A Human Chain – Translation
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Welcome to Radio Ambulante from NPR. I’m Daniel Alarcón.
United States, Nashville, Tennessee. A neighborhood called Hermitage
[Andrea López Cruzado]: The neighborhood got its name from the Hermitage, the plantation belonging to Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States, the one who’s on the 20 dollar bill. Now the Hermitage is a museum, but in Jackson’s day, it was an enormous plantation spanning more than 170 hectares with a gigantic green space where slaves worked.
[Daniel]: This is Andrea López Cruzado. She’s the fact-checker for Radio Ambulante. She visited Hermitage in August and it’s not for nothing that we want to start the story here, in the former president’s farm. It’s a place that has a lot of historic significance, which brings to mind the oppression and segregation under which the United States was founded. And it makes you think about the tense political and social environment the country is experiencing today.
But the Hermitage isn’t just the museum of the Jackson plantation.
[Andrea]: It’s a place of contrasts. It’s an area full of big houses and enormous yards which seem designed for people who don’t want anyone around.
[Daniel]: And it also has it’s less ostentatious part, where mainly Latino immigrants and African Americans live.
[Andrea]: Modest houses abound, aged, single-story, typical working-class homes.
[Daniel]: This part of Hermitage it’s like many neighborhoods in the United States. Fast-food restaurants, little stores, businesses where you can send remittances or cash checks. Aside from that last detail, it’s a neighborhood that doesn’t seem like a Latino area at first glance. But for a few days, it occupied the headlines here in the United States and the incident that everybody was reporting had a Mexican family as protagonists.
Andrea brings us the story.
[Andrea]: It happened on July 22, 2019.
A little before 7 a.m., a man and his 12-year-old stepson left their house and got in their van. The boy was going to go with his stepdad to his construction job. They started the car, and just when they were about to leave, a white van blocked their path.
Two agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement —the federal Immigration agency known as ICE—went up to the window and asked the man to get out of the car. He was an undocumented immigrant. Without exiting the van, he asked the boy to record them through the window and told the agents he was waiting for his lawyer.
[Text in italics was spoken in English in the source audio]
[Immigrant]: I’m waiting for somebody.
[ICE Agent]: Let’s go!
[Immigrant]: I’m waiting for somebody. Mi abogado is come.
[ICE Agent]: Your lawyer is coming here? For what?
[Andrea]: Perhaps the man had seen videos of detentions before because he knew that if he didn’t get out of the van, he could buy time for someone to come and help him. The ICE agent asked him why his lawyer was going to come… and then he said:
[ICE Agent]: So we’ll just call the cops and they’ll arrest you. And when they are done with you in the jail, then we’ll get you. You understand? And then, we’ll probably come back and talk to your wife…
[Andrea]: You can’t hear it very well, but the ICE agent is saying that they’re going to call the police to have them arrested. And when they “are done with him in jail,” they’re going to detain him. And then, very likely, they’ll come back to speak with his wife.
While the ICE agents are talking to the man, inside the house, his wife called journalist Verónica Salcedo of Nashville Noticias, a digital media outlet geared toward the Spanish-speaking community. Verónica’s name and number are posted on the outlet’s Facebook page for situations like these.
[Verónica Salcedo]: She calls me crying. She says: “Vero, they’re talking to my husband and my son. Immigration is here.” She says, “I’m in contact with my husband over… over the phone, and he’s telling me that they’re telling him to get out of the truck because if he doesn’t, well they’re going to take the boy too, and he’s 12.”
[Andrea]: Verónica called Cathy Carrillo right away. Cathy is a 24-year-old activist. She’s a member of MIX, an organization of young people that seeks to improve immigration laws and combat racism in the courts and police violence, among other things. A month earlier, when President Donald Trump announced via Twitter that ICE would start deporting, and I quote, “millions of illegal aliens,” Cathy and other members of MIX…
[Cathy Carrillo]: We started a list where people could sign up to defend their community and if they wanted to be part of what we call Migra Watch, so they can verify if… if immigration is really present in their communities or conducting traffic stops.
[Andrea]: Cathy lives just 10 minutes away from Hermitage. So as soon as Verónica told her, she got ready to leave the house. Before leaving, she asked her husband to call more people on the list, so they could go help out too.
[Cathy]: And I got in my car and I was calling people and it was like 7 a.m. so no one was picking up. And I was like: “What am I going to do? What am I going to do?”
