Baldemar Velásquez, FLOC founder and president, addressed a group of about 40 people at the union’s Broadway headquarters on Saturday evening, June 28, 2014. He stated the intent is to take a proactive, grass-roots approach to the controversial issue of immigration.
Velásquez spoke of a recent case where a Toledo Latino was arrested on charges that were dropped in mid-June. Yet he is still being held in detention at the Lucas Co. Jail for federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to start the deportation process. Lucas County officials and Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE) have been contacted to sort out the situation. Both agencies had a representative at the meeting.
“I know there was a meeting here recently about making Toledo friendly to immigrants,” said Velásquez. “If this kind of stuff is happening, our police department—our community is not going to look on them as too friendly, not too welcoming.”
Community organizer Ramón Pérez, who is assisting the effort, told the group the FLOC associate memberships also will serve to form a grass-roots group “to raise our voice in the city of Toledo.” An estimated 80 to 90 people already have purchased such $30 memberships, while about a dozen more did so following the meeting. The goal is to have 300 to 400 Latinos signed up in the next few weeks.
Velásquez explained that the memberships make the participants part of a “bona fide labor union.” His plan is to seek support from other labor unions in the area to press for recognition of the FLOC picture ID as an accepted form of identification by law enforcement agencies in Toledo. Recent changes in state laws in Michigan and Ohio have now prevented many undocumented immigrants from being able to obtain driver’s licenses.
“If the police stop you or detain you for whatever reason, you have rights,” the FLOC leader told the group. “Don’t let yourself be badgered to give information that they don’t need to have.”
Velásquez asked for a committee of volunteers to accompany him to an upcoming meeting with Toledo’s mayor and police chief, where he plans to press the point that Toledo police will recognize the ID cards. Many undocumented immigrants are hesitant to cooperate with police, fearing they will be detained and deported as a result.
“We want to trust the police and we want the police to trust us,” he said. “We want to negotiate a collaborative agreement because we want them to protect us. So we need to have confidence in them that they’re not federal immigration cops.”
Velásquez stated he will pursue a similar agreement with Lucas Co. Sheriff John Tharp. The two have discussed an understanding that was established with the prior sheriff, but the FLOC leader stated he wanted a “fresh” agreement. He told the group he has “confidence this sheriff will cooperate with us.”
“We want to make sure police understand that they are not federal agents. They don’t know immigration law,” he said. “They should stay out of immigration law and police local crimes and work with our community.”
Speaking forcefully and standing resolute throughout the meeting, Velásquez went back and forth between English and Spanish. The FLOC leader also sounded a stern warning.
“If they give us problems on this, hey, we’ve got to make our next move,” he said.
Velásquez explained the FLOC ID will be different from a matricula consular card issued by the Mexican consulate for Mexican nationals that many undocumented immigrants now carry. That latter card is officially recognized by many city and county agencies, mostly to obtain utilities, public and social services.
“A matricula consular card doesn’t do squat for you if you’re stopped by the police,” he said. “When you call the Consul, is he going to intervene like FLOC is intervening?”
FLOC is planning to mobilize a march and rally through Detroit’s Mexicantown on Aug. 8, demanding the resignation of ICE Regional Director Rebecca Adducci. Out of the 28 ICE regions in the U.S., Velásquez stated the Ohio-Michigan region has the third-highest deportation rate under her watch.
“That means she’s deporting a lot of people for a lot of no good reasons,” he said.
The FLOC leader explained that should not be happening under a discretionary deportation policy announced by President Barack Obama last year. But Velásquez and others maintain questionable cases keep popping up in Northwest Ohio.
A man in the audience named Antonio stood up at the meeting and stated in rapid Spanish that he had been stopped by police three times “for being Mexican.”
Velásquez told the group about another recent case involving a nine-year old girl, a U.S. citizen, who had both parents deported back to México. She was allowed to return to South Toledo under the care of her aunt, who also is an undocumented immigrant. But the aunt was unable to enroll the girl in school, until FLOC officials and others intervened by getting her declared homeless by the school district and a guardian ad litem was appointed.
FLOC and other groups have filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of seven individuals for being illegally detained by local law enforcement in Northwest Ohio on behalf of the Border Patrol. Mark Heller, ABLE managing attorney, told the group he expects a trial to start by year’s end, but the legal aid agency is still searching for Latino victims who were stopped on behalf of the Border Patrol.
Heller stated the lawsuit has slowed down such stops, from an estimated 1,200 detentions per year in recent years to approximately 200 per year in 2013.
“We still believe they’re profiling Hispanics,” Heller said.
“That’s all we can do. We can defend the people and defend the discretion policy that the president has ordered to focus on real criminals and not innocent people whose only crime is they don’t have papers,” Velásquez said. “If we can reach an understanding with our police department, who cares whether there’s official (racial) profiling or not. We’re dealing with it proactively.”
According to a press release issued last year by ICE after the arrest of nearly 100 undocumented immigrants near Detroit, the agency “is focused on smart, effective immigration enforcement that targets serious criminal aliens who present the greatest risk to the security of our communities…and threats to national security. ICE also prioritizes the arrest and removal of those who game the immigration system including immigration fugitives or criminal aliens who have been previously deported and illegally re-entered the country.”
However, Velásquez stated FLOC is stepping up its efforts because what ICE and the Border Patrol are telling the public is not what’s happening in everyday practice, particularly in Ohio and Michigan.
“I’m worried about the people who are here now, the people who are being oppressed, being discriminated against, and taken advantage of because of their undocumented status,” Velásquez said.