PORTLAND, Maine — About 100 people gathered at Portland’s Deering Oaks Park Saturday afternoon to voice their support of immigrant communities, and protest recent developments that bode ill for migrants seeking a new life in the United States.
The action from the local chapter of immigrant-run civil rights organization Movimiento Cosecha, comes after recent events, where two migrants were controversially arrested by federal immigration officials and now face possible deportation.
“We’ve seen ICE agents doing sweeps in neighborhoods.” organizer Magnifique Butoto said. “And right here in Maine, we’re seeing ICE agents enter the court, interrupt a lawyer-client consultation and carry out a lawful permanent resident.”
Among issues of concern for the group, is a bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Larry Lockman, LD 366, An Act to Ensure Compliance with Federal Immigration Law by State and Local Government Entities.
“These are terrifying times, guys.” Butoto said. Butoto said LD 366 would basically conscript local law enforcement agencies into acting as federal agents, and punish resistant towns by withholding state dollars.
Such legislation is likely to make tough times even more tense for immigrants, said David Berdeja, of Rockland. Berdeja immigrated to Maine from Mexico six months ago, after receiving permanent residency.
Berdeja said many immigrants in Maine are living in fear since the election of President Donald Trump, whose tough stance on immigration and foreign workers was a major plank in his campaign platform. Many struggling workers in areas hit hard by unfavorable import-export markets, such as manufacturing, responded to Trump’s “America First” message. They see trade deals, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement as harmful to American industry and beneficial to Mexico. Additionally, Trump’s message that foreign workers are taking valuable American jobs, swelling the welfare bill, and committing crimes resonated with some voters.
“He said we are criminals and rapists and everything else.” Berdeja said. “And then LePage? We are the enemy and we should be shot.” he says, referring to comments made by Republican Gov. Paul LePage in August 2016, where he told a press conference that “You shoot at the enemy. You try to identify the enemy and the enemy right now, the overwhelming majority of people coming in, are people of color or people of Hispanic origin.”
“It’s not good. So I feel rejected, most of the time here,” Berdeja said. Berdeja wants to raise his kids in Maine, but has developed concerns. “Now, I’m a target. Anytime I’m going to be pulled over, I’m afraid all the time. To be pulled over by a police officer.”
Saturday’s action comes on the heels of two controversial incidents in as many weeks. On April 6, Immigration Customs Enforcement, commonly known as ICE, officials arrested Abdi Ali from the Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland, where Ali was meeting privately with a court-appointed lawyer to answer a charge of operating under the influence.
Ali is a permanent legal resident who came to the U.S. from Somalia as a 7-year-old refugee of war.
More recently, ICE agents arrested Otto Morales-Caballeros, a Naples man who came to the U.S. 20 years ago from Guatemala, and petitioned for permanent legal residency after he was married two years ago.
The practice of ICE agents arriving at courthouses to make arrests also has triggered protest from some members of the legal community over concerns that immigrants will simply avoid official proceedings and decline to seek services if they’re afraid to appear.
Movimiento Cosecha is a nationwide organization focused on immigrant rights, and run by immigrants. They estimate that 11 million undocumented immigrants are living in the U.S.
A National Day Without Immigrants protest is scheduled for May 1st.
This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.