Letter from San Antonio
Texas has the highest number of ICE-funded detention centers in the U.S. The actual number fluctuates and is difficult to verify. An ICE facility list was released to the National Immigrant Justice Center in November 2017 via a Freedom of Information Act requested. Some facilities are redacted and Border Patrol facilities are not listed. Thirty-one Texas “detention centers” are listed, along with chingos of “holding rooms” and jails.
In San Antonio, most people are only one degree of separation from a person who has been detained by ICE. I hear second-hand accounts about detained immigrants, friends of friends, weekly. Most recently, the detained friend-of-a-friend was Sergio “Mapache” Salazar. He is eighteen years old, a Dreamer, with expired DACA papers, outspoken and active in his community, and a filmmaker and former student at an art school that my daughter currently attends. Local chisme says that he was on the FBI watch list before he was arrested on August 3 after protesting at the Abolish ICE- San Antonio camp.
I drove up to the camp on a quiet Sunday morning; it looked abandoned. A container of off-brand oreos was open on a plastic table resting on cinder blocks. Trash was jammed in lawn chair cupholders, a super-rasquache makeshift set-up. The smell of stale sweat with grime and dirt heated by an oppressively hot Texas sun: 100 degrees at 10 a.m. A young white male was asleep alone inside a tent. I sat outside in a lawn chair until he woke up. “J” does not want to be identified. “One of the things about Mapache’s case, if you’ve followed, is that the FBI questioned him about other activists. We know we’re being surveilled,” J said.
“Why are you alone?” I asked.
“There was a rally on Saturday [August 18] in Austin,” J said. “Some of our people are there.”
“You’re a white guy. Why are you protesting against ICE?”
“In a generalized way, I just think it’s what’s right to do,” J said. “But I have had friends who’ve been affected. I know people who’ve been deported. It’s not abstract for me. One day you know somebody and the next day they’re gone and in another country.” J goes on: “About fifteen Patriot Front members knocked down our camp. They took signs. They tried to hit someone. Someone threw a watermelon. Mapache was actually here during the raid. They filmed the attack and posted it on their social media.”
Mapache was arrested on August 3, 2018. RAICES, headquartered in San Antonio, has taken his case.
Dilley, about 75 miles southwest of San Antonio, is home to Dolph Briscoe Unit prison and the South Texas Family Detention Center. It’s a small Texas town where captivity is a way to make a living. The Detention Center in this town is huge. It’s a compound with barbed wire and high walls; it looks like a jail. The jail, however, looks like suburban apartments.
I stopped by the detention center on my way to the International Sister Cities Festival in Laredo, Texas on July 15, 2018. I had no plan other than to see the facility for myself, rather than just read about it in the news. My thirteen year-old was with me, along with two co-workers from the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center.
We drove up to the facility and were immediately followed by an unmarked vehicle. He kept his distance at first. We parked beside a VIA Metropolitan Transit van.
VIA is the mass public transportation system in San Antonio, about one and a half hours away. The van is clearly out of their service area. This observation pissed me off and raised a lot of questions: Is VIA transporting detained immigrants? Do they have a contract with ICE or an ICE-funded agency to transport?
As I was live-streaming a social media post, the non-uniformed man in the unmarked car approached and asked us to leave immediately.
We hightailed it to the U.S.-Mexico border and Laredo’s Sister Cities Festival where over 180 artisans from Mexico and Central America were gathered to sell their goods at the Laredo Energy Arena. I purchased a rebozo for $20 and chalupas for $1. Afterwards, we decided to head to the border, of course. With no passports in hand, we stayed on the U.S. side at the Los Dos Laredos City Park and waved to the Mexicanos who were having a carne asada (barbeque) en el otro lado and swimming in the Rio Bravo under the watchful eye of Border Patrol.
Later I sent VIA an email requesting answers. I provided a live Facebook feed from July 15, 2018 as proof. Here’s what VIA had to say, at first by email: “Thank you for reaching out to us. The video footage provided appears to be from a news conference held in 2010 and not related to the activity or location you described. If you have additional information related to your article or questions we can help with, please let us know.”
Que? 2010? VIA discredited my live social media stream and denied they were at the South Texas Family Detention Center on July 15, 2018. Emails back and forth resulted in them turning their story around. VIA finally admitted that the van may have been a leased vehicle and that they are not responsible for destinations. Around email number twelve, after implications of fabricated video evidence, they finally answered my questions: “We do not contract with any outside agency to transport persons in ICE custody, we do not have a contract with immigration services, and do not provide scheduled service to Dilley, Texas.”
Marisela Barrera is an activist and journalist in San Antonio, Texas. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the complete ICE facility data here: https://immigrantjustice.org/ice-detention-facilities-november-2017.