A group of undocumented immigrant workers who were arrested when US immigration officials raided Mexican restaurants and homes in and around Buffalo, New York earlier this month have set off on a week-long march across three states to protest and call for an end to their deportations.
Calling themselves the Buffalo 25, the immigrants’ “Journey to Dignity” is planned to proceed from upstate New York to Ohio to draw attention to and to protest ICE deportations, of which there were more than 235,000 last year. Some of the marchers are still wearing ankle tracking bracelets, others have loved ones still in custody.
“My daughters keep asking for their father,” Buffalo 25 member Aida Ramirez, who is wearing an ankle monitor and whose husband is still locked up, told WIVB. “And they keep asking where he is and they want to be with him. I never thought this would ever happen. It’s a complete surprise to me. We know we are immigrants, but it was a complete surprise. We didn’t think this would ever happen to us.”
The Buffalo 25 were arrested on October 18 when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers raided four restaurants owned by 42-year-old Sergio Ramses Mucino: Don Tequila on Allen Street, Agave on Elmwood Avenue, El Agave in Cheektowaga and La Divina Mexican Store in Kenmore. ICE agents ransacked homes, frightened children and took workers’ life savings.
”I found my house upside down, destroyed,” a Buffalo 25 member identified only as Leticia told Democracy Now. “My children, all four, were born here. They took my children’s documents, which are the most important to us. They took all of our savings for college. It was about $9,000 to $10,000, and that was for college for my daughter. My daughter is strong, but I’m starting to see her waver. She says not to worry, that she’ll start working soon.”
According to Assistant US Attorney Brian J. Counihan, the majority of the employees at the four restaurants were undocumented employees who were paid $500-$800 per week in cash for working 14 hours a day, six days a week.
There has been an outpouring of support for the Buffalo 25 across the city as churches have opened their doors as sanctuaries in the wake of the raids. Last week, eight immigration justice activists were arrested after they blocked the entrance to the ICE office in downtown Buffalo. Movimiento Cosecha, a peaceful movement fighting for the humane and permanent protection of immigrants in the United States, is helping provide for affected families.
Federal courts will decide whether the Buffalo 25 can remain in the United States. Ramirez remains hopeful. “My hope would be that I would be able to work, so that I can provide for my children and that my two daughters would have a better life,” she told WIVB.
However, more immigrants have been deported during the tenure of President Barack Obama than under any previous president, with more than 2.5 people removed between 2009 and 2015. Critics have dubbed Obama the “deporter-in-chief” for his administration’s unrelenting expulsion of men, women and children seeking refuge from violence, poverty and corruption in their native countries.
“We consider him the deportation president,” National Council of La Raza president Janet Murguía said of Obama in 2014. “He can stop tearing families apart. He can stop throwing communities and businesses into chaos. He can stop turning a blind eye to the harm being done. He does have the power to stop this. Failure to act will be a shameful legacy for his presidency.”
Children, including American citizens, are particularly affected by deportations. Tens of thousands of children born in the United States have been traumatically separatedfrom their deported undocumented parents in recent years, while tens of thousands more children whose parents illegally brought them into the country are expelled — often without having their day in court.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has vowed to end the deportation of undocumented children if she is elected. In stark contrast, Republican nominee Donald Trump says he will round up and “humanely deport” all undocumented immigrants from the United States if elected. Trump, who launched his presidential bid by calling Mexicans criminals, drug traffickers and “rapists,” has also said he would violate the Fourteenth Amendment by ending birthright citizenship and deporting children who are American citizens but whose parents entered the country illegally.