Three brothers — Santiago, Armando, and David. Among them, almost 63 years in residence on the Peninsula and the same number of cumulative years as employees of two major oyster companies based in Nahcotta. The men are part of a big, visible family here, and when David, the youngest, was arrested by ICE a few weeks ago, they decided they would speak out. “Yes, use our names,” they said, though David’s attorney cautioned otherwise.
“We knew something wasn’t right one morning a few weeks ago when Armando was stopped on his way to work. It was early in the morning and the ICE stopped and asked for his ID. But, they sent him on his way. Wrong man,” says Santiago. At 54, he is the oldest and is sometimes the spokesman for the group. He seems to be a ‘man of few words,’ yet his eyes smolder with deep concern and unexpressed anger.
“The next day, ICE got David on his way to work. He’s the only one of the three of us who is not yet documented. Seems odd that they stopped Armando first. And, later, a sheriff showed up at my place. Very strange. Too many coincidences, maybe.”
“It was the same afternoon that David had been arrested — about five o’clock. I found that a sheriff had parked on my driveway. My place is a little remote,” Santiago says, “and I have ‘No Trespassing’ signs posted. He shouldn’t have been there unless he had business with me. But, when I approached him and he saw who I was, he had a story ready. He said he was looking for some off-road vehicles or dune buggies that someone had reported.” Santiago stops speaking for a time. Thinking it over and visibly angry… “So, why was he parked on my road?”
Santiago did not use the words “racial profiling” but he did mention the news stories in which Sheriff Scott Johnson denied any knowledge of ICE activities here. “But, I’m not the only one who has seen the sheriff department vehicles where you wouldn’t expect them. I’m not the only one who has wondered….
“Most people are afraid to speak out. They have family members who are vulnerable. Mothers, perhaps, who are scared they will be separated from their children. Fathers who are the family’s main source of income.
“Ordinarily, our family is very private. We work and we spend time with our friends and relatives, but we don’t have much ‘public presence.’ I go to work and come home and have always tended to my own business. Now… it’s time to speak out,” Santiago says.
“Even though many say they don’t see it, there is racism all around us in this community,” the brothers say. “We feel it all the time — from employers, from Caucasian coworkers, everywhere.” It has always been here, the men say, though it is more noticeable now. “The community needs to know that we are here to work. That is all. They need to know that we are willing to take the jobs they don’t want. They need to know that we’ve always felt safe in this community — until the last two years or so. Now things have changed.”
But, Santiago points out, “We are not the ones who have changed. We still work hard. We still take care of our families here and in Mexico. We want to be good citizens. But our people are being harassed and followed by ICE on a daily basis. The ICE cars are parked at the Port of the Peninsula, at La Sentry (Okie’s Sentry Market) and La Country (Jack’s Country Store) in Ocean Park, and near the recycling center at the intersection of Sandridge Road and Bay Avenue. We are being annoyed at work and at places where we do business. We are no longer sure who to trust. It is a new and unpleasant feeling here.”
The attorney says
As soon as David’s call came — “ICE has me” — Armando and Santiago began working toward his release. Through their activist friends and relatives, they contacted an attorney — an attorney with a good track record for getting undocumented Mexicans bonded back into their communities. “We trust his judgment and want to do what he says. And, yet… we are not sure he is right.
“He says not to give our real names — not even our first names — to anyone who might be going to re-tell our story. Even if those people want to help. But we have heard over and over again from others who have been arrested, that ICE already knows everything. They know our names, where we live, who our family members are — even who our employers are and the names of the crew members we work with. Why should we keep our names a secret when they know all about us already?”
Santiago slowly shakes his head as if disbelieving his own words. “Time after time those who have been detained tell us that the arrest took place in front of a store where they shop frequently or on a ‘back’ road they take to work. ICE seems to brag about all the personal information they have collected. No,” he shakes his head more vehemently. “This is wrong! No one should live like this — like we are made to feel! It is not right!” There is resentment and exasperation in his tone. Anger. And sadness, too. Lots of it. Contained, but barely below the surface.
“We may use other names for now, but we won’t be silent. There is too much silence.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This series has chronicled a few of the impacts on Pacific County’s people from the increase in immigration enforcement since the inauguration of President Donald Trump. Chinook Observer columnist and retired teacher Sydney Stevens wrote our series, “Stories from the heart,” in an unconventional way that mostly avoided specifically identifying the people she reported about, in the interest of candor and to avoid exposing them to additional scrutiny by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. There are many more stories we could tell, but these have been representative of these challenging times. We plan additional follow-ups in the future.
‘The community needs to know that we are here to work. That is all. They need to know that we are willing to take the jobs they don’t want. They need to know that we’ve always felt safe in this community — until the last two years or so. Now things have changed.’
A Blogger Speaks
Dear Patty Murray,
Dear Maria Cantwell,
My name is Sydney Stevens. I live in Oysterville, Washington, a village of 14 full-time residents. My family has been here since 1854 — long before Washington was a state; when it was a newly created territory. I am one of your constituents.
Our corner of the world still feels remote from the mainstream. It takes a concerted effort to get here and an even greater determination to live here year-round, to find work here, to provide for a family and to take care of our elderly. Like rural communities everywhere, we struggle, we cleave together, we look after our own. And, we depend upon you to look after our interests in the ‘other Washington.’ We are your constituents.
Right now our neighbors are under siege. Day before yesterday a mother of three young children (little girls all under 12) was taken by ICE. She is the 22nd person to be snatched from our little corner of the state by lawmen who sit in unmarked cars and wait. And watch. Until their target steps from private property onto public land. And then they pounce. The friends and relatives of these victims are your constituents.
I am a contemporary of Anne Frank. The year she and her family were taken by the Gestapo was the year I began fourth grade. It would be some time before any of us here in ‘the land of the free’ knew of the horrors that had been occurring in Europe in the name of ‘the law.’ And now my own community is under siege. Your constituency, Senators Murray and Cantwell. Your constituency is under siege.
I am told that the per capita number of arrests by ICE in our little corner of Washington far exceeds that of other comparable areas. I don’t know why, or even if, that is true. Our local newspaper stopped coverage of the problem at the first two arrests. I don’t know the why of that either. Our ‘grass roots’ information is spotty, at best, and comes directly from our Latino neighbors who dare to speak — in whispers to trusted friends in the hopes that someone can help. Can we? How? What help can you provide? Do your constituents need to whisper, too? Do you?
I wrote this open letter to our Senators on June 25, 2017. It was my ‘Oysterville Daybook’ blog post that day. I followed it up on June 26 with hard copies of the letter to each Senator, sent by U.S. Mail. I have never heard back from either one of them. (And, yes, I sent the letter to many other officials — elected and otherwise — in both Washingtons. No replies were forthcoming.)
On the other hand, the local focus on the situation and the outpouring of concern in response to this ‘Stories from the Heart’ series have been unexpected and overwhelming. The Chinook Observer has carried several front-page articles about the problem, community advocacy groups have formed and, as the arrests have escalated (the count is now 38), concrete help has been offered to victims and their families. Once again, my own reasons for living in a small community — in particular, in THIS small community — have been reinforced many fold. Thank you. SS