Palacios, 23, from Peru and Enrique Balcazar, 24 from Mexico speak during a forum at Unitarian Universalist Church in Concord on Tuesday, May 16, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Migrant Justice activists Zully Palacios (left), 23, from Peru and Enrique Balcazar, 24 from Mexico talk about their experiences being detained during a forum at Unitarian Universalist Church in Concord on Tuesday, May 16, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)



Monitor staff
Wednesday, May 17, 2017

After Enrique Balcazar was taken into custody by federal immigration authorities in March, the 24-year-old human rights activist soon found himself locked up in Dover at the Strafford County jail.

Balcazar, who moved from Mexico to Vermont six years ago to work in the dairy industry, said Tuesday there were 16 others forced to sleep on mats in a common room of the overcrowded jail, mostly undocumented workers like him.

“Construction workers, restaurant workers, they had been arrested not by ICE, but by state police right here in New Hampshire,” he said through a translator at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Concord, using an acronym to refer to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

Although his deportation proceedings are still progressing, there was something different about Balcazar’s stay and that of Zully Palacios, the 23-year-old activist, originally of Peru, who was arrested alongside him. While they were locked up, hundreds of people protested in the streets of Boston and Burlington, Vt., on their behalf, gathering more than 10,000 signatures on a petition and collecting 200 personal letters attesting to their character, he said.

Receiving these communications, a federal immigration judge in Boston reduced Balcazar and Palacios’s bail, allowing them to regain their freedom – at least temporarily – nine days after they were surrounded by four immigration agents in three vehicles outside the headquarters of their human rights organization, Migrant Justice, in Burlington.

Still unsure what will happen at their deportation hearings in 10 months, the activists came to Concord on Tuesday to share their stories about the injustices faced by farmworkers and the anxiety of life as an undocumented immigrant under President Donald Trump’s administration.

Balcazar learned firsthand the abuses suffered by undocumented farmworkers and began to organize with his peers to make changes through Migrant Justice. He said he found successes in the Vermont Legislature, securing the right to drive for undocumented residents and preventing local law enforcement agents from cooperating with federal immigration authorities.

“In Vermont, because they did manage to change the law there, the police don’t bother them. The police have come to respect them in the community, so they don’t bother them,” the translator said, summarizing Balcazar’s Spanish. “But ICE agents have really targeted them. In their instance, they had been following them before their arrest undercover.”

She added: “They are looking for certain people, not just criminals, but people like Zully and (Balcazar), who are leaders. They’re vocal in their work, and that is what makes them a target for ICE agents.”

Neither Balcazar nor Palacios had a criminal record, they said, which would generally make them a low priority for immigration officials.

“It’s sad the way the new administration is working. All around the country, Trump is attacking the community leaders,” Palacios said. “He wants to make us go back again into the shadows, but it won’t happen. We are going to fight for human rights.”

Balcazar, who opined that former President Barack Obama’s deportation policies weren’t much better, said the majority of his cellmates had no criminal records.

“Trump is coming after immigrants. It doesn’t matter if they have no criminal record. He’s saying it’s going to make the country safe, but the people that are being arrested are not people who are any danger to the community,” he said.

In New Hampshire, undocumented workers have a harder time than in Vermont, he said, because they’re unable to drive and local law enforcement officers will report them to federal immigration authorities.

“He says he really likes the motto that’s on the license plate, Live Free or Die,” the translator said, “but he says there’s a lot of work that needs to be done here.”

Maggie Fogarty, the co-state director of the American Friends Service Committee, who helped bring the speakers to Concord, encouraged the roughly 40 attendees to “stand up with our immigrant brothers and sisters and be a part of this movement for human rights and dignity.”

She said it’s important for citizens to listen to the voices of marginalized immigrant communities and emphasize to members of Congress that they need to represent undocumented people, too.

“We want to see courage on their behalf, and that means bringing to a grinding halt the machine that detains and deports family members, immigrants, simply for their lack of status,” she said, adding, “We want our congressional delegation to call for an end to detention for immigration violations, to call for an end to deportation.”

(Nick Reid can be reached at 369-3325, nreid@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at
@NickBReid.)