Interviews for Resistance: On Putting Your Body on the Line to Stop Deportations

An organizer arrested for trying to stop a deportation talks about what’s needed to prevent more families from being split up.

Sarah Jaffe February 14, 2017

Last Wednesday, Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos went to her yearly check-in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Phoenix, Arizona—something she has done every year since 2008. This time, instead of being sent home to her family, she was loaded into a van and deported to Mexico. (FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)

Wel­come to Inter­views for Resis­tance. Since elec­tion night 2016, the streets of the Unit­ed States have rung with resis­tance. Peo­ple all over the coun­try have wok­en up with the con­vic­tion that they must do some­thing to fight inequal­i­ty in all its forms. But many are won­der­ing what it is they can do. In this series, we’ll be talk­ing with expe­ri­enced orga­niz­ers, trou­ble­mak­ers and thinkers who have been doing the hard work of fight­ing for a long time. They’ll be shar­ing their insights on what works, what does­n’t, what has changed and what is still the same.

'I think this is a moment where we need to pick ourselves up and choose where we are standing. We can’t sit down anymore.'

Last Wednes­day, Guadalupe Gar­cia de Rayos went to her year­ly check-in with Immi­gra­tion and Cus­toms Enforce­ment (ICE) in Phoenix, Ari­zona — some­thing she has done every year since 2008, when she was arrest­ed in a raid by noto­ri­ous Sher­iff Joe Arpaio and con­vict­ed of using a fake Social Secu­ri­ty num­ber to work (and pay Social Secu­ri­ty tax­es that she would nev­er be able to col­lect). This time, instead of being sent home to her fam­i­ly, she was loaded into a van and deport­ed to Mex­i­co, despite a group of her friends and fam­i­ly and sup­port­ers plac­ing their bod­ies in the way of the van. Her 14-year-old daugh­ter had to pack her things. The teenag­er, along with her broth­er and father, would be stay­ing behind. Maria Cas­tro was one of the peo­ple putting her body on the line to try to pre­vent Gar­cia de Rayos’s depor­ta­tion and she talks here about what will be nec­es­sary to pre­vent more fam­i­lies from being split up.

Maria Cas­tro: My name is Maria Cas­tro. I am a com­mu­ni­ty orga­niz­er for Peo­ple Unit­ed for Jus­tice and I am also a mem­ber of Puente Arizona.

Sarah Jaffe: Tell us about the action you were involved in in Phoenix.

Maria: Lupi­ta Gar­cia de Rayos was a vic­tim of Arpaio’s ille­gal raids in 2008. Every year, Lupi­ta has gone in to check in with ICE and they have grant­ed her every year per­mis­sion to stay in the coun­try one addi­tion­al year. Every year it was the same, except for this year. This year we had Lupi­ta walk in with the priest from her con­gre­ga­tion and an attor­ney. This time she was put into removal pro­ceed­ings, mean­ing deportation.

I think we sug­ar­coat it by mak­ing it very pro­ce­dur­al, but actu­al­ly that night she was kid­napped from her fam­i­ly and there are many of us in the com­mu­ni­ty that took action. We had them wait­ing out­side in vig­il for Lupi­ta in hopes that the direc­tor would have released her. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, because of [Don­ald] Trump’s new exec­u­tive orders she, much like 8 mil­lion oth­er peo­ple, are now high pri­or­i­ty for depor­ta­tion. I was stand­ing on the side­walk and we start­ed to see vans leaving.

This is not the first time that we as com­mu­ni­ty activists in Ari­zona have done this kind of work. A cou­ple of years ago, in August in 2013, I was sit­ting in front of a bus. Then, a few months lat­er, in a dif­fer­ent facil­i­ty, we chased down a bus and the per­son who we were fight­ing for was snuck out in a van. Learn­ing from these things, we knew that they had a bus at the front of the facil­i­ties and we knew that was a decoy in order to get us con­fused. So, we chased the vans. Myself and about half a dozen peo­ple jumped in front and were being pushed. The van lit­er­al­ly pushed me at least thir­ty feet, hyper­ex­tend­ing my knees, hurt­ing some of my friends, knock­ing some of my fel­low orga­niz­ers down to the ground. It wasn’t until we had one of the vehi­cles in front of the vans and then, anoth­er per­son start­ed to hug the wheels and put his own life at risk, because this is just the begin­ning. This is the begin­ning of the mil­i­ta­rized removal of our com­mu­ni­ties, of our fam­i­lies and of our loved ones. The peo­ple in these vans who were dri­ving them were very high­ly equipped with weapons. When the peo­ple who they are deport­ing aren’t a threat, their fam­i­ly members.

