Protester explains why she risked deportation (San Bernadino)

Protester explains why she risked deportation
Ryan Hagen, Staff Writer
Posted: 01/30/2012 06:58:30 PM PST

One of Isabel Perez’s greatest fears is that she’ll be deported.

She’s an American citizen in all but paperwork, she says, who knows nothing about Mexico. She hates the idea of laws that could tear her from her family and send her to a country she doesn’t remember if she winds up in police custody.

So Perez, a 23-year-old San Bernardino resident, did what she hopes more and more illegal immigrants will do – she protested those laws. By intentionally getting herself arrested and subject to deportation.

“There are people in this country that are afraid,” Perez said. “They’re afraid to show support. They’re afraid to be deported. But someone has to make a stand.”

Perez was one of 12 protesters arrested last week after blocking traffic on Rialto Avenue in front of the Homeland Security office and later at D and Third Streets in San Bernardino, ignoring police orders to disperse.

Protest organizers said 10 of those arrested were in the country illegally and therefore could have been deported. Booking logs show at least nine of the protesters, including Perez, were released by the next day.

“There need to be some changes in this country, and it’s not those students who are undocumented who should pay for it,” Perez said.

Opponents of the protest say immigration restrictions exist for a reason and that the protesters were wrongheaded.

“I want everyone who truly desires to be a part of this nation to be able
to take part fully in the American Dream,” said Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Hesperia. “We have a process to get here; I would invite everyone with that passion and enthusiasm to commit by beginning the same honorable process generations of Americans have gone through.”

Perez declined to outline what she thinks immigration policy should look like or name any proposals she thinks would make things more fair, and she deferred questions on the protest’s exact goals to organizer Javier Hernandez.

“We were there to protest 287(g) and Secure Communities, programs that allow undocumented youth to be turned over to ICE (Immigrations and Custom Enforcement, a division of the Department of Homeland Security),” Hernandez said. “Those policies aim to keep immigrant communities in the shadows, which is why we need to step out and be unafraid.”

Like many of the front-line protesters, Perez is new to the nuances of the debate. She said she wasn’t prepared – yet – to engage the arguments of the many who see the issue differently than she does.

But the Cal State Bernardino psychology student does know she’s tired of hiding the fact that she’s not a U.S. citizen. And she knows that change won’t happen if people like her stay silent.

“I really don’t want to be in jail again,” she said. “But if this is a way to get attention, this is what I have to do. I’m doing what I think is right.”

Secure Communities sends fingerprints taken during the booking process to ICE to prioritize the deportation of repeat immigration violators and those the agency decides pose a threat to public safety. 287(g) sets up a partnership between ICE and some law enforcement agencies, including the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.

ICE supports people’s right to protest and is committed to immigration reform, an ICE spokeswoman said.

Reach Ryan via email, or call him at 909-386-3916.