by Amaury Nora
With all the excitement of this historic election, it is normal to overlook other news that normally would not have been missed; especially, the flagrant abuse of power by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Throughout Chertoff’s tenure as Homeland Secretary, I have said countless of times, as long as Homeland Security and ICE continues their “round them all up, ask questions later” policy, it will always be an open season on all Latinos/as, regardless of their citizenship.
It is ironic with less than a week for the election, I am proven correct again. According to the Los Angeles Times, ICE once again mistakenly detained a US citizen. Guillermo Olivares Romero, 25, was held in a detention center for two weeks.
Federal authorities have released a Los Angeles man from immigration detention after acknowledging that he is a U.S. citizen.
Guillermo Olivares Romero, 25, was held at an Otay Mesa detention center from Sept. 25 until Oct. 9, when an American Civil Liberties Union attorney presented his birth certificate, school and vaccination records to immigration authorities. He was released that day.
In an interview with HOY (h/t to el profe of Latino Like Me), Olivares said “No me creyeron. … Me decían que yo era mexicano porque me parecía a los mexicanos.” (They didn’t believe me. They told me I was a Mexican because I looked like a Mexican.)
If it wasn’t for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Olivares would probably have spent more than two weeks detained in the privately run Corrections Corporation of America’s Otay Mesa detention center. Olivares was only released after ACLU provided ICE with his birth certificate, vaccination and health records, and old school records.
Olivares first run in with immigration officials was in 2000 when Border Patrol accused Olivares trying to sneak his cousin across the border. It was not until his mother came down with his birth certificate, Olivares was allowed to cross.
Later in 2007, unbeknownst to him, Olivares did not realize he was being deported when he was serving time in a state prison awaiting his deportation. It was not until he was handed over to ICE. Immigration officials told Olivares he has signed a document acknowledging he was a Mexican National, even though he insisted he was not. The document in question is ICE’s voluntary departure order.
One of the most commonly heard complaints are the tactics used by ICE to pressure detainees to sign papers, whether they understood them or not. If they refuse to sign, guards tend to exert psychological pressure with verbal threats and physical intimidation. If ICE is claiming Olivares signed this form and was suddenly surprised he was being deported, it sounds like what he experienced the same treatment many undocumented immigrants have reported..
Olivares decided to live with relatives in Jalisco but when he wanted to return because his father was ill, he was denied entrance. Desperate to see his father, he crossed illegally and was caught and deported the same day that his father died. When his mother tried to help him get in legally, Border Patrol, did not believe he was a UC citizen, and that she was his mother.
When Olivares and his mother tried again last month, ICE once again tried to force him to sign “deportation papers.” However, this time he refused and demanded to see a judge. It was at this time; ICE arrested him and shipped him off to the detention center near San Diego.
As usual, ICE does not think they did anything wrong because he told ICE he is a Mexican. According to Virginia Kice, spokeswoman for ICE claims Olivares said he was born in Guadalajara, Mexico and that his criminal record from the California Department of Corrections also shows that he was born in Mexico.
This is not the first time ICE deported a US born Latino. Last year, ICE detained and deported Pedro Guzman, a mentally disabled man, to Mexico, where he spent 89 days alone in an unfamiliar place. Again, ICE also said Guzman had falsely contended that he was Mexican.
While ICE can provide evidence to show that Guillermo Olivares Romero and Pedro Guzman contended they were Mexican citizens, however, there are certain incidents they cannot spin. There is mounting evidence demonstrating ICE has a pattern of targeting people based on a person’s skin color or a person’s Spanish surname, such as the incident with Marie Justeen Mancha, a Mexican-American US, citizen who was home alone in Southeast Georgia when four federal agents stormed into her house, shouting “police! Illegals!”
The unfolding record of ICE’s deportation protocol is further evidence that comprehensive immigration reform must be made top priority during the next Administration. It is also vitally important for the next president and the new Homeland Secretary to investigate of the inhumane tactics practiced by ICE. There is a human tragedy in people who are wrongfully deported and detained. However, it is a greater tragedy when racial stereotypes have influenced ICE’s perception with the idea that all Latinos/as can be considered an immigrant.