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Outside Las Vegas Federal Courthouse, Immigrant Rights Activists Call on Congress to “Defund Hate”

Last night, immigrant rights activists gathered a block away from the Las Vegas ICE office to not only protest the Trump administration’s ongoing deportation regime, but also to demand that Congress actually do something about the growing list of human rights abuses committed under Trump’s watch. Now that this deportation regime has been caught reaching into local immigrant communities to tear families apart, these activists have a simple message for members of Congress near and far: “Defund hate.”

WARNING: This story addresses some very sensitive topics, including frank discussion of violence and suicide. Reader discretion is advised.
First, some reminders of the real life impact of Trump’s “tough talk”
Photo by Andrew Davey

In the past two weeks, the Trump administration has tripled down on its anti-immigrant agenda. President Donald Trump promoted a judge who had been caught threatening a toddler with a dog in 2016 to the Justice Department’s Board of Immigration Appeals, a board that has final say in the immigration court system over who gets deported. Trump is also proceeding with plans to defund 127 military construction projects to “#BuildTheWall”, regardless of how much (or rather, little) a border wall enhances national security. And in a continuation of the Trump administration’s tradition of attacking rather than assisting people escaping extreme poverty and violence, the White House continues to deport these refugees at break-neck speed while refusing to acknowledge the reasons why these refugees are coming here.

And yet, in another anti-climactic yet very severe decision, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 7-2 to allow the White House to place further restrictions on refugees seeking asylum. And back in June, Congress voted to give the White House another $4.59 billion in “humanitarian aid” that the White House may very well spend on anything but. Reps. Dina Titus (D-Las Vegas) and Steven Horsford (D-North Las Vegas) voted against that bill, whereas Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D) and Jacky Rosen (D) along with Reps. Mark Amodei (R-Carson City) and Susie Lee (D-Las Vegas), voted in support.

Just outside the Lloyd George Federal Courthouse, which houses Cortez Masto’s and Rosen’s regional offices and lies across Clark Avenue from the regional ICE office, at least three-dozen immigrant rights activists confronted not just the smaller, single-digit crowd Trump supporters, but also the institutions that have aided and abetted in Trump’s deportation regime.

“They say they’ll use the money for refugees in need, but really they’ll use the money to open more detention centers, to get more agents, to get more [ICE and Border Patrol] boots on the ground.” 
– Kenia Leon, Indivisible
Photo by Andrew Davey

Before we go on, I might as well warn you now that all the audio and video featured below have plenty of background noise. Some of it has to do with the “Defund Hate” protest itself, but much of it is due to that smaller band of pro-Trump counterprotesters getting close to the “Defund Hate” protesters, with a few of them aiming to disrupt the main event. When I spoke with Indivisible’s Kenia Leon, she explained how she and other progressive activists have dealt with the opposition (sometimes literally) coming too close for comfort.

“It’s only been recently that they’ve been more aggressive with this kind of turnout,” Leon noted. She then acknowledged a few of the pro-Trump counterprotesters have gone to creative lengths to provoke a reaction: “They have more folks with them. They come in costume.” However we saw nothing like the larger-scale fascist marches that have become increasingly frequent in Portland and other major U.S. cities, so at least there’s that. 

Meanwhile in Washington, Congress may soon vote on another round of appropriations bills to give Trump more money for his deportation regime, a deportation regime that’s already affected Nevadans like Cecilia Gomez, Adriana Arellano Cruz, and Yesenia Moya Garay. Kenia Leon stated the purpose of last night’s protest was to urge all of Nevada’s Members of Congress not to give Trump any more “blank checks” that he can use to harass immigrant communities and detain refugees. 

While these appropriations bills may claim to offer “humanitarian aid”, Leon wants Congress and the public to read the fine print: “The [Trump administration] can use the funding any way they want. They say they’ll use the money for refugees in need, but really they’ll use the money to open more detention centers, to get more agents, to get more [ICE and Border Patrol] boots on the ground.”

“I have to do whatever I can to reunite families, because that’s what Silas wants. Silas didn’t get to see his dad come home. […] Silas didn’t get to see that. So in his honor, I want to reunite families.”
 – Felicia Añorve, Arriba Las Vegas Worker’s Center
Photo by Andrew Davey

While standing near the protesters last night, and standing just a few more feet away from the pro-Trump counterprotesters, I met another Nevadan who’s also been affected by Trump’s deportation regime. “As an American citizen, I never thought about these things, but my husband is an immigrant,” she clarified. Still, Felicia Añorve’s spouse was targeted by ICE for deportation last year. He put up a fight in court, and he actually won his case. 