[Andrea]: Cathy has made these trips several times, but normally she arrives when ICE has already taken the person and what she finds is the chaos…
[Cathy]: Of what just happened, the mother and the kids, the sadness. And… and I’m used to that.
[Andrea]: But this situation was new to Cathy. The man was still there, and so were the ICE agents.
[Cathy]: So I called a ton of people. I was calling other organizers, lawyers, resources they had, and I was shocked because a lot of people told me: “Cathy, there’s nothing you can do. This is what they do and there’s nothing we can do about it.” And I remember I told someone, I said: “I’m going to hang up because I have to do something. I don’t know what, but I’m going to… I’m going to do something.”
[Andrea]: When Cathy arrived, around 7:30 a.m., the police were already there along with the ICE agents. The agents had called the police themselves, giving another version of events: that they had tried to detain the man while he was driving but he hadn’t obeyed their orders and instead he went home.
But according to what the family said, the immigrant hadn’t managed to leave their home when ICE arrived. Cathy found him in his van along with the boy and started recording on Facebook Live.
[Cathy]: Hello, everyone. I’m in Hermitage. Today is Monday, July 22nd. It’s 7:35 a. m. We have a father and a son who are in the van right now. This is immigration, they have identified themselves as ICE. And they are trying to get the person out of the van.
And I started just saying the facts: the date, the day, the hour, where I was. And I announced that the police were there before I got out of the car, that immigration was on the other side, and when I got out of the car, I said: “OK, let me feel alright. Let me feel confident about what I’m going to do.” So, then I started recording the scene.
[Andrea]: She didn’t speak with the immigration agents or the police. She was just recording, waiting for more people to arrive.
[Cathy]: And in five minutes someone from our list showed up. And from then on, every five minutes another person came, and another person and another person from the list.
[Andrea]: Cathy went up to the van and let him know that she was there to help.
[Cathy]: You could tell he was anxious. The boy looked like he was sad, scared. There’s no way to hide that on your face when you’re a kid. The man looked like he was trying to stay calm. But it was hard for the boy.
[Cathy]: They haven’t given you any kind of paper?
[Cathy]: No. OK. So he is saying that he has not received any kind of paper or order or anything like that.
I said: “Well, he doesn’t have a paper. You don’t have a warrant.” And the police told us at the time, well, the agents have it and if he wants it he has to get out of the car. And I said to the man:
[Cathy]: You don’t have to get out of the car, you can just ask them to show you the arrest warrant through the window.
Because I asked for the paper and they refused to give it to me. They said: “No, we’re only going to talk to him, and we’re only going to give him the paper, and… but he has to get out of the car.”
[Andrea]: They had been in the van for more than an hour and Cathy kept asking for the arrest warrant trying to buy time. And while that was happening, a neighbor came over…
[Cathy]: And she’s an African American woman, and she asked me: “What’s going on?” And I explained it to her. I said: “The man… the agents are trying to take him away.” And she said: “No. No, they can’t take them. I know them. They’ve lived here for years now. I know the baby, I know… that boy, I saw him when he was a baby.”
[Andrea]: This neighbor’s name is Felishadae Young. She went up to the van and she told the man and the boy that everything was going to be ok, and she was going to take care of it.
[Cathy]: And in about five or 10 minutes I started to see more neighbors. She went to tell them. She told the other neighbors who were coming down the street who also came to ask what was going on.
[Andrea]: And at some point, according to witnesses, there were 25 to 30 people there. This is Felishadae.
[Felishadae Young]: A lot of different activists came. Attorneys came. Translators came. So the family could understand what was going on.
[Andrea]: Activists came, says Felishadae. Lawyers. Interpreters for the family.
[Cathy]: And they started carrying signs and I saw a sign that said: “We’re with you. We love you.” And the volunteers were there, and they were all recording and started showing the man that, and they started taking up more space little by little, more space the van so the agents aren’t there at the window trying to tell them to get out.
[Andrea]: It was a tense environment, but it was also full of solidarity. The neighbors were ready to do anything to help the family. This is Stacey Farley.
[Stacey Farley]: I ain’t got nothing on my record. If I was going to take me in jail, I was gonna take me to jail.
[Andrea]: “If they’re going to take me to jail, they’re going to take me to jail,” she says.
Nicole Tyler, who lives next door to Stacey, saw a lot of people were afraid and confused, but…
[Nicole Tyler]: At that particular time, a lot of us didn’t really care about what was… at that point, we just wanted to help. We just wanted to get them free.
[Andrea]: She says, “At that time a lot of us didn’t care. At that time, we just wanted to help. We just wanted to get them free.
