Oxnard Mixteco Leader Released From ICE Detention Center

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.

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Raul Gomez (left) advocating for a “Sanctuary State” through Senate Bill 54 in Sacramento, CA.

“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has threatened to withhold funding for cities and other governments that have declared sanctuary status and recently rescinded the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Act which allowed young undocumented people to live, learn and work in the United States.

The wave of resistance by the so called Dreamers and migrant rights activists has been felt across the country, including at former Trump residencies and congressional town halls.

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.

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Detainees at the Theo Lacy Facility in Orange, California, in March 2017. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen,Orange County Register)

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.

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This graphic was shared dozens of times and received over 20,000 “likes” on the popular social media outlet Undocumedia.

“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.

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Gomez was detained for nearly three weeks in the at the Theo Lacy jail facility in Orange, California.

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.”

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Immigration rhetoric including the “DACA narrative” paints a picture of “good immigrants” and contrasts them with “dangerous criminals” that need to be deported.

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?”

 

 

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Environmental Justice In Oxnard: We lost this battle, but the war continues

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Ventura County Planning Commission voted 3-1 with one abstention to approve four new oil wells on the Oxnard plains.

So there we were at the Ventura County Government Center, armed with protest signs, the word of the people, and bright green shirts that read “Enviro Justice for Oxnard.” The time is 8:30am and within the first minute it’s clear to see that Ventura County is already on the side the Bakersfield based petroleum company. In fact, as public commenters pointed out, Ventura was founded on oil drilling (and an oil derrick even adorns our county seal).

For background, Ventura has been home to oil drilling since the late 19th century, one of the first counties in California to successfully do so. The oil field in question (which we found out was named after the first European to “discover” California, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo… yes, the president of the oil company actually said that) has been in operation since 1986 and that is when the last “environmental study” was conducted. Needless to say, a lot has changed since then – including the discovery of climate change and concerns over environmental justice.

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Ventura County has been home to oil operations since the 1890’s. (Notice oil derrick in the middle of the county seal.)

Earlier this year Renaissance Petroleum applied for a modification in their permit to increase the number of oil wells on one of the two sites by four, bringing the total to five – a 400% increase though the county insisted this was just a “minor modification.” If the project goes through, a total of 20 wells would be permitted on the Cabrillo oil field as well as a new facility separating oil and gas from water, and increased tanker truck.

Today there are​ hundreds of oil wells in Oxnard and nearly 3,700 across Ventura County.

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Ventura County is home to nearly 3,700 oil and gas wells.

Two groups, Citizens for Responsible Oil & Gas and Food & Water Watch, paid a $1,000 fee to appeal the county’s approval back in April. Since then, we have gotten support of more than 1,900 community members – none of which had any idea about this oil expansion near Pleasant Valley Rd.

After the initial presentation of the project, the applicant (oil company) was allowed to present their case. From their words, they are a small mom and pop oil corp. that has always done things by the book. Any modifications to the oil permit are minor, they exceeded the county requirements by notifying nearby property owners, and negative health impacts to the mobile home park down the street are non-existent to minimal.

After this nauseating presentation, the chair said he was about to let the public commenters in support speak and then he would let the appellant side (enviro justice) present their case after everyone had voiced their support.

The appellants raised their hands and said “no way!”, we are here because of our appeal. People are missing work and school to be here. Please – let us present what we came here to present.

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Representatives from CFROG and Food & Water Watch had to interrupt the chair and demand to be heard, just like the oil company was heard, before public comment began.

The chair eventually agreed and the appellants presented concerns that there has never been a holistic environmental review of the oil project in question. “If we were adding extra homes to a 20-unit housing development, we wouldn’t study the new 5 units… we would study the 25 units in their entirety. To fail to do so is piece-mailing and unjust. ”

The appellants pointed out that Oxnard is a community made up of 80% people of Color and the neighborhood in question is listed in the CalEnviroScreen mapping tool as a “disadvantaged community.” The oil project is surrounded by agriculture fields and just outside the city limits on the Oxnard plains, but also a  short walk to a mobile home park where hundreds of people live.

They reminded the commission that the California Nurses Association supports our appeal and that Oxnard is already home to a cocktail of health hazards including massive pesticide usage.

Lastly, they showed a video showing testimony from Spanish speaking residents who were unable to make the 8:30am meeting on a Thursday .

​The chair was unimpressed and signaled that it was time to let the folks in support of the project speak.

It seemed like every president of an oil company, every chair of the taxpayers association, every representative of fossil fuel driven capitalism showed up to call us liars and extremists using fear tactics to unnecessarily alarm the public.

I recognized one white woman from an Oxnard council meeting to discuss sanctuary city status where she called for prosecution of “illegal aliens” and spewed klan level racism – handfuls of Trump supporters came out that day even though the city police chief also supported “sanctuary status.” One of the people said our