So what else happened? “On August 17, [2018,] my husband was put on an ICE hold under 287(g). On Monday, we went to see my husband in jail. My son saw his father. We had the visitation,” Añorve recalled. From there, “We were driving home on the freeway. My son, my 14-year-old, he opened the door and jumped out of the car. He was hit by cars on the freeway. My 16-year-old son and I ran to him, but we got there too late.”

Silas Añorve, Felicia’s son, died by suicide because he feared for his father’s and his family’s future, even though his father ultimately regained his freedom. Even as Felicia and her family continue to mourn the loss of Silas, she’s now working to prevent similar tragedies from befalling other immigrant families. Felicia Añorve now volunteers with the Arriba Las Vegas Worker’s Center, and they have spearheaded the Las Vegas Family Unity Bond Fund to assist immigrant families whose loved ones are being detained and targeted for deportation.

“Ever since that night, I knew I could not turn my back on this. I have to do whatever I can to reunite families, because that’s what Silas wants,” Añorve declared. She continued, “Silas didn’t get to see his dad come home. […] Silas didn’t get to see that. So in his honor, I want to reunite families.”

“We need to remind our public officials that we voted them in, and we can vote them right back out.” 
– Alma D. Romo, Mi Familia Vota
Photo by Andrew Davey

Throughout the program, speakers on the “Defund Hate” side overcame shouting and occasional heckling from the small-but-loud pro-Trump side to get their point across. At one point, when Mi Familia Vota’s Alma D. Romo took the microphone, a man wearing Trump paraphernalia walked in her direction while holding large flags. The “Defund Hate” coalition’s own security team intervened to maintain distance between Alma and the Trump supporters.

Despite the attempted disruption, Romo powered on with her speech. “We need to remember who we are and what we’re doing at this moment today. We need to fight against the threats being made toward the undocumented and the [larger] immigrant community,” Romo said. “I am here to uplift the community I’m a part of, and to do more.”

She continued, “We need to remind our public officials that we voted them in, and we can vote them right back out.” A little later, I addressed this with Kenia Leon (who spoke for herself on this, not on behalf of any organization), particularly when it comes to the presidential candidates’ occasional forays into immigration reform and their ongoing efforts to win over voters of color. Leon briefly noted those who’ve put effort into developing new comprehensive immigration reform plans, and she urged everyone to do better. 

“I think Julián Castro’s plan is a great starting point. It’s very detailed. I think Elizabeth Warren’s plan also has a lot of good information, but it can go further. I would like the other candidates to speak more specifically,” Leon said. And for anyone who has to get confronted by protesters just to acknowledge how immigrant communities are under attack, Leon pointed to the ongoing stream of headlines highlighting the human rights abuses happening here and now: “We need details right now. We can’t afford hyperbole. We need to know what’s going on, because people are dying.”

“Things may not be getting better [when it comes to the White House], but we’re getting stronger. […] We’re still in the fight because we don’t deserve the treatment we’re getting from the government.” 
– Frances Garcia, Arriba Las Vegas Worker’s Center and National TPS Alliance
Photo by Andrew Davey

Bernie Sanders is slated to appear at a town hall at UNLV hosted by the intersectional civil rights group Mijente today, where Sanders will likely face questions on his own immigrant rights track record. And inevitably, the other candidates will soon return to Nevada to face similar questions on where they stand. But in the meantime, as the current administration continues its war against immigrant communities, activists like Frances Garcia (who works with Arriba Las Vegas and the National TPS Alliance) keep up the fight for their families and their lives.

“Things may not be getting better [when it comes to the White House], but we’re getting stronger. We know it’s not that easy to go through,” Garcia noted. She then added, “We’re still in the fight because we don’t deserve the treatment we’re getting from the government.”

Garcia then warned everyone not to be lulled into complacency, just because national news outlets drop these immigrant stories to focus on what Trump’s doing with that Sharpie pen. “We have to keep people informed. Just because you don’t hear about it doesn’t mean it’s getting better,” she advised. 

But as long as this keeps happening, she and other activists will keep fighting… Even if that means they have to shout over a few hecklers to get their message across.

And finally, in case you or a loved one needs them, some resources
Photo by Andrew Davey

If you or someone you know is facing a major life crisis and struggling with thoughts of suicide, help is available. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is always there at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). So is the Crisis Text Line, where you can start a conversation with a volunteer counselor by texting “START” to 741741. (I can attest from personal experience that it helps.) And for LGBTQ+ youth in need of immediate help, the Trevor Project has a 24/7 hotline at 1-866-488-7386 and a text option (text “START” to 678678) available.

And if you suspect ICE is targeting you and/or someone you know for arrest and deportation, ACLU of Nevada and the UNLV Immigration Law Clinic have compiled resource pages to keep on hand and utilize if the moment comes.

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