Report back from Painesville- immigrants raids and protest
Tuesday, May. 22, 2007
Last week, federal agents conducted raids on Mexican immigrants in Painesville. In the fact of this, people there held a bold protest on the steps of city hall. A couple of us went to Painesville with Revolution newspaper, and this is what we learned and experienced.
In the early morning of Friday, May 18, Mexican workers and their families in Painesville OH were awakened by federal agents knocking on their doors, drawing thier weapons, and arresting people. Young girls on their way to school were questioned by the feds, including a 12 year old girl who was grabbed by the hand and asked where she was born as she walked to her school bus stop!
These vicious raids were officially called "Return to Sender(!)" and were conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency's (I.C.E.) "Fugutive Operations Team." I.C.E. said that they were looking for 15-18 people who had not complied with deportation orders, but the numbers of people taken in were much higher, and people we talked to said that the raids were done randomly. There were also people apprehended who had legal papers. Families were split apart, children left without parents, and the whole community was terrorized.
Fear and anger spread rapidly through this small community, about 40 minutes east of Cleveland. There are 8,000 to 10,000 Mexican immigrants who live in Lake and Ashtabula counties. Most of them work at huge nurseries that plant and grow trees, flowers, and some wineries. They do back breaking work, including digging holes in the midst of bitter Ohio winters, when the ground is frozen.
We spoke to a woman who works at a local laundromat. She said that Saturday's are usually packed with hundreds of people doing laundry, but on the day after the raids, only 6 customers came in. It was reported that many Mexicans slept in the fields, fearing the raids.
But on that same day, over 200 people held a protest rally on the steps of the Painesville City Hall! It was overwhelmingly Mexican immigrants, but also included people from the Puerto Rican community and some white people. They held signs saying, "Stop deportations," "Don't leave our kids without parents," and "You are destroying our families." This rally was very significant and courageous!
Over 400 immigrants sought sanctuary in a local Catholic Church. One woman said, "We heard people say we can come here to be safe." We spoke to Father Steve from St. Mary's Church about why they gave refuge to these families. He said "it's the natural thing to do." But he also told us some more about the nature of the raids. "They happened very early in the morning, waking people up. They would knock on the door, and once people opened the door, the feds would be inside. Even tho they said they were looking for specific people, they had most of the addresses wrong, and just asked everyone for papers. They even had the addresses wrong for the nurseries." Father Steve also said since there is no local jail in Painesville, people didn't know where those who had been taken into custody were at.
We also went out with Revolution to the Mexican grocery stores. While our ability to speak Spanish was limited, we did connect with dozens of people. We wanted to let them know that it was important and inspiring that people stood up to these raids. People were happy and surprised to know that their message was being heard and welcomed. And they welcomed our message that "We are Human Beings, We Demand a Better World, We will NOT Accept Slavery in Any Form." In 45 minutes, we sold out of our Spanish newspapers! So we continued by getting out previous issues of Revolution in Spanish, along with big color posters we'd made of the May 1st statement by the RCP.
We talked to a Mexican store owner who's lived in the U.S. for 20 years. He brought food and beverages to the church were the immigrants were gathered. He said that he used to think that this country was free, but since September 11, no longer feels that way. "How can this country say they want to fix other countries when they let people die in New Orleans and how they treat immigrants?" He, like many others, didn't understand why the government was going after immigrants. "Are they really trying to get all the immigrants out of this country?" We used parts of the RCP's May 1st statement in discussing what is going on, and why. He felt that things are only going to get worse, referencing the Bible, but also said that people have to keep fighting. He took a stack of Revolution to distribute to people from his store, and also got a copy of Bob Avakian's CD "Why do people come here from all over the world."
In a year marked by massive raids and roundups of immigrants, hundreds of thousands of people marched in the streets of major and small cities across the country on May 1 to give voice to their burning demand to be treated like human beings. People from different walks of life are demanding answers and are organizing further outpourings to speak out against this program and challenge broader sections of people to ask if this is the kind of society they want to live in—where people are viciously attacked for demanding basic rights.
As we said to the Mexican immigrants in Painesville, "from the point of view of the people on the bottom, there is not an immigration problem, there is a capitalism problem. "
The world cries out for revolution.
Breaking news: the struggle continues in Painesville! Monday night, over 300 people rallied and marched. The News-Herald reports,
"Many of Monday's adult marchers held signs bearing messages like 'We are part of this community' and 'Leave the families alone,' while young people's signs declared, 'They can't deport us all' and 'My future is here.'"
Chants in Spanish included "We are not criminals," and "Stop the raids."
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