Congressman Peter DeFazio and Paula Diaz

Immigration Rights Activists Stage Protest Downtown

A surprise visit by Congressman Peter DeFazio heightened an already lively rally

Bearing signs with messages like “End human detention” and “Make America smart again,” a crowd of more than 100 gathered Tuesday, July 2, at the old federal building in downtown Eugene to protest the Trump administration’s controversial immigration policies. People stood on all four corners of the intersection of 7th and Pearl. As the crowd chanted and waved signs, many motorists honked their support.

The main theme of the protest was opposition to the administration’s widely condemned detention policies, particularly  in detaining children. But the rally also made a broader appeal for a more-humane immigration system, especially for those seeking asylum.

Organizer Jeri Linn, who also helps organize weekly rallies at the federal courthouse in support of immigrant rights, says she got involved because she is deeply troubled by how immigrants are being treated. 

“Every day there are injustices by this administration, and we’ve been fighting for better immigration laws or at least to follow the laws that are in place.” She adds that for a lot of people, “It all came to a crux when the people found out about the conditions of those camps at the southern border.”

Rep. Peter DeFazio, who just returned from Washington, DC, where the $4.6 billion emergency border aid bill HR 3401 was passed, was at the rally. Hiis presence visibly uplifted the crowd. DeFazio described the Trump administration’s policies as inhumane and immoral and said that they must end. “We need to do more though,” he says. “Not just medical aid, not just rein it in a little bit. We need to end this.”

The protest was about more than detention for at least three attendees. Paula Diaz and her two stepchildren, Christian and DeeAnn, ages 11 and 12 respectively, were there because her husband, Eliberio Diaz, was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in early April due to a missed court date related to a 2011 DUII. 

Diaz says her husband completed all of the requirements of the diversion program, but was unaware that he had missed a court appearance. Eliberio Diaz was tried “in absentia” and a removal order was ordered.

“It’s just been so hard,” Paula Diaz says. “Our youngest child, who is just four, doesn’t understand why her daddy is gone. She’s just devastated that he isn’t there.” 

Diaz also said that in addition to the emotional trauma, the situation has wreaked havoc on the family financially since she is on a fixed income due to disabilities. As Diaz was talking, her oldest child, DeeAnn, began crying at the mention of her father. Eliberio Diaz arrived in Guatemala May 8.

The Diazes’ story is becoming more common in Lane County. Abigail Molina, a local immigration attorney not associated with Diaz’s case, says the local ICE office is operating on stretched resources. Wiith only a few officers, the focus is on apprehending those with removal orders, which many aren’t aware they have, as in Diaz’s case.

Molina, also says that in cases like the Diazes’, remedies are often available that immigrants are unaware of, but that ICE officials rarely mention them. “ICE doesn’t do the right thing,” Molina says. “It takes a lawyer to navigate this process, and in most cases it happens so fast that there just isn’t time.”

With the Trump administration recently announcing that ICE will soon begin removing millions of undocumented immigrants, rumors are spreading that, while well intentioned, may be unnecessarily causing anxiety. 

Recent social media posts claim that ICE is increasing detentions and even conducting raids, but there is scant evidence to support those claims. Molina says that when she has gone into local ICE offices in the course of her work, she’s only seen no more than four or five officers, and that’s for all of Lane County. “I’ve heard the rumors and I believe they are unjustified,” she says. “They just don’t have the time or resources.”

That’s little reassurance for Diaz and families in a similar situation. Paula Diaz says she has legal representation, but says that it could take five years or more for her husband’s case to resolve and for him to return home.