Late October, 2009: Fifteen members of Juntos, New Sanctuary Movement and the Philadelphia Storytelling Project, all grassroots community organizations, meet in a community center in South Philadelphia. Most of them or their family members have been arrested by Philadelphia police—almost always for minor offenses which have not resulted in convictions—and turned over to ICE ,where deportation proceedings were begun. Juntos has a list of at least forty-five immigrants who have been caught up in the this web and now face deportation. They are there to tell their stories and demand that the police stop collaborating with ICE. They decide to call themselves the Storytelling Group of South Philadelphia.
In the spring of 2009, Philadelphia began participating in the ICE Secure Communities Program. Philadelphia also allows ICE log-in privileges to PARS, a database maintained by the Philadelphia police, which is a record of everyone with an arrest and/or criminal record within the city. In both cases ICE has easy real-time on-line access to any immigrant who has been arrested, even those who have not been convicted of a crime. When ICE scans the database, they are looking for foreign-looking names and country of origin, and targeting those people to demand evidence of documents of legal residence. Many of the people turned over to ICE never have the opportunity to go to trial for the crime for which they were charged—they have no chance to exonerate themselves. In many cases when they do go to trail, they are found innocent. In either case, they all are now part of the ICE system and face deportation.
The Storytelling Group talks about telling their stories, making them public, creating a collective voice that must be heard by officials who make decisions that destroy their families. They review the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and decide that their stories will be testimonies of abuses of their human rights: denial of due process, racial profiling and discrimination, arbitrary detention and imprisonment, lack of equal protection under the law, fear for their own safety. They discuss the risks of telling their stories, of going public, and decide to use pseudonyms to protect themselves and their families. They make a pact that they will each have complete control of their own story: how it will be used in the public debate, when, and where.
Download the full transcript of Guadalupe’s testimony in PDF format.