Raids in the area have been increasing since December, when Border Patrol agents visited the San Bernardino Greyhound station, targeting holiday travelers.
We had been hearing rumors about parents being detained at a school bus stop, a blatant violation of the right of children to an education, only to find out that they were true.1
Then, on January 29--the same day the Brown Berets initiated a series of actions demanding justice for Annette García
, an activist assassinated by the Riverside Sheriff's Department--Border Patrol agents raided several day labor sites simultaneously, including Fontana, Rialto, Moreno Valley, and the Casa Blanca neighborhood of Riverside. Detentions at the San Bernardino Greyhound Bus Station began recurring.
Then, when we heard reports about the ICE breaking their own policies of focusing on "criminal aliens," with the resulting aggravation of human rights abuses,2
the picture started to become a little clearer.
And when Tony Plattel, a Border Patrol agent fired for providing water for dehydrated detainees, spoke out against the Border Patrol's quotas, there was no longer any doubt about the corruption that lay at the root of this series of human rights violations.
According to Plattel, in order to arrest the required eight people per day, agents drove the streets of San Bernardino, profiling people who "looked 'wet.'"3
"Wet" is a racist slang term for "undocumented."
In response, local activists did their utmost to connect detainees with legal counsel, spread information and pamphlets so people would know their rights, and disseminated a raid hotline to alert others to the presence of the Border Patrol or ICE.
But the community required more. We needed a way to let the Border Patrol know that we are paying attention to them. A way to stand up to the daily harassment and racial profiling on the part of the police. A way to come together to speak with a united voice as a community and demand an end to the injustice. A way to reclaim our dignity. We needed a march.
We met at Riverside City Hall in the morning, where we heard speakers from local religious and day labor organizations. The speakers spoke of the need for a peaceful march and of a need to transcend the negative feelings we might have toward the Border Patrol, as well as those our detractors (obliquely referring to the Minutemen and -women) might have toward us. They denounced the terror the agents of la migra inflict upon families and communities, and spoke of intimidation. Some mentioned the need to press Obama to fulfill his promise to the immigrant community to enact a comprehensive immigration reform.
Shortly after eleven, the march began, with Danza Azteca Cuauhtémoc leading the way, sanctifying our path. People of all ages, many of whom were mobilized by religious organizations and labor unions, marched over three miles to the unassuming and unmarked Border Patrol station in suite A2 of 2060 Chicago Avenue.
In total, more than 300 people, members of Warehouse Workers United, LiUNA, the National Day Labor Organizing Network, Pomona Economic Opportunity Center, the Inland Empire Rapid Response Network, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and other churches, student groups from UC Riverside and the Claremont Colleges, the Mexica Movement, and the Brown Berets made the trek. When rain began to fall, march organizers and security handed out plastic ponchos.
We raised cries of "¡Sí se puede!" "¡Alto a las redadas!" "Stop the raids!" and "¡El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!"
As we neared the station, a small crowd of Minute-people came into view. Although we know that they often arrive to protests and counterprotests armed, we were undaunted. When they tried to yell their slurs at us, we made our opposition to their message clear. But for the most part, we simply ignored them.
In front of the Border Patrol station, a band played songs and people danced. We heard another round of speeches, and made our demands clear: end racial profiling, end the cooperation between the Border Patrol and local police forces, end the quota system, and stop raids on day labor sites. In an act of solidarity not only with each other, but also with struggles of days past, we closed with a group rendition of the movement hymn "De Colores."
1. Brambila, Nicole C. "Border Patrol detains 6 parents of Thermal schoolchildren," The Desert Sun. January 28, 2009. http://www.mydesert.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090128/NEWS01/901280310
2. Bernstein, Nina. "Target of Immigrant Raids Shifted," New York Times. February 3, 2009. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/04/us/04raids.html?hp
3. Kelly, David. "Fired Border Patrol agent alleges quota pressure in Inland Empire," Los Angeles Times. February 6, 2009. http://www.latimes.com/news/local/immigration/la-me-border-patrol-quota6-2009feb06,0,5612049.story