Sarah: You have been build­ing a net­work to do things like this for a while. Can you tell us a lit­tle about the work you have been doing?

Maria: On Jan­u­ary 20th, every­one woke up in Ari­zona. We have been liv­ing with a leg­is­la­ture that is con­stant­ly defund­ing edu­ca­tion and pri­or­i­tiz­ing its res­i­dents for depor­ta­tion. We live in a city, in a state, and in a coun­ty where the sher­iff did as he pleased and dis­missed the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment, dis­missed the Con­sti­tu­tion, dis­missed our basic human rights.

Once we heard that Trump was elect­ed, it was a bit­ter­sweet moment because that night we had also defeat­ed one of the biggest vil­lains that we have seen, the Bull Con­nor of our time, Arpaio. We had to cel­e­brate that, but at the same time, we began to pre­pare. As many orga­niz­ers did dur­ing the reign of Arpaio, peo­ple have been start­ing to form what we call defense com­mit­tees” all across the state. As orga­niz­ers here in Ari­zona and across the nation, we have devel­oped dif­fer­ent tac­tics in order to fight the depor­ta­tion machine, through nation­al orga­niz­ing or local orga­niz­ing, con­tact­ing our sen­a­tors, what­ev­er it may be. We have been able to delay or stop some people’s depor­ta­tion by inter­ven­ing in dif­fer­ent phases.

Right now our pri­or­i­ty has been to decrease the amount of ini­tial con­tact that our peo­ple are hav­ing with law enforce­ment. Under [the Oba­ma] admin­is­tra­tion we have had dif­fer­ent tools at our fin­ger­tips. Right now, Trump has tak­en away our tools. Our peo­ple need to arm them­selves as best as they can by know­ing their rights, but hav­ing plans in case things go bad like it went with Lupi­ta. They have to have these very dif­fi­cult con­ver­sa­tions. We are not just hav­ing these fire drills of depor­ta­tion. We are hav­ing to plan and have dif­fi­cult con­ver­sa­tions, like with my mom. My moth­er is undoc­u­ment­ed. I had to sit down and talk to her and say, What do you want to do?” She and I are rais­ing my younger sis­ter togeth­er. We have to fig­ure out what is going to hap­pen. Are we going to have my lit­tle sis­ter go to Mex­i­co with my mom? Is my sis­ter going to stay here with me? These are some of the con­ver­sa­tions that we have to pre­pare for. Because as of right now, all we have is try­ing to pro­tect each oth­er from hav­ing that ini­tial con­ver­sa­tion with law enforcement.

Sarah: In terms of these kinds of direct actions in resis­tance, obvi­ous­ly they are a worst case sce­nario, but at the same time, you have had some suc­cess in the past with this, correct?

Maria: Yes. Like I said, we were equipped with dif­fer­ent tools under a dif­fer­ent admin­is­tra­tion. Not only are we under attack by 45” [Trump], but it is even more hurt­ful for us and our resis­tance to have weak politi­cians who give oppor­tunis­tic speech­es, con­fuse our com­mu­ni­ty, and sim­ply and quite frankly do absolute­ly noth­ing. By doing noth­ing, they are empow­er­ing the Trump admin­is­tra­tion. They are enabling the depor­ta­tion and the kid­nap­ping of our fam­i­ly mem­bers and real­ly mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for us in our orga­niz­ing, hav­ing to re-explain to folks, Actu­al­ly, your may­or doesn’t care. Actu­al­ly, your may­or has been deport­ing you in mass amounts.”

May­or Greg Stan­ton came out and said, I will not allow the new admin­is­tra­tion in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., to turn our police depart­ment into a mass depor­ta­tion force,” but what he failed to men­tion was that the Phoenix Police Depart­ment is already a mass depor­ta­tion force. One of the biggest depor­ta­tion forces in the coun­try. For us, it is a slap in the face, but it also means that we have to work hard­er. It also means that we have to work on edu­cat­ing our com­mu­ni­ty. It needs to be repli­cat­ed every­where in the coun­try. We need to make sure that we are forc­ing our elect­ed offi­cials to take big and bold stances because we are not in a time where speech­es are going to be enough. We are con­stant­ly under attack and we need bold moves. That is what is required in order for us to sur­vive this admin­is­tra­tion and our elect­ed offi­cials who do not do that are enabling the admin­is­tra­tion. We need them to declare sanc­tu­ary. We need them to change poli­cies and make con­crete and bold moves.

