Courts & Corrections

Feds deny targeting political activists

Enrique Balcazar, Zully Palacios
Enrique Balcazar, 24, from Mexico, and Zully Palacios, 23, from Peru, are both well-known advocates for human rights in the state of Vermont. Courtesy photo

BURLINGTON — Three activists with the group Migrant Justice, who were arrested last week for violating immigration law, continue to be held Monday at a detention center in New Hampshire, according to a group spokesman.

A spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Friday’s arrest of two of those Migrant Justice activists resulted from authorities targeting one of them, a woman who had overstayed her visa.

Migrant Justice, the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont and local advocacy group Rights and Democracy have a different view and said ICE is specifically targeting political activists.

Attorney General TJ Donovan, who has been an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump’s executive orders on immigration, said Monday that last week’s arrests fell well within federal authority and that he saw no evidence that ICE was targeting activists.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT, expressed concern on Twitter.

Shawn Neudauer, a public affairs officer for the Department of Homeland Security, said in a weekend statement that while arresting a woman who had overstayed her visa, agents encountered Jose Enrique Balcazar-Sanchez, who Neudauer said was “in violation of U.S. immigration law.” Neudauer did not disclose the woman’s identity.

Balcazar-Sanchez, who goes by Enrique “Kike” Balcazar, is a high profile activist with Migrant Justice. The group identified the woman who was arrested as Zully Palacios, 23, of Peru, who is also involved with Migrant Justice. Neudauer said the woman arrested had overstayed her visa by more than a year.

Both are being held by ICE pending deportation proceedings, Neudauer said.

Balcazar, 23, of Mexico, was a member of the attorney general’s recently created task force on immigration issues. Balcazar and Palacios have no criminal record, according to Migrant Justice.

Donovan said Monday that, based on published reports, ICE agents were acting “well within their purview” in arresting Balcazar, Palacios and another Migrant Justice activist Caesar Alex Corillo-Sanchez, who is also being held pending removal proceedings.

Migrant Justice, the Vermont ACLU and other groups held a Saturday rally outside the federal courthouse in Burlington to call for the release of those arrested last week, which drew a large crowd downtown.

The Vermont ACLU posted on Facebook asking its members to call Jeff Curtis, director of the ICE field office in St. Albans, and the ICE field office in Boston to demand an end to “targeted arrests of immigrant rights organizers.”

Donovan said he sees no evidence that ICE is targeting activists. The attorney general said he would not speculate about the agencies’ motivation until he has more information.

“I think for me the question is more about strategy in terms of the promotion of national security and public safety,” Donovan said.

New guidance on immigration enforcement priorities in an executive order from President Trump is overly broad, Donovan said, expanding the focus beyond violent criminals.

“I have concerns. That’s casting a very wide net. Specifically to Vermont, these migrant workers are a critical part of our agricultural economy,” Donovan said.

The attorney general said he was not aware of Balcazar’s immigration status, but welcomed him as part of the immigration task force he set up. “(Balcazar) was very compelling in his desire to be part of our community,” Donovan said.

Legislation championed by Donovan, S. 79, would limit state and local law enforcement’s ability to enforce federal immigration law, but it would have had no impact on last week’s arrests, he said.

“This was solely a federal action. There is no state action as far as I can tell,” Donovan said.

Will Lambek, with Migrant Justice, said on the radio program Democracy Now, that Vermont has a “rogue ICE agency” targeting leaders in the immigrant community.

Lambek previously told VTDigger that other people detained by ICE in Vermont had told Migrant Justice that agents were planning to target and arrest Balcazar because of his activism.

“It’s obvious that the local ICE office is looking to discourage immigrants in Vermont from organizing for their rights and dignity by attacking the only organization led by members of their community. They’re hoping to break the community’s spirit by targeting its leaders,” Lambek said.

Lambek said Monday all three Migrant Justice activists are being held at an ICE detention facility in Strafford County, New Hampshire. Carillo has bail set at $21,000, Balcazar has bail set at $14,000 and Palacios is being held without bail, according to Lambek.

Over the weekend, Vermont Senate Pro Tempore Tim Ashe, P/D-Chittenden, voiced concern about the ICE arrests on Twitter:

House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, also responded to the arrests on Twitter:

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  • Paul Richards

    Laws have consequences, at least they used to.

    • Zachary Kent

      They still do. Don’t be fooled by the rhetoric.

  • chris wilmot

    There is nothing new about trumps policy’s other than the law is being enforced.
    And how many “undocumented” do we have in our statehouse as reps? Oh that’s right-0

    Like others Mizi backs illegals because SHE is not affected by it

    • Phil Greenleaf

      How is your life affected by undocumented workers?

  • rosemariejackowski

    I have marched with the Farm Workers. I support them 1000%.

    • Steve Baker

      Great, are you saying you support not following the Law?

      • rosemariejackowski

        I support the people. If I was here at the time when it was illegal to help a runaway slave, I would have helped him. I would have opposed the sterilization in Vermont of the Native Americans and others.
        There is such a concept as Natural Law – the rights that we are all born with. Human Rights and Natural Law have been accepted for centuries.

