Immigration lawyers, activists, public officials, clergy members and residents gathered outside the federal immigration office in Morgan Hill Thursday to protest reports of “inhumane” treatment of detainees, and to demand the facility be shut down.
The protestors also wanted to send the message that residents can support the Rapid Response Network of Santa Clara County, a community of activists and attorneys that works to provide immigration detainees with legal counsel and ensure their rights are upheld. They urged their fellow protestors to “report ICE activity” by calling the response network at 408.290.1144.
Immigration attorney Dorothy Ma described an incident earlier this month when an immigrant detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents was denied due process while forced to sit in a van outside the Morgan Hill field office on Vineyard Court before he was transported to a processing center in San Francisco.
ICE officers refused to allow Ma to consult with the client because the field office does not provide a secure meeting area for attorneys or other visitors, said Ma, a staff attorney for the organization Amigos de Guadalupe. An ICE supervising officer told her the client was sitting outside in a van while agents arrested more immigrants to fill the vehicle with more people to be processed in San Francisco, Ma said.
The case came to Ma’s attention when the detained immigrant’s mother called her office immediately after ICE officers arrested him. Ma traveled to the Morgan Hill facility that morning to provide “field representation” for the man, even though she was ultimately denied. Ma estimated that the man, who is a recipient of the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, sat inside the van for at least five hours before he was finally transported for processing. During this time, he was denied legal representation while ICE set his bail amount and served him with documents to initiate deportation proceedings.
“It is absolutely crucial during this window of time for us to be able to speak with the client, because the clients who are detained and have representation fare better at every stage of the immigration process,” Ma said. “Because there was no secure area (at the Morgan Hill ICE field office), I couldn’t advocate for him for a very important stage.”
She added that the constitutional right to due process is not supposed to be delayed or withheld due to the detainee’s custody location. “The right to counsel starts immediately” after arrest, Ma explained. “If they can’t provide basic legal and safety rights here, then this center shouldn’t be existing,” Ma said to about 30 protesters.
ICE spokesman Richard Rocha said in response to a request for comment, “The ICE office in Morgan Hill is solely administrative space and does not have space to process or detain individuals nor is it set up to offer attorney or family visits. ICE routinely stops at the Morgan Hill office to allow detainees an opportunity to use the restroom en route to other permanent ICE facilities where full access to attorneys is provided.”
Protestors at the Dec. 20 event held signs with giant letters written in magic marker: “SHUT IT DOWN!” and “We demand due process!” among them. The protest occurred amid growing nationwide concern over federal immigration enforcement practices under the President Donald Trump administration. Mentioned at the demonstration was a 7-year-old girl who died last week in federal agents’ custody after she illegally crossed the U.S. border with her father.
Some of those present at the rally demonstrated in previous protests against ICE outside the Morgan Hill office, which has been at its current location on Vineyard Court since 2016. Mayor Rich Constantine was one of the speakers.
“I’m here to tell you that the city of Morgan Hill (and) the Morgan Hill Police Department do not condone the actions that are being … perpetrated” by ICE, Constantine began. “I don’t blame the men and women who work for ICE, but their job is being dictated … by this administration. The actions of this administration have made it difficult for this country to fulfill its constitutional rights.”
Constantine explained that his parents are immigrants from Jamaica. “They came here the same reason all immigrants come here—because they wanted a better life. And that is what this country was founded on,” he said.
The mayor urged the assembled protestors to continue to peacefully resist inhumane immigration policies, by calling their elected representatives and spreading the word. Also speaking at the demponstration were Amigos de Guadalupe Executive Director Maritza Maldonado, Advent Lutheran Church Pastor Anita Warner and Rapid Response Network Attorney Coordinator Luis Angel Reyes Savalza.
Savalza said at least 15 Mexican nationals have been arrested by ICE agents in Santa Clara County in the month of December so far. These immigrants are often “picked up” by ICE officers while on their way to work.
“We know these things because we have a network, to ensure due process is protected for everyone,” Savalza said. “ICE officers have categorically denied their right to counsel, a constitutional right for citizens and non-citizens.”
Like other activists present, Savalza implored the crowd to call the network’s hotline any time they see ICE activity in their community.
“This is the first step: exposing what ICE is doing,” he said.
This article was originally published by San Jose Inside/Metro Silicon Valley sister publication, the Morgan Hill Times.