The detention of 15-year Ocean Park resident Baltazar “Rosas” Aburto Gutierrez by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement ought to worry even those who vigorously defend the Trump administration’s deportation policies. It chews away at essential American values.
Aburto Gutierrez spoke to Chinook Observer contributor Sydney Stevens for the Aug. 9 chapter of our series “Stories From the Heart” about local ICE arrests and their impacts on residents lacking formal immigration status. With his consent, we published his story under a nickname but he was also easy to identify from the circumstances of his story, which can be read at tinyurl.com/Rosas-Aburto-Gutierrez. He was later included, anonymously, in a Seattle Times article about ICE’s activities in Pacific County, where undocumented immigrants are employed in the aquaculture, farming and hospitality industries.
After his arrest, Aburto Gutierrez said an agent told him: “My supervisor asked me to come find you because of what appeared in the newspaper.”
With one old $100 traffic ticket to his name, Aburto Gutierrez has a cleaner record than some locals who applaud his arrest. He is in no sense one of the serious criminals ICE is supposed to prioritize. Why was Aburto Gutierrez arrested? Was it in retaliation for daring to be an “uppity Mexican” willing to speak up? Was his arrest meant to be a warning to all other immigrants to keep their mouths shut? “Yes” is the obvious answer to both questions.
The 2010 U.S. Census counted 1,677 Hispanic residents in the county, undoubtedly a significant underestimate since many of those without documents are known to avoid enumerators. Around 50 have now been detained by ICE this year. This hardly qualifies as a wholesale roundup. However, its impacts extend far beyond simply those 50 individuals.
In Aburto Gutierrez’s case, the initial arrest and deportation of his partner, Gladys Diaz, broke up a stable family. Diaz and the couple’s three girls — ages 4, 7 and 12 — are now getting by in a beautiful but crime-infested area of Mexico’s Pacific Coast. The two youngest girls are U.S. citizens. The 12-year-old and 7-year-old will no longer be taught in Ocean Beach School District. The shellfish operation that relied on Aburto Gutierrez is without a highly regarded worker. Gladys’ little business making piñatas is no more.
The family will probably adjust to its new circumstances. But the Long Beach Peninsula is poorer for their loss.
Judging from social media comments about the Aburto Gutierrez story, there are many who regard informal immigration as an unforgivable crime. Often ignorant about how their own ancestors arrived in America, they nevertheless are supremely judgmental about others. In fact, many of our families arrived here without official permission from any government.
Why might those who support forced deportations want to reexamine their opinions with regard to this case?
“Family values” voters should care about breaking up families and about the school district losing kids. Those who are about our area’s economic viability should care about depriving industries of good workers.
And we should all be troubled when a government agency targets someone for telling their story to the news media.
As the Times said in its editorial, “These actions send a terrifying message to people who have been living in the United States for years and actively contributing to their communities. … ICE’s crackdown on otherwise law-abiding immigrants undermines those efforts. It dissuades them from reporting crimes, becoming active in their children’s schools and interacting with their neighbors. Effectively, it consigns them to the shadows.” This makes us all less safe.
Contrary to what some apparently believe, American constitutional rights apply to everyone here, not just citizens. This rule of law is one of the choices we’ve made that make the U.S. so much greater than many other nations throughout history. We protect even the least powerful among us.
Imagine the howls of outrage if a Democratic presidential administration began selectively prosecuting rural gun owners after they wrote critical letters to the editor. This is the kind of risk we take when a government agency is permitted to selectively decide who to punish for exercising a fundamental human right.
ICE’s actions deliberately chill press and free-speech freedoms, which are guaranteed to all in our nation, not just citizens. This is unacceptable.
Was his arrest meant to be a warning to all other immigrants to keep their mouths shut? “Yes” is the obvious answer.