    • chris wilmot

      Why? They have no workplace protections, are paid wages that are below the federal minimum, and are often taken advantage of.

      Why support that?

    • Neil Johnson

      People are offering an different perspective, that’s all. I suspect if you asked all those people to the “right of Trump” if they had an issue with any of the people coming from other countries that answer would be no, we welcome people from other countries; to enter our country legally. It’s that same request every other country puts on immigrants.

      Instead of fighting each other we could be working on getting these people here legally. Problem solved every ones happy. But power of the community organizers is not in coming together, but division. I was pretty surprised to read about this and understand it from Rules for Radicals.

      It keeps a shiny object in front of people to argue and divide our state about while our State increases it’s budget by 1 Billion dollars since 2012, ironically screaming the whole time about budget Cuts!

  • Willem Post

    Obama deported over 2 million illegals, about 50% of them for overstaying their visa.
    Those illegals obtained a free trip home.
    Unfortunately, about 2 million illegals were added, about half by overstaying visas and most of the others by illegally crossing the US border, so the US still has at least 11 million illegals.
    By US law, overstaying a visa is illegal and a deportable federal offense.
    As the US is a country of laws, we should all applaud when people who took an oath to faithfully execute our laws, in fact do so.

  • Steve Baker

    Hey TJ, as the highest law enforcer in the State, Why is it hard for you to advocate for following the Law?
    I don’t like the Tax Laws in Vermont, can I decide to ignore them?

  • rosemariejackowski

    According to comments I read on blogs and hear on Main Street, it is starting to look like Vermont is to the right of Trump.
    I suggest that everyone read the Editorial in the Bennington Banner, titled Fear and Loathing in Bennington.

    • Steve Baker

      I suggest people read the Law.

  • Job Tate

    What’s the surprise here? By being self-described “activists” they’ve already done the work for the investigators by broadcasting their status and, often, when and where they’ll be.

  • Daniel Burks

    I’m dumbfounded! “…local ICE office is looking to discourage (Illegal) immigrants in VT from organizing for their rights….”, Lambeck said.
    What rights?

  • Neil Johnson

    One of the jobs an ICE agent has is to find illegal aliens and deport them. So as an illegal AND an activist I’m in all the papers and news publications stating I’m an illegal alien, with name and contacts. You’re surprised they found you? Could you have made it easier for ICE to find you? Nope….

    What do you expect the feds to do? They are only doing their job, which has been on the books for decades.

  • Tim Vincent

    What a novel idea:
    Enforce the law.
    And, BTW, these illegals do not have MORE rights than a US citizen – contrary to Leahy, Donovan and the rest who posture that these illegals have a “right” to break the law.

  • Will Bennington

    Its unfortunate to see Attorney General Donovan taking such a weak stance on this one. He’ll happily support S. 79, a largely symbolic bill that does little to actually protect community members from ICE raids, as long as the cameras are on him and he can use this issue to distance himself from Trump. Same goes for Governor Scott. I fully support S. 79, I just realize its shortcomings in providing concrete protections and policy directives. It looks to me like political opportunism, more than anything.

    But when it comes time to actually take a stance in support of a community leader in VT, someone who has worked hard to improve living and working conditions on Vermont’s dairy farms and has fought endlessly for the rights of all Vermonters, Donovan is afraid to call out the federal agency behind these targeted arrests.

    I’d like to see him make a much stronger statement in support of Enrique, Zully and Alex, and let ICE know that we don’t need them in Vermont taking away very important community leaders. What evidence do you need that these are targeted arrests, Mr. Donovan? ICE is certainly not going to come out and say,”yes, we are targeting people for their political activity.” The pattern is clear – ICE is targeting leaders of Vermont’s farmworker community.

    As a farmworker myself, I would really like to see Vermont’s elected leaders take a stronger stance to protect the workers who are so important to our state’s identity and economy. Regardless of immigration status, we are all important and all deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.

    • Tim Vincent

      When did illegal aliens become important to the state’s identity?

    • Steve Baker

      Will wouldn’t it be better to just follow federal Law? Which Laws should we follow isn’t a referendum. The job of ICE is to enforce our laws that were passed by the Congress and upheld by the Supreme Court.
      As you’ve said, “and has fought endlessly for the rights of all Vermonters,” All Vermonters? What rights have they fought for me?

  • Paul Richards

    Mitzi Johnson states; “(3/3) The attack against members of our community is not the Vermont way. We must stand w/our fellow VTers. Our state is welcome to all.”
    I don’t think she is in touch with “the Vermont way”. All the “fellow VTers” I know do not support unlawful activities.

  • Diana Martinez

    I am in shock that this is what the USA has come to pandering to illegal immigrants ? As a legal Latina immigrant get on line , pay taxes , stop collecting socials benefits , stop expecting me to pay for your babies stop acting like you have more rights than USA citizens .. any citizen caught breaking the law pays the price for it since when have illegals had more rights ?

    • Steve Baker

      So true