April 9, 2013

Call-in Campaign for Arrested Cornell Students Mobilizes Activists

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After Nancy Morales grad and Omar Figueredo grad were arrested last month for refusing to answer questions about their citizenship status, a phone campaign urging Cameron county’s district attorney office to drop the charges — which the campaign’s organizers say are “trumped up” — has mobilized over 100 callers.

Morales and Figueredo were arrested in Brownsville after they refused to answer a border patrol agent’s question about their citizenship status. Figueredo was arrested for failing to identify himself, resisting arrest and obstructing a passageway, while Morales was arrested for interference with public duties, a class B misdemeanor.

The two students, who are U.S. citizens, said they refused to answer the agent’s question not because they did not have documentation, but because they wanted to put up an act of civil resistance against what Figueredo called “an unauthorized form of intimidation and harassment that has become naturalized and normalized in the border region.” They were released on bond on Mar. 26.

Those who participated in the call-in campaign said they thought the charges against the two students should be dropped because the arrest epitomized racial profiling and harassment in the border region.

“Allowing border patrol to question people about their legal status in an airport where they already have to identify themselves if they want to board a plane is unnecessary,” said Esmeralda Arrizon-Palomera grad, president of DREAM Cornell. “It instills fear in communities that are already heavily policed.”

Arrizon-Palomera added that the two students’ decision to not answer questions about their citizenship status was a “decision to resist harassment from the border patrol” and was “right and necessary.”

Catherine Jung ’13, another participant in the call-in campaign, said the border patrol agent’s questioning near the Mexico-U.S. border was an example of racial profiling.

“Why are we so intent on kicking [out] ‘Mexicans’ but not the ‘Canadians’? Is it because people associate Mexico with darker skin tone and equate this with [being] not American?” Jung said.

Prof. Paula Ioanide, comparative race and ethnicity studies, Ithaca College, said that after watching the arrest of her friends through the livestream video, she “went into organizing mode and asked everyone I know [to call the Brownsville airport and the Brownsville Police Department].”

After Ioanide found out what the charges were and where Morales and Figueredo were taken after their arrest, she and fellow organizers set up a call-in campaign to get the charges dropped.

Ioanide said she was exasperated by the fact that refusing to answer the border patrol agent’s question led to Morales and Figueredo’s arrest.

“When we exercise our [right to not answer a border patrol agent’s question], this is what happens?” Ioanide said.

Orlando Lara M.F.A. ’11, another organizer of the phone campaign, shared Ioanide’s exasperation.

“I had no idea the police would step in to arrest without warning,” Lara said.

Although many calls were made to the district attorney’s office, Lara said many call-in participants’ calls were deferred to a federal agency, even though the arrest and subsequent charges were criminal and had nothing to do with federal agencies.

“[The D.A.’s office] is trying to tell people that they don’t have the charges in their office and that they should call the federal agencies. … Sometimes they’d say [call the] Border Patrol Agency, sometimes they’d say Immigration Customs Enforcement,” Lara said.

As of Tuesday, however, the D.A.’s office started to accept the calls instead of referring callers to federal agencies, according to Lara.

Virginia Raymond, a lawyer based in Texas, said Morales and Figueredo’s case is interesting because it highlights the contradiction between the application of immigration law at the border and the rights that the U.S. constitution guarantees. Raymond said some immigration practices at the border violate constitutional rights, including guarantees of freedom of speech, prevention of unreasonable searches and seizures and equal protection.

In most cases, Raymond said, the conflict between immigration law and the constitution is not challenged because when questioned by a border patrol agent, “most U.S. citizens would usually say, ‘yeah, I’m a citizen.’”

She said the two students were courageous for exercising their constitutional rights because they called attention to the discrepancy between immigration law and constitutional rights. Raymond said she has not personally seen any cases where U.S. citizens refused to answer border patrol agents’ questions.

“We haven’t had many U.S. citizens in a non-criminal context that I know of challenging immigration law and border patrol practices because most people just go along for the sake of convenience,” Raymond said. “We use the privilege we have as U.S. citizens. We don’t challenge the privilege and see the injustices that others must endure.”

Figueredo said that the case brought up issues “that people live with on a daily basis but aren’t conscious of.” The students has been in Texas since last week and are still figuring out details of how to get back to Ithaca.

“Since last Tuesday, all we wanted to do was go back to Ithaca,” Figueredo said.

Original Author: By JINJOO LEE