Fort Worth

‘We’re scared all the time.’ Immigrants speak out against local ICE program

In late April, Armando Ruiz and his wife, Teresa Sorto, made the long drive from their home in Arlington to Haskell to follow up on a Craigslist ad offering a free television.

Ruiz, a 38-year-old Mexican immigrant, and Sorto, a 42-year-old Honduran immigrant, had talked to the owner of the TV through email and were told to knock loudly on the front door when they got there, as their office was in the back of the house, Ruiz said. They knocked firmly, over and over, but there was no answer, he said. Then a woman approached them.

She asked them what they were doing at the house, so they told her about the ad, Ruiz said. The woman stated she was going inside to call somebody, he said, but minutes later local police were at the front door asking for their identification.

The officers went on to call the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Arlington couple was detained, he said. Ruiz, who didn’t wish to comment on the documentation status of himself or his wife, said he was released after hours.

But his wife spent five days in jail in Haskell County.

“We are scared all the time now,” said Ruiz, who with his wife is raising two young sons with autism. “After that, we are scared.”

Ruiz, speaking in Spanish into a microphone, discussed the fear he feels from that incident for a crowd of around 100 supporters and fellow immigrants gathered in front of the Fort Worth Administration Building to speak out against ICE program 287(g).

The program, named for Section 287 (g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, creates partnerships between state and local law enforcement agencies and ICE in an effort “to identify and remove aliens who are amenable to removal from the United States,” according to the ICE website. The Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office is one of 25 Texas entities with 287(g) agreements, the most in the country.

Agencies — typically sheriff’s offices or jails — entered into an agreement like this can have officers ask residents for their legal status. Critics of 287(g) say it can lead to racial profiling of documented and undocumented immigrants, making them fearful to go out and even causing people to be hesitant to come forward to police about anything.

The 100 or so people gathered in front of the Administration Building first marched from Burk Burnett Park, with the streets blocked off. The impetus for the event, organizers from ICE Out of Tarrant said, was the upcoming June 30 expiration date of these 287(g) contracts across the country, forcing agencies to renew their contracts or opt out.

Deanna Melendez, a 27-year-old who works with the nonprofit immigration legal agency RAICES in Fort Worth, said anyone who is an immigrant can be targeted. Depending on their status, they could be detained or deported, she said.

She said she has gotten calls from people who have been arrested after interactions such as a traffic stop, causing family to fear the worst. Other people are scared to go anywhere, she noted, including even the Saturday event, which was monitored by local police.

“They go to work; they don’t know if they’re going to be coming back. You don’t know if that is the last time you’re going to see them,” said Melendez, whose Mexican-born mother has six siblings in Fort Worth who are undocumented. “But you still have to go to work because you have to support your family. They have to take the risk.”

With RAICES, Melendez said she helped represent Ruiz and Sorto back in April, after she said police called ICE because they had no reason to arrest them.

“Her children were torn up by not knowing where mom was,” Melendez said. “It took us five days to get her out of detention. Just because you’re a person of color doesn’t give authorities a reason to target you and start asking questions.”

Although no Haskell County agencies are in a 287(g) arrangement, according to a database from the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, there is the Rolling Plains Correctional Facility run by ICE in Haskell.

Ruiz said he doesn’t know if the person who posted the Craigslist ad called the police, or if she was a neighbor.

On Saturday, he asked Sorto, who doesn’t speak any English, how she feels after the incident.

She told him she’s scared any time she sees police lights in the rearview mirror, he said.

“She’s thinking,” he said, “’they’re going to stop us and do the same thing.’”