Immigration advocates rally in Washington, vow to take fight back home

From left, Promise Arizona Executive Director Petra Falcon and volunteers Manuela Eseberre and Graciela Pacheco join protestors outside the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office to protest administration immigration policies. (Photo by Andres Guerra Luz/Cronkite News)

Fair Immigration Reform Movement members rally at the Customs and Border Protection office in Washington, D.C., to cap a three-day summit in which advocates from around the country planned a unified response to Trump administration immigration policies. (Photo by Andres Guerra Luz/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – Immigration advocates from Arizona joined others from across the country at a rally outside the Customs and Border Protection office Tuesday, part of a three-day summit aimed at organizing grass-roots resistance to Trump administration policies.

Speakers said the summit is the first step toward combating “abuses” by an agency that has been “out of control lately in dealing with immigrants,” charging that federal officials have seized travelers’ phones at airports, conducted deportation raids without cause and threatened to separate families at the border.

“It is time to send a message that we are paying attention to the abuses going on at the border, in airports and in communities across the country,” Donna De La Cruz, a spokeswoman for Fair Immigration Reform Movement, said in an email. The group organized the summit.

The rally included members of Congress and scores of the roughly 200 organizers who came to the summit from 33 states, including Arizona.

“We cannot let families be separated, we are not going to be divided,” said Petra Falcon, executive director of Promise Arizona, who attended the rally.

Customs and Border Protection officials referred calls on the rally to the Department of Homeland Security, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

CBP did provide information on the agency’s practice of seizing travelers’ electronic devices, which it said it will do if the person’s travel documents are incomplete, if they violate a law the agency enforces or if they share a name with a person of interest in government databases.

People can also be selected for random search, according to the sheet provided by CBP. It said such searches “strictly adhere to all constitutional and statutory requirements, including those that are applicable to privileged, personal, or business confidential information.”

But the CBP seizures and searches are just some of the problems cited by the advocates, who targeted the agency because it is one of many overseen by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly.

-Cronkite News video by Anthony Marroquin

“Secretary Kelly is ultimately responsible and in charge of this agency, he must respond and bring accountability, integrity and humanity to CBP, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and the rest of DHS,” De La Cruz said.

FIRM field director Sulma Arias said the summit, which began Sunday, included some of the “top grass-roots leaders” from around the country and aimed to arm them with common principles to unite their efforts in their fight against President Donald Trump’s actions on immigration.

For Falcon and two volunteers from her organization, Graciela Pacheco and Manuela Eseberre, they said they have seen the impact of those policies firsthand.

Eseberre, who replied in Spanish to interview questions, said increased immigration enforcement has her own family and friends who are undocumented living in fear that they will be deported. It was for those people that Eseberre, who has only been a member of Promise Arizona since September, said she wanted to come to Washington for the summit.

Falcon said the meeting sparked her plans for Promise Arizona to push citizenship efforts when she gets back home. Immigrants in Arizona have faced challenges before, she said, but have managed to make progress.

“We won by organizing our communities, by educating our communities and … building our political power and expressing that message and our voices all the way to the polling places,” she said.