Before diving into the story of the Sacramento-based undocumented immigrant alleging that federal immigration authorities coerced him – and physically abused him – to make him their snitch, let’s get this one phony formality out of the way:
The immigrant – Carlos Rueda – shouldn’t be in Sacramento or anywhere in the United States without a visa or some temporary or permanent residency status. Anyone in the U.S. from another country should have his or her papers in order at all times. No one should cross American borders without said papers.
But why stop there? People shouldn’t rob houses either. People shouldn’t commit violent crimes. And yet, gosh darn it, people do. The facts show – remember facts? – that U.S.-born people commit violent crimes that end up in criminal courts far more often than foreign-born people.
Being in the U.S. without documentation is mostly a civil offense, but because immigration status has become so politicized, a person like Rueda has a target on his back for abuse. And he has little or no public sympathy on his side when he asserts his rights by seeking a legal remedies for alleged abuse, which included, he said, agents slamming his head into a table and jumping on him to get him to comply. Last week, Rueda and his lawyer filed a $750,000 claim against the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. A federal lawsuit may follow.
The story is fascinating, and one that I’ve never heard in 30 years as a California-based journalist. Undocumented people rarely sue the feds, or show their faces while suing the feds, or speak before cameras and microphones while suing the feds.
“Some parts of this case are truly unprecedented,” said Luis Angel Reyes, Rueda’s San Francisco-based lawyer. “What’s unprecedented to me is that ICE tried to coerce Carlos into putting him in the impossible situation of choosing between his liberty and that of other immigrants.”
Of course, such an accusation might cause barely a blip in the public discourse because Rueda’s status makes him nearly a non-person in the eyes of some.
“What about ‘illegal’ don’t you understand” is the phrase that is sure to land my inbox as a parting gift for telling Rueda’s story.
If you’re going to play that card, stop, and consider that maybe there are some things that you don’t understand.
First, ICE operates with so little effective oversight and transparency expected from agencies supported by tax dollars that it easily blows off Rueda’s allegation of abuse.
The feds wouldn’t comment on whether they abused Rueda, or tried to force him into an unholy pact in which Rueda and his family would be cool to stay in Sacramento if he directed them to other undocumented committing crimes. “I can tell you that ICE does take seriously any allegation of misconduct,” ICE spokesman Richard Rocha told The Bee’s Anita Chabria last week.
Why would they take Rueda’s allegation seriously? The current U.S. President has emboldened ICE to arrest people in courts of law, or most anywhere. Little regard is given to deporting otherwise law-abiding, hard-working people with families.
Rueda has three small boys, one U.S.-born. He is the primary bread winner of his family as a roofer. He doesn’t appear to have any criminal record in Sacramento. But we’ve seen plenty cases in which the primary bread winners of immigrants families have been deported, leaving those families emotionally and financially wrecked.
What happened to all that Trump administration bluster about going after “bad hombres” and dangerous criminals committing crimes? Well, not so much. Deportations of immigrants with no criminal records have skyrocketed.
ICE is going nuts shaking down guys like Rueda, working stiffs often toiling in job categories dependent on immigrant labor.
“But he shouldn’t be here!” some would say. OK, so does a person’s immigration strip him of all rights? Does it mean he is primed to experience abuse from all sides, including from the US government?
And while you’re pondering those questions, remember that more than a few Americans believe that something else shouldn’t be happening either: How often immigrants seeking asylum in America are denied.
Restrictive new guidelines established for asylum seekers by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions now mean that people fleeing gang violence or domestic abuse are no longer welcome in the U.S. .
In Rueda’s case, he came to the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas in 2013 while seeking asylum from violent gangs, Reyes said.
“The gang cartels were supporting the ruling party in Mexico and (Rueda’s family) was affiliated with the opposition party,” Reyes said. “HIs family was threatened with guns. HIs grandfather was kidnapped.”
Said Ruedas: “There was nothing there in Mexico. No work and it was dangerous. There is a war going on there between gangs.”
Reyes said his client was wrongly denied asylum at the border. He couldn’t go back home, so he crossed the border and traveled to Sacramento because his five sisters, a brother and his mother were already here. He said the journey took almost two weeks and cost him $3,500, paid to an immigrant smuggler. He has worked as a roofer for the five years he has been in Sacramento. His life changed drastically in March of 2017 when he said he was stopped by immigration authorities.
He said they took him into custody and transported him to ICE’s local office on Capitol Mall. He said for the next six months, he would was required to check in with ICE officials monthly. It was at those meetings, Rueda said, that ICE asked him for the names of undocumented immigrants they could apprehend.
When he was intially stopped in March of 2017, Rueda said fear of deportation and being separated from his family caused him to say that he would be a snitch for ICE.
But at each subsequent monthly meeting, Rueda would tell authorities he couldn’t help them. At one meeting in September of 2017, authorities berated him, got physical with him, twisted his arms behind his back.
He said he was soon arrested. He’s spent time in jails where ICE held prisoners. During his incarcerations, his family found legal help. Reyes landed Rueda a hearing before a judge next year in September.
He’s continuing to work as a roofer, except for Mondays when federal authorities check up on him.
While living in Sacramento, his son Santiago – now a toddler – was born.
His is a complicated story, as many of these cases are. It begins with a financial and emotional desire to flee a place for the United States, a notion that used to be viewed with romance and affection in this country.
It now involves an immigrant man doing hard work in a job category that relies on workers like him, despite the political winds of hypocrisy that demonize him. Or conflate him, say, with murderers who also happen to be undocumented.
It includes a baby born in this country. It’s about an immigrant family living in the shadows, but among us, in a humble apartment in Sacramento. It’s strewn with baby stuff, electric cars for little boys, TVs and many mementos of American culture.
“Life is better here,” Rueda said. When asked what he would say to people who feel he shouldn’t be here, Rueda pauses for a long while. Then he looks up and simply says: “I came here to work.”