But time was passing. The man and the boy in the van, the ICE agents at the window, the police nearby and people from within the community and from outside coming and going.
It was the middle of summer, and as often is the case in the south in the United States, on top of being very hot, it was also very humid. The thermometer reached 90 degrees Fahrenheit in Nashville, about 32 degrees Celsius. It was a stifling heat.
They had been in the car for more than an hour when Stacy Farley went up to talk to the ICE agents. She told them:
[Stacey]: Well, I hope you packed your lunch because we’re gonna be here a while. And he’s, “What do you mean?” I said: “Well, we are paying gas in this vehicle. They’re not going to lose their AC.”
[Andrea]: “I hope you brought lunch,” they told Stacy, “because we’re going to be here a while.” One of the ICE agents asked her what she meant. And she told him they were going to buy gas so they could keep the AC running. Without air conditioning, staying in the van, in that heat and that humidity in the sun, was too dangerous.
Without ventilation, with an outside temperature of 27 degrees Celcius, the temperature in a closed car can reach up to 46 degrees [~115 degrees Fahrenheit] in just half an hour. It can be deadly. But the neighbors weren’t just thinking about air conditioning. They also took care of providing them with food and drinks.
One of Felishadae’s neighbors took care of the food…
[Felishadae]: She made grill… grilled cheese sandwiches and she gave me oranges and yogurt and water and whatever she could give.
[Andrea]: She says that she made grilled cheese sandwiches, which she gave to the man and the boy along with oranges, yogurt, and water. They spent about three hours in the van and…
[Felishadae]: The little boy, he was thirsty. He was hot. He was sweating. Sweat was dripping off his forehead, you know. So he was hungry too. He was hungry so he started eating snacks and things that we gave him.
[Andrea]: “The boy was thirsty. He was hot. He was sweating.” Felishadae says. And he was hungry, so he ate what they brought him.
An hour went by without incident. People were still there trying to buy more time, recording, showing their support, in the heat, hungry and thirsty. And all of a sudden…
[Cathy]: We saw that the ICE agents started talking to the police and they got in their cars, and as immigration left, the police left too.
[Andrea]: At that time, Véronica Salcedo, the journalist we heard at the start was already on scene streaming on Facebook Live, like several others.
[Verónica]: They left. They left. They left. They’re over there… they pulled out of the space that… This is what we’re seeing now.
[Verónica]: They left on their own because no one chased them away. No one… no one insulted them in a way that made them feel in danger, no? They just turned around and left.
[Andrea]: But, of course, everyone was asking the same questions:
[Verónica]: I mean, did these men really leave? Or are they looking for a way to come back from the other side or do something else?
[Cathy]: We started making sure that someone was watching to see if they were coming back if they were turning around or what. Because we know they’ve done that in Atlanta: they pretend they’re leaving and really they’re just around the corner. So, we made sure there was someone looking.
[Verónica]: They start saying that we need to make a human chain.
[Woman]: We need to make a chain.
[Verónica]: Let’s go.
[Woman 2]: We need to make a chain.
[Verónica]: They’re making a human chain here right now.
And right now, they’re holding hands in case they come on foot and try to detain them.
[Cathy]: We held hands around the car on both sides. It was neighbors, organizers, everyone who was there.
Then we said: “No, if now’s the time, let’s do it now.” Then since they weren’t there, we formed a human chain, just in case, and we counted to ten.
[Verónica]: This is what is happening.
[People]: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 Move, go to the house…
[Verónica]: Let’s go! The boy is coming out. The boy is coming out now. The man is also coming out, and well, now they’re safe. They’re applauding because they defended this family.
The boy gets out first and the dad comes out the other door, and they enter the house. Right now, it’s very emotional because we feel they’re safe now.
[Andrea]: It was the culmination of hours of anguish in which the first to get tired easily would have lost. They had achieved the unthinkable, the nearly impossible: they had stopped ICE from taking an immigrant. They had managed to keep a family united. It was a victory amid so many defeats.
[Cathy]: As they got inside, I fell to the ground crying. Yeah, I fell to the ground crying because after doing this for so many years, a family was saved.
[Daniel]: We’ll be right back.
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[Daniel]: We’re back with Radio Ambulante. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Before the break, we met several neighbors and activists in Hermitage, a neighborhood in Nashville, Tennessee, who came together almost spontaneously to protect a man and his stepson from ICE.
