Oxnard community members and Mixteco/Indigenous leaders celebrated a victory last week, outside the immigration federal building in Los Angeles, when it was announced that Raul Gomez had been set free after spending nearly three weeks in an Orange County detention center.
“No one is the same after something like that,” Gomez said. “It hits you hard emotionally. You can no longer live or feel like a free person. It’s a sad thing, but at the same time it’s important to get something positive out of this, so that others don’t have to go through the same thing.”
In the early hours of August 29th, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrived at Gomez’s apartment complex on a “targeted operation.”
According to a federal spokesperson, ICE was looking for another individual, but when they couldn’t find them decided to detain Gomez once they determined he was in the country without proper documentation.
Originally from Oaxaca, Mexico, Raul Gomez is a member of the Mixteco/Indigena Community Organizing Project (MICOP) and is acknowledged as a local leader in community struggles against alcohol abuse, domestic violence, and environmental justice.
“The judge’s decision [to let Gomez go] really surprised us,” said Arcenio Lopez, Executive director of MICOP. “We will be working with him to learn more about what it means to be inside the facility because many of our people, the Mixtecos, do not know their rights or how to advocate for themselves.”
Meanwhile, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has threatened to withhold funding for cities and other governments that have declared sanctuary status and recently rescinded the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Act which allowed young undocumented people to live, learn and work in the United States.
Fear and uncertainty have swept communities like Oxnard in the wake of the Trump regime and recent reports reveal that ICE agents have made 43 percent more arrests since the inauguration “versus the same period last year.”
These findings speak to the magnitude and near indiscriminate targeting of undocumented migrants, despite the fact that the number of people attempting to cross into the U.S. has fallen dramatically in the last ten months.
“They didn’t even come looking for me specifically and [ICE] still took me,” Gomez said. “I haven’t tried to harm this country or do bad things to this country. That’s why it hurt me because they didn’t even present a permit. I was just a mistaken identity and they still took me.”
Conditions in facilities like Theo Lacy are often cold and unhygienic. Along with dirty water, the food is unsalted and oftentimes unworthy of being called food.
Spanish translators at the detention facility in Orange County helped Gomez process his paperwork, but the process still proved complicated.
“You don’t know what you’re reading or if you’re signing something that says you’re abandoning your rights,” Gomez continued. “That’s why it’s important to demand to see a judge and not agree to deportation. Even when I was inside I tried to get people to understand their rights.”
Gomez said that many folks in the detention center thought he was crazy to struggle for liberty and for pleading with them to not give up hope.
“Estás loco,” they would tell him. “¿Tu que sabes?”
It wasn’t until an Oxnard newspaper telling his story made its way into the facility that his fellow detainees realized he was the real deal and started to ask him for advice.
Videos, graphics, and articles demanding the release of Raul Gomez received over 20,000 views in less than one week across social media platforms.
“Thanks to everyone for spreading the word because that word reached the people in the detention center with me,” said Gomez, choking up a little. “You didn’t just help me, you helped thousands of people realize they do have rights.”
Gomez says that even if we can’t always help people financially, we can still change minds and inspire people to realize that they can live with dignity.
“It’s so sad in there…”
“The counselors and lawyers say they will help,” says Gomez. “But when the time comes they don’t show up. You call public defenders, but they don’t answer. So, so, sad. The lawyers say they will help us, but when we go in they are nowhere to be found.”
Gomez says he would love to talk to some of these counselors and ask what they have done for the migrant community. Even when folks try to call the Mexican consulate, there is no answer.
Ahead of his court hearing, Gomez’s friends took him to get a haircut so he could look presentable before the judge, and when he was finally being released, a mob of detainees who had come to befriend him bombarded him with goodbyes.
“We better not see you back here,” they cheered. “And don’t you forget about us!”
For Raul, there was no room for celebration upon being released while so many were still incarcerated by the government for trying to live a dignified life in the so-called “land of opportunity.”
“Tenemos que seguir en la lucha, más que nada,” says Gomez. “Para nuestros derechos de ser libre, y de no rendirnos. Tenemos que seguir adelante; tener esa fe y esa fuerza que une la comunidad. Dejar al lado los tratos amargos que no pasa.”
This indiscriminate detention of Raul Gomez is only one story among thousands that made its way to local headlines, but most cases are not so lucky.
The legacy of colonization and white-supremacy the United States was founded on is alive and continues to manifest itself through the intimidation and violence inflicted on our communities by the State and its armed forces.
Our people are not strangers to attempted subjugation by oppressive forces and our histories are inundated by an unrelenting resistance fueled by the dreams of our ancestors.
“The place we live in is dirty,” concludes Gomez. “but if we don’t clean it up, who will?”