We also need our com­mu­ni­ties to come out­side. I can’t stress that enough. I feel like we have got­ten com­fort­able over the years with the orga­niz­ing that we have done in the past. Shar­ing things on Face­book is good. It is impor­tant for us to help expand the vis­i­bil­i­ty of our actions, but what is nec­es­sary is our feet on the ground and our feet to be march­ing and for us to be con­stant­ly resist­ing. I am not say­ing just for immi­gra­tion. I think Moth­er Earth is under attack. If you feel pas­sion­ate about work­ing against the con­struc­tion of the Dako­ta Access Pipeline, if you are pas­sion­ate about women’s rights, if you are pas­sion­ate about LGBT rights, Mus­lim rights, the rights of the work­ing class, what­ev­er it may be, I think this is a moment where we need to pick our­selves up and choose where we are stand­ing. We can’t sit down anymore.

Sarah: In terms of spe­cif­ic things, you men­tioned stop­ping the bus before. Can you talk about some of the past direct actions that you have done?

Maria: It is impor­tant to be ground­ed in com­mu­ni­ty first and fore­most. I think it is very easy to iden­ti­fy an action. Like one we did a cou­ple of years ago, we jumped in front of a bus and made nation­al news, but what is impor­tant is iden­ti­fy­ing the needs of our com­mu­ni­ty. In this moment, our com­mu­ni­ties are being kid­napped out of their homes, out of work­places, off the street, and we need to do what­ev­er is nec­es­sary to pro­tect them and make sure that we are being safe and bold and brave and in some spaces, depend­ing on the con­di­tions, in some of the more lib­er­al states, you may be able to do more and you should do more. That is what is required of us. In some places, it may look like sit­ting in front of a bus. In oth­er places, it may look like lock­ing down some facil­i­ty. In oth­er places, it might look like vig­ils and cre­at­ing sanc­tu­ary spaces. It all depends on the set­ting, but what is vital and nec­es­sary is that you do something.

Sarah: Since Trump’s elec­tion, we have seen mas­sive protests. We have seen some four mil­lion peo­ple in the streets for the Women’s March. We saw peo­ple rush­ing to air­ports in response to the Mus­lim ban. How do peo­ple get con­nect­ed to these net­works? The air­ports, in par­tic­u­lar, showed that peo­ple are will­ing to take some risks to defend peo­ple in their com­mu­ni­ties, even peo­ple that they don’t know. What is some advice that you have for build­ing these net­works, and for intro­duc­ing peo­ple who maybe went to their first protest at the Women’s March to what they can do in their com­mu­ni­ties to defend peo­ple who are fac­ing deportation?

Maria: There are orga­ni­za­tions in your com­mu­ni­ty. The thing is that you have to iden­ti­fy them. If you are in a small town and you rec­og­nize that actu­al­ly there isn’t an orga­ni­za­tion, then it is impor­tant that you start one and that you get in com­mu­ni­ca­tion with oth­er orga­ni­za­tions across your state and across the coun­try. I think that with the new attacks on our com­mu­ni­ty, they have shift­ed the sta­tus quo. Then, it is our move and we are the ones who have to dis­rupt busi­ness as usu­al. We are the ones who have them from car­ry­ing out the atroc­i­ties that that admin­is­tra­tion is try­ing to do.

What­ev­er orga­ni­za­tion you are join­ing, what­ev­er protest you are join­ing, what­ev­er orga­ni­za­tion you are cre­at­ing, you must do every­thing in your pow­er to be a cog in the sys­tem, because the sys­tem is not work­ing for us. It is work­ing against us. March­ing in the streets is pow­er­ful when you are doing it in mass­es. If you feel that you can­not bring thou­sands of peo­ple out, then do some­thing else. Talk to your leg­is­la­tor. Go make sure that every­body is divest­ing from a spe­cif­ic bank. What­ev­er tar­get that you choose, make sure that you are doing it coor­di­nat­ed with nation­al organizations.

