Advocates discuss ongoing fight to free immigrants detained in ICE raids
By Graig Graziosi
Pastor Manuel Lux moved to Salem from Guatemala to plant a church among the 3,000-some Guatemalan immigrants living in the area who speak only Quiche, a Mayan language spoken long before the Spanish arrived.
Lux, a native speaker of Quiche who learned Spanish in primary school and English later in life, began Iglesia Esperanza de Vida in Salem to meet the needs of that community.
Now, he’s trying to help keep the community from splintering in the aftermath of the June 19 Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids at the Fresh Mark plant in Salem, where more than 100 Guatemalans were taken into custody.
Lux told his story alongside Veronica Dahlberg, executive director of HOLA, a grass-roots organization focusing on outreach and advocacy to the Latino population, during an event Thursday evening hosted by the Mahoning Valley Coalition for Justice and Dignity at the Youngstown Historical Center of Labor and Industry on Wood Street.
The event was an update to the attendees on the state of immigrants rounded up by ICE officials during raids in Salem and Sandusky.
Dahlberg and Lux commented on what they characterized as growing anti-immigrant and anti-Mexican rhetoric from the Donald Trump administration, as well as the difficulty advocates and activists have had paying the bonds for detained immigrants.
“We’re at the ICE offices every day paying bonds,” Dahlberg said. “We’ve spent six hours waiting in windowless rooms for ICE to process two bond payments, but we’re going to keep bonding people out.”
So far, HOLA – with only three full-time staffers – have managed to secure the release of 23 detainees.
The most expensive bond the group has paid was $12,000 for the release of a 22-year-old woman caught up in an agricultural raid.
Lux said that some in the Salem Guatemalan community have fled Ohio to states with larger agricultural operations – such as Alabama and Georgia – but under potentially worse conditions.
“These states don’t have unions to monitor labor abuses, so the workers may end up in much more dangerous working conditions than here in Ohio,” Dahlberg said.
Lux is trying to keep the community from splintering, but he said people are fearful and are making severe decisions, including parents permanently separating from their children, leaving them in the U.S. with hopes they’ll receive an education and a chance at prosperity while they return to their home countries before they can be imprisoned.
“I don’t understand the decision-making here,” Dahlberg said. “Law-enforcement organization budgets are strapped because right now the funding is going to ICE. They aren’t going after ‘bad guys,’ they’re going after women picking flowers in nurseries. How is that an effective use of law enforcement?” Dahlberg said.
Jacob Labendz, a member of the Mahoning Valley Coalition for Justice and Dignity, said the group – a coalition of faith groups and individuals that formed in response to ICE separating families and reports that asylum seekers have been abused by immigration officials – organized the event to keep the movement going after the Families Belong Together march June 30.
Labendz said the group hopes to involve more individuals and that those interested in joining can find more information on the group’s Facebook page.
For now, Lux and Dahlberg said they would continue working, though Lux fears that soon there may be a much smaller community left to save.
“In Salem, it’s chaos,” he said. “If things don’t change, in a few weeks these people will leave from Ohio.”