Kitzia Esteva Martínez (David Villafañe)

The reasons that lead people to leave their hometowns are diverse, but none of them justifies the increasingly frequent mistreatment and marginalization of immigrants seeking progress for their families or simply trying to survive in other countries.

That´s what Kitzia Esteva Martínez, co-director of Causa Justa (Just Cause) said. She traveled from her home in California to offer a workshop on how to act in case of interventions and raids carried out by authorities such as the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

With this in mind, and under the framework of Trump administration's 'zero-tolerance' immigration policy, Comuna Caribe and a dozen entities organized this event, which took place at the Plaza de Recreo in Río Piedras.

"It is necessary to raise awareness in the Puerto Rican society about the immigration situation and the rights that immigrants have, with Dominicans representing the main immigration group in Puerto Rico," said Hilda Guerrero of the Comuna Caribe organization.

Under President Trump's administration, interventions on immigrants are no longer focused on the Mexican border, but across the United States, including Puerto Rico. In early July, a person of Italian-Venezuelan origin was intercepted by ICE staff at Driver Services Center (CESCO, Spanish acronym) in Bayamón, where he had gone to apply for a driver's license.

Raising awareness

"We want to raise awareness not only among Puerto Ricans in general but also among public employees (in particular) so that they don't take the place of immigration (officers), that they don't do ICE's work," Guerrero said.

According to Guerrero, what happened at CESCO is not an isolated incident. She stressed that raids are increasingly frequent in places like Barrio Obrero, where, she said, Treasury Department personnel go to businesses to verify the shop documents and employees' IDs.

"This is not disconnected from the big struggle in Puerto Rico, from austerity, the police state, poverty, the environment. This impacts people who are removed and forced to leave their countries," said Delia Ayala of Comuna Caribe.

During the workshop, Esteva Martínez warned that immigrant arrests are one of many forms of violence and displacement. That is why, she said, there is an urgent need to develop rapid response networks so that people can defend themselves with the help of the community and the right education tools.

One of several immigrants and residents that attended the workshop explained how difficult and traumatic it is to leave their family behind and start from scratch in a new country.  Another, meanwhile, indicated that terrorism is no longer "bogeyman" at thenational level, but rather discrimination and phobias.

Pastor Nilca Marrero, of the Methodist Church, spoke about the Safe Sanctuary in Barrio Obrero, which offers food, lodging, tutoring for children and legal advice for immigrants.


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