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Latino Daily News

Friday September 23, 2011

Residents in Tennessee Town Feel Intimidated by Immigration Officials

Residents of Shelbyville, TN describe a continuing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) presence in their community, after a weekend raid that struck fear in the hearts of community activists—the same people who just days before, spoke up at a public hearing about civil and human rights violations by state, local, and federal law enforcement.

And while ICE spokesman Temple Black said in an email yesterday that allegations the raids were retaliatory are “without merit,” community members in Shelbyville are skeptical.

“If that’s true,” says community leader and hearing organizer, Jose G., “why were they all over Shelbyville on Saturday with so many officers and so many cars?  Why have they continued to be here?  We’ve never seen anything like this before in Shelbyville.  My wife and I were scared when we walked out of the Lowes and saw several ICE officers in the parking lot—everyone else at Lowes was scared too.” Community members report that ICE has had a continuous presence in their community, showing up at busy, public areas without making any arrests since Saturday.

“ICE did not attend the meeting, track participants, or target supporters,” continued Temple Black. “Rather, wholly apart and distinct from the meeting, ICE identified and arrested three convicted criminals who were living at large in the community.”

If this is so, why did these enforcement actions happen just five days after the community delivered a report detailing various multiple civil and human rights violations, where DOJ and DHS officials were present.  And why is ICE still there?

If, as Black claims, ICE followed DHS guidelines and removed only “public safety threats,” why did the agents themselves break the very rules meant to protect the civil liberties of Shelbyville residents when they entered their homes? A community member who is currently in custody has reported ICE agents entering his home through an unlocked door early Saturday morning, September 17.  The man did not know law enforcement was in his home until they came into the bedroom where he was sleeping.  “The real problem with these sorts of violations,” says longtime Shelbyville resident and business owner, Bill Geissler, “is that everyone needs to follow the law.  If ICE is going after immigrants who they suspect have broken laws, why aren’t they following guidelines that are intended to protect the civil liberties of Shelbyville residents?”

“These are troubling signs that Nashville ICE Fugitive Operations is out of step not just with the enforcement priorities outlined by their national office.  They are also out of step with local law enforcement,” says Kasar Abdulla of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, who has worked intensively with local community leaders to create a safe and welcoming environment.  “We hope these drastic actions won’t undo all the work we have done together to make Shelbyville a more welcoming and inclusive community.”

Dr. Kent E. Lewis, Pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in Shelbyville, was a panelist at the Monday, September 12th hearings where community members shared stories of abusive practices of law enforcement.  Pastor Lewis was deeply concerned by the stories he heard, but continues to urge for a dialogue between community and local police. “I am convinced that Shelbyville can be a community we are all proud of,” says Pastor Lewis.  “We have the capacity to show a welcoming face to people who are not native to our town, a face that reflects the better side of our God-given natures. There are often fears that come up when rapid change occurs in our town, and it is my role as a pastor to assist in the work of reconciliation and remind us of the Jesus of the New Testament, who always welcomed the stranger. Local law enforcement needs to enter into a reconciling dialogue with community leaders and the immigrants who also want to be a part of our community.”

In response to the hearings last week, the raids last Saturday, and a continuous show of force by immigration agents since then, TIRRC and the Rights Working Group (RWG) have filed a formal letters with the US Department of Justice Civil Rights Division (to keep the DOJ abreast of the current situation) and DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (to request a formal investigation).  TIRRC will be meeting in person with DHS later this week.  Other national organizations are joining the outcry, “ICE’s actions are unconscionable. The raid was a clear tactic to intimidate the very communities who spoke out days earlier on ICE’s abuses to the Department of Justice and DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. We call upon the DOJ to investigate this retaliatory act. ICE is out control and it’s high time for the Administration to rein in a rogue, abusive force,” says Sarahi Uribe of the National Day Laborers Organizing Network.

“We hope that the combined voices of local and national leaders will bring resolution to the recent events in Shelbyville,” says Stephen Fotopulos, Executive Director, TIRRC.  “Certainly the residents of Shelbyville deserve justice, just as all Americans should be free to stand up for basic civil rights without fear of government retaliation.”