The news of this event went viral and got many people’s attention as a sign of solidarity, as an example of a community coming together to support immigrants. One surprising detail was that most of the people who put themselves at risk weren’t Latinos, but rather were whites or African Americans who lived nearby.
Our producer Andrea López Cruzado spoke with several of them, and they told her that they did it because they thought it was the right thing to do, because it was about a nice, hard-working neighbor, and, of course, because there was a child involved.
In the case of the Latino activists, like Cathy, the event had a bit of a different meaning. A more personal meaning.
Andrea continues the story.
[Andrea]: In 2009, when Cathy was 13 years old, Nashville applied for a program known as 287g. This program creates partnerships between ICE and police departments so they can act in effect like immigration agents. And although it’s no longer in effect in Nashville, two counties spanning eight municipalities still participate in the program today.
One day in March, Cathy’s dad picked her up from school to take her to another high school, to an athletic competition that Cathy had been preparing for the entire year. If she won or came in second place, she would move on to state. But on the way…
[Cathy]: They stopped my dad. He had a license. He had insurance. He had his registration. But something happened. The police took too long and he got out of the car to ask if something was wrong, if there was a problem with the paperwork.
[Andrea]: When he went up to the police car, one of them aimed his gun at him and arrested him.
Cathy remembers the scene perfectly, even the time: 4:15 p.m. When she saw what was happening, she got out of the car too and confronted the police. Shouting, she told them to let her dad go, but they told her that if she didn’t be quiet, they would arrest her and take her to juvenile prison.
[Cathy]: And what neither my family or my dad or I knew was that he was a deportation order. They took him away. And I was left alone on the side of the road.
[Andrea]: Cathy never made it to that competition, and her dad never came home. He spent more than two months at a detention center in Tennessee. During his detention, Cathy’s dad lost 55 kilos from the stress, the anguish, and his mother —Cathy’s grandma— died. It was all very difficult until he couldn’t take it anymore, and he ended up signing a deportation order to Peru, his country of origin. Cathy and her younger brother went to see him twice, but the tickets are expensive and it’s not easy to get money to visit him. Today they’re in touch, but they haven’t gone to see him in eight years.
What happened in Hermitage was a situation very similar to what she had been through with her dad, but with a very different outcome. A family was saved from separation. At least one.
[Cathy]: I realized that the girl who was left on the side of the road 10 years ago is still inside me, afraid and very sad. But the woman who came out of that trauma, who came out of that fear, has a lot of power, a lot of anger, and for that reason, in order to protect that girl inside me, I’m going to continue doing this. Because I know that I’m not the only one who’s experienced it. And I’m not going to be the last and that this family isn’t going to be the last family this happens to. And maybe it’s just one at a time, but that’s how we’re starting. We going to start one at a time.
[Andrea]: I was in Nashville for several days, trying to understand not just the incident at Hermitage, but also what the threat of ICE means for the Latino community in the area.
There I came across the story of the only Latino city councilor. His name is Fabián Bedne and he’s from Argentina. He was also at Hermitage that day. When he woke up, a little after nine in the morning, he noticed he had several text messages from different people telling him what was happening in the community. He told me he got dressed without wasting a moment and left without eating breakfast.
What was happening that day activated memories from his past.
[Fabián Bedne]: The idea was that in this country they can arrest someone without a warrant immediately reminded me of my childhood in Argentina.
[Andrea]: Fabián grew up during the military dictatorship of the ‘70s. A brutal, violent, cruel dictatorship where deaths and disappearances were everyday events. When Fabián was 16…
[Fabián]: Soldiers disappeared my older brother. So, it was a period of a lot of fear for me.
[Andrea]: But when Fabián grew up, he made a decision…
[Fabián]: That I wasn’t going to let fear govern my life, you know? So I started participating in Human Rights marches and the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo marches and all that. And it was very hard. At first, it was the fear I had, the feeling of panic was overwhelming, but it’s like when you take one of those steps that’s almost irreversible, once I chose to be on the side of justice, it was like there was no… there was no going back.
[Andrea]: There was no going back. And with that motivation and those memories, he arrived in Hermitage.
[Fabián]: I had spoken with someone, and we had a meeting later, I told them: “Look, I don’t know if I’m going to make it to the meeting because they might arrest me.”
[Andrea]: And here Fabián got a little emotional…
[Fabián]: So… in my… ah, sorry… In my head, I had decided I was going to do whatever it took to… if they were trying to violate this person’s constitutional rights.