It is key for us to iden­ti­fy some­thing that we are pas­sion­ate about because this is a long fight. It doesn’t end with Trump and it didn’t start with Trump. The Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion deport­ed close to three mil­lion peo­ple. Trump is just one-upping him. He is con­tin­u­ing to use the tools that Oba­ma and Bush and Clin­ton laid out for him. It didn’t start on Elec­tion Day. It didn’t start on Inau­gu­ra­tion Day. But, if it start­ed for you that day, then you need to con­tin­ue and be ready for the long haul.

Sarah: Since you were liv­ing under the reign of Joe Arpaio, talk a lit­tle bit about his defeat this year and the elec­tion and what that says for the chang­ing pol­i­tics in places like Arizona.

Maria: The fight against Arpaio has been a very long one and one in which we have lost an incred­i­ble amount of mem­bers of our com­mu­ni­ty. It is a fight that has been car­ried out with mul­ti­ple angles and dif­fer­ent meth­ods of resis­tance. There have been mass protests with hun­dreds of peo­ple flood­ing the street. There have been law­suits that have been filed. There have been divest­ment cam­paigns. There have been arrests and civ­il dis­obe­di­ences. After 10 long years of resis­tance, we were able to devel­op a hybrid cam­paign in which we high­light­ed the atroc­i­ties that he was bring­ing into our com­mu­ni­ties, but we were also high­light­ing the strength and the pow­er in our com­mu­ni­ty. It was both an elec­toral and a direct action cam­paign called Baz­ta Arpaio.

Dur­ing this cam­paign, we were feel­ing the ener­gy of the com­mu­ni­ty. At this point, after 10 years of mobi­liz­ing and orga­niz­ing, it wasn’t just us, the com­mu­ni­ty orga­niz­ers and mem­ber­ship, it was the entire coun­ty resist­ing Arpaio, lift­ing up their busi­ness­es, lift­ing up their com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions, and togeth­er walk­ing out of school, every­thing. We were very hap­py to see Arpaio go. We want to make it clear to the new sher­iff, Paul Pen­zone, that he did not win the elec­tion, we defeat­ed Arpaio.

Sarah: Last­ly, how can peo­ple keep up with you and the work that you are doing in Ari­zona, and what are some nation­al net­works that peo­ple could get plugged into that might help them find work that they can do in their communities?

Maria: I am cur­rent­ly orga­niz­ing with Peo­ple Unit­ed for Jus­tice. It is an orga­ni­za­tion that is bring­ing togeth­er peo­ple who are vul­ner­a­ble, par­tic­u­lar­ly under this admin­is­tra­tion, and resist­ing through elec­toral cam­paigns and work­ing on the state leg­is­la­ture. Like I said, peo­ple woke up in Ari­zona, but we still live in Ari­zona. We have our dif­fi­cult pol­i­tics in the state leg­is­la­ture. Before Trump came out strong against sanc­tu­ar­ies, the Ari­zona State Leg­is­la­ture had already made moves to out­law sanc­tu­ary cities. We are not only under attack by the Trump admin­is­tra­tion, we are not only under attack by Con­gress, we are not only under attack by our gov­er­nor but also our state leg­is­la­ture and the inac­tion of our city coun­cil and may­or have made it even more dif­fi­cult for us. You can def­i­nite­ly fol­low us on Face­book, as well as Puente move­ment, which is work­ing on the defense com­mit­tees all across the stat, in order for us to be able to ampli­fy the sup­port that we can cre­ate and ampli­fy the resis­tance that is nec­es­sary under this admin­is­tra­tion and under that state government.

Nation­al­ly, there is an orga­ni­za­tion and a net­work called Mijente and they are doing a lot of great work. There is also Cosecha, an orga­ni­za­tion that is work­ing on the gen­er­al strike. Then, there is Unit­ed We Dream, an orga­ni­za­tion that works pri­mar­i­ly with migrants all across the nation. They have chap­ters in almost every state.

Inter­views for Resis­tance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assis­tance from Lau­ra Feuille­bois and sup­port from the Nation Insti­tute. It is also avail­able as a pod­cast. Not to be reprint­ed with­out permission. 

Sarah Jaffe is a for­mer staff writer at In These Times and author of Nec­es­sary Trou­ble: Amer­i­cans in Revolt , which Robin D.G. Kel­ley called The most com­pelling social and polit­i­cal por­trait of our age.” You can fol­low her on Twit­ter @sarahljaffe.
Limited Time:

SUBSCRIBE TO IN THESE TIMES MAGAZINE FOR JUST $1 A MONTH