In New Paltz, people being detained by agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) sometimes doesn’t go unnoticed. Hundreds of people have written letters in support of Luis Martinez, or shown up to events in his support. Friends of Matthew Rojas rallied to hire an attorney to represent him. Thousands of dollars were raised for Joel Guerrero, the first resident known to have been detained regarding his status as a resident of the United States.
Now there’s an effort to bring that help to those whose names are not in the public spotlight, with the creation of a fund to support detainees and their families. Organized by Ronnie Yastion and Dan Torres, it’s called “One Pulse-New Paltz.” It will be administered by employees of Family of New Paltz.
“This is a fund for immediate, emergency use by those who are detained or deported, or members of their families,” said Yastion, whose eldest son is a friend and classmate of the son of Luis Martinez, the local contractor and developer who has been locked up in the Orange County jail since January. The sheriff of that county brings in an estimated $8 million a year to his county by accepted ICE detainees. Based on averaged figures, the cost of keeping Martinez behind bars while he awaits resolution of his case has climbed into five digits.
What makes the cases of Martinez, Rojas and Guerrero stand out is that each of these individuals has a support network of friends and family willing to call out the actions of ICE agents, which are seen as extra-judicial because of their lack of due process. By law, requirements in place for criminal proceedings are required when someone is detained by these officials. All that’s needed to target an individual is an anonymous tip. Illegal aliens — including those provided by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy presently being litigated — are more likely to react by withdrawing from public engagement, fearful to trust strangers or expose themselves to official interest.
The aim of One Pulse is to provide access to rights which are theoretically available to all persons, whether citizens or not.
“These are three people who knew someone,” said Torres. “No doubt more have been detained. For Joel Guerrero, people raised $16,000 in a week. We are good at rallying, but that’s reactive. This is not.”
What harms one harms all
The need will likely continue. At this point, Yastion said the fund is expecting to help two or three people annually. “A lot of people are willing to help and care,” she said. “We will rise to the occasion.” The name of the fund was selected to reflect the belief that “what harms one harms all.”
“People will be there over the long haul,” Yastion predicted.
Torres sees this fund as a way to reach those in need who haven’t reached “superhero status” by having their stories publicized. He’s of the understanding that people are being taken into custody every day in some nearby communities with a high immigrant population and no regular press coverage. Public attention on the actions of ICE agents has a tendency to reduce that activity, he explained.
Money donated to the One Pulse fund will be kept in a Family of New Paltz account, and made available through application. That organization was selected because many people avail themselves of the services provided through that office on North Chestnut Street in New Paltz. Walking through the door isn’t going to flag someone as being undocumented.
The intent is for the process to be based on need. The application will only require estimates of income. Cash won’t be given to recipients directly. Instead, said Yastion, the intention is to make payments directly where they are needed, such as to landlords, or to provide things like gas cards. Family volunteers are already familiar with rooting out potential fraudsters.
All donations will be tax-deductible. Were the fund run through a governmental entity such as the New Paltz town offices, federal agents may be able to obtain access specifics about the applicants for funds.
Issues of civil rights
Torres hopes this fund will crystallize this national issue in the local consciousness. “These are our neighbors,” he said. “It makes it more personal …. I think anyone locally could rally support.”
Reaction to the Martinez story posted on the New Paltz Times Facebook page has been brisk. Comments echo the debate over immigration with both sides stating their cases. Some have focused on praising the good character of Martinez, while others have called into question his business practices. The immigration question is certainly wearing a local face in the New Paltz area.
Torres argued that ICE wasn’t operating under “a fair set of rules.” Due to their quasi-police status, ICE agents don’t need warrants signed by judges, and circumvent other rules. Martinez was detained for the first eleven days without any notice to anyone, and his attorney wasn’t advised he’d been placed on a deportation list. His wife received word after the protest in Goshen on March 24 that he was no longer facing imminent deportation.
Martinez, brought to this country at the age of three, is awaiting word on a U visa for cooperating in a homicide investigation with his brother Jesus as the victim. He has previously been deported twice.
Torres characterized the federal agency as being run with “racism and xenophobia.” Torres said he often wonders how the current climate will be judged. “We will look back and ask what we were willing to do when people were pulled from their homes by [agents of] a government agency,” he predicted.
Donations can be made by sending checks to Family of New Paltz marked “One Pulse-New Paltz” in the memo line. Yastion hopes to add a direct donation availability to the fund’s Facebook page. Distributions will begin in May.