[Andrea]: In the end, everything turned out alright. He wasn’t arrested nor did he have to confront the police, but the situation had a big impact on him…
[Fabián]: I’m angry that I came to this country 29 years ago to live free of fear, to feel like I didn’t have to be afraid of the government or… or the police, or the military, that I was the same as everyone else. And all of a sudden that’s eroding. We’re entering a situation that, even if it’s very distant from the dictatorship I grew up in, it’s starting to bear a resemblance to it that traumatizes and really upset me.
[Andrea]: And, well, even if the way that day ended was a relief, you can’t say it was a victory. At least not a definitive victory. ICE could go back at any moment, and the family, that had been saved, knew that they had to leave the house and the neighborhood, and they left their home within 14 hours. Staying there was too dangerous.
[Cathy]: Everyone had pictures of their house. Everyone knew the street they lived on. So it wasn’t just out of fear of immigration, but also fear of racists.
[Andrea]: Today the family doesn’t want to reveal their whereabouts for their safety. The neighbors say them again a few days later, but only for a moment when they went to their house to get their things. When I was there, I saw furniture, a trampoline, and the kids’ bicycles, which were still outside of the house. They were memories of a happy and peaceful like that was abruptly interrupted. The well-kept flowers decorating the front of the are sure to have wilted.
The police, for their part, later said in a statement that the officers were only there to keep the peace in case things got out of control.
Three days after being freed from ICE, the anonymous man who at the center of this incident with the van recorded this audio which was published MIX:
[Immigrant]: My message to the Hispanic, undocumented community is to work hard, not to give up, not for anything in the world. And well, know your rights, ok? Also thank you very much to all the people who supported me, to my neighbors, thank you very much to all the people who were there. I know this isn’t the end, but it’s a victory for now. And I want all families that go through moments like these to fight.
[Andrea]: In the audio, the man encourages immigrants to know their rights. And that marks the difference in the incident at Hermitage. Without an order signed by a judge, ICE doesn’t have the right to remove an undocumented person from their vehicle, like they tried to do with him, much less from their home. To put more directly: if the man had gotten out of the van, it’s very likely that we would be detained today, awaiting his deportation.
I tried to speak to the man directly, but after what happened he’s very afraid of exposing himself.
A few days after the incident in Hermitage, a young man killed 22 people in El Paso, Texas, in the worst attack against the Latino community in the recent history of the United States. Also, in that time, ICE detained almost 700 workers in Mississippi in the largest raid of a single state in the history of the country.
When I was in Nashville, I spoke with several Hispanic residents of Hermitage who told me that after ICE’s visit and the reaction from the community, they felt happy and grateful for their neighbors’ show of solidarity. Unfortunately, for Nashville, the news of persecution against immigrants continues. On September 5th, a month and a half after the incident in Hermitage, ICE shook the immigrant community again.
Around 7 a.m., in the parking lot of a store only 20 minutes away from Hermitage, ICE tried to detain another undocumented immigrant from Mexico who, according to the federal agency, had been deported four times. At the scene were the same agents that wanted to arrest the man in Hermitage.
According to the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, on this occasion as well they didn’t have an arrest warrant, so the immigrant also didn’t get out of his car. But this time, the situation escalated, and the outcome was very different.
When the man tried to leave, the ICE agents fired at his vehicle. The Mexican citizen was able to leave the area, but an hour later —with wounds in his stomach and shoulder— he turned himself over to the authorities. Days later, the immigrant was accused of re-entering the United States even though he had already been deported several times.
[Daniel]: Just before we published this story, the sheriff of the county that includes Nashville announced that he would stop housing detained immigrants in his jail for prosecution by ICE. He also said he would limit his interaction with the immigration agency to only what state law requires. The decision was applauded by the defenders of immigrants from the city.
Andrea López is the fact-checker for Radio Ambulante. She lives in New Jersey.
This episode was edited by Camila Segura, Luis Fernando Vargas and me. The music and sound design are by Andrés Azpiri.
The rest of the Radio Ambulante team includes Lisette Arévalo, Gabriela Brenes, Jorge Caraballo, Victoria Estrada, Miranda Mazariegos, Rémy Lozano, Patrick Moseley, Laura Rojas Aponte, Barbara Sawhill, Luis Trelles, David Trujillo and Elsa Liliana Ulloa. Carolina Guerrero is the CEO.
Radio Ambulante is a podcast of Radio Ambulante Studios and is produced and mixed on Hindenburg PRO.
Radio Ambulante tells the stories of Latin America. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Thanks for listening.