Five immigration rights activists were arrested for failure to disburse last week during a protest in front of the Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles.
Participants were protesting against Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca’s support of the federal governments’ Secure Communities (S-Comm) program, and in favor of a proposed law that would establish standards and safeguards against profiling and prolonged detention of undocumented immigrants.
Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: Indocumentados Detenidos por Desobediencia Civil Apoyan la ‘Ley de la Confianza’ 
“Secure communities was supposed to make communities safer by deporting the worse criminals but in reality, we ended up with insecure communities,” said Jorge Cabrera, who said undocumented immigrants who are merely accused of a crime or are racially profiled have been deported through the program.
Under Secure Communities, law enforcement agencies are required to send the fingerprints of all arrestees to the FBI for a criminal background check. The Department of Homeland Security also checks the prints against its immigration database, and can issue an order to the law enforcement agency to hold the person in custody for 48 hours, even if the person was arrested for something minor, such as driving without a license.
The small group of protesters, about 60 in total, chanted “I’m undocumented and unafraid,” before two dozen riot-gear clad officers moved in and arrested Claudia Rueda, 17, Marco Perez, 17, Luis Gonzalez, 20, Nick Lotorto, 32, and Veronica Martinez, 22. The protesters were handcuffed and escorted away by police, as the remaining protesters yelled, “I’m documented and I’m afraid!” and “Shame on you! Shame on you!”
Activists with the Immigrant Youth Coalition, DREAM Team Los Angeles and the California Dream Network accused Sheriff Baca of being responsible for more deportations than even Arizona’s controversial sheriff, Joe Arpaio.
They also used the platform to urge Gov. Jerry Brown to sign the TRUST Act, which would require police to release from custody those not facing serious criminal charges, and who have no prior serious criminal convictions and have posted bail, even if a federal detainer is issued.
“Sheriff Baca has stated that he would disobey the TRUST Act if signed by California’s Governor. The TRUST Act, which has passed the state legislature, would lessen the impact of S-Comm by limiting voluntary immigration detainers on undocumented immigrants that are arrested and fingerprinted by local law enforcement in cases of minor crimes. If signed by Governor Brown, California would be the first state to take such a stance against S-Comm,” stated organizers in their news release.
Citing a report by Justice Strategies, activists said the TRUST Act would benefit Californians because S-Comm costs state taxpayers an estimated $65 million a year to detain undocumented immigrants who for the most part are arrested for minor offenses.
The Los Angeles City Council on Aug. 31 approved a resolution supporting the TRUST Act. Councilmember Ed P. Reyes (CD-1) introduced the resolution supporting AB1081.
“The TRUST Act would rebuild community confidence in law enforcement and save local resources,” Reyes said in a news release. “It would limit unfair detentions for deportation purposes in local jails often caused by the federal government’s ‘Secure Communities’ deportation program.”
Nearly 80,000 immigrants have been deported in California alone and as of July 2012, 69 percent of deportations were of people not convicted of a crime or convicted of only minor offenses, according to Reyes’ office.
Rueda and Perez, both students at Roosevelt High School, as well as Gonzalez, a resident of Highland Park who attends Pasadena City College, say they plan to apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, an Obama Administration program that aims to give certain undocumented youth a work permit and prosecutorial discretion to avoid deportation.
“I do plan to apply for deferred action and getting arrested does affect my chances of receiving it, because the arrest prohibits me from filling an application, instead I have to call a number and talk to the people in charge about my case,” Rueda told EGP.
But Rueda says she does not regret participating in the civil disobedience. “This was a risk I took for my community…we cannot just let deportations continue. We were tired of living in fear and this action has helped me come out to really be ‘Undocumented and Unafraid,’ because it lets me know that if we (my community) stand up for our civil rights, anything is possible if we fight for it,” she told EGP.
Gonzalez said he is also concerned that the arrest could affect his DACA application, but like Rueda, he has no regrets. He said being arrested was his worse fear, but the experience has empowered him.
“In a way, I know I may get deported one day, who knows … but at least I know what it feels like to be arrested, so I won’t have to worry about that fear. If tomorrow I get arrested, I won’t be so scared anymore. I know my community has my back,” he said.
DACA is a step forward but it excludes too many people, Gonzalez and other activists said. Gonzalez noted his own mother and sister do not qualify for DACA, neither does Lotorto who was also arrested and does not meet the age requirement.
Eligible candidates for DACA are undocumented immigrants who are under the age of 31 and who came to the US before age 16, are in school or have completed school, or who have served in the military. Among other requirements, applicants cannot have been convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor, multiple misdemeanors or pose a threat to national security.
Failure to disburse is a misdemeanor, according to Public Information Officer Rosario Herrera of LAPD Media Relations.
The Immigrant Youth Coalition has created a fund and is asking for donations to cover the expenses the activists might incur from going to court or if they are required to pay a ticket, according to Jonathan Perez.