José Coyote Perez is a local dairy farm worker and community activist. He has a work permit, a social security card and four children, all U.S. citizens.
But following “an incident where he was the victim of workplace violence” nearly a month ago, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency detained Perez, despite having closed his ICE case this past September, according to Sophia May ’20, a leading organizer of a rally dedicated to bringing attention to Perez’s detainment.
On a cold and cloudy Thursday afternoon, Ithaca community members from all walks of life assembled on the Ithaca Commons to stand in solidarity with Perez and other migrant workers facing threats like detention and deportation.
“I’m an international student; I believe that it’s morally wrong that the government is uprooting the lives of people, especially people who are contributing to the community just like José Perez is … as well as other people at risk of deportations,” said Hassan Saleem ’20.
The rally featured a number of speakers and performances, including a poem from an Ithaca College student and a drum and song performance from a professor at SUNY Cortland.
Speaking about the difficulties migrant farm workers face, Jaqueline Travis, a board member at the Central New York Workers Center, said that she is “sick and tired of what is going on with our brothers and sisters.”
“We want to say ‘we are so proud, yeah! Upstate New York, we have the best dairy!’ At what price, people! Thank god that your milk is not red from the blood that these farm workers have to go through every day,” she said.
Other protesters spoke to the uncertain conditions that many detainees face as a result of ICE.
Chelsea Winene explained how her husband came to the United States seeking asylum from the Democratic Republic of Congo and has been detained at various ICE facilities in Florida since December 2015.
“[My husband] has been beaten by guards arbitrarily two times for saying, ‘I know my rights, don’t treat me like an animal,’” Winene told the group of protesters.
Many speakers expressed fear and frustration at the Trump administration for its perceived role in emboldening ICE agents to take increasingly invasive action against immigrants.
“CBP and ICE seem to be operating under the impression that there are no lines for them to cross; that this is the wild west and they are free to trick and punish and treat their fellow humans with cruelty. But there are lines and they have crossed them” said Jennifer Breen J.D. ’15, a local immigration attorney.
Tempers flared at the protest when a man attempted to disrupt the proceedings, shouting “communist animals!” and muttering other pointed remarks from his truck idling at a red light. At first a few protesters responded in anger before saying to him “We forgive you”.
“I was born and grew up in Germany and I had to come to terms with the Holocaust, so for me being a bystander is not acceptable,” said Ute Ritz-Deutch, a protester. “If I’m a bystander I allow these things to happen, and I cannot tolerate that in the name of the people, my government does things that amount to human rights violations, and that’s why I’m in the fight and that’s why I will continue to be in the fight.”
Perez’s first formal court hearing following his detainment was supposed to be on Thursday, but the hearing was delayed when the judge assigned to the case recused himself after realizing that he previously had been in contact with Perez in a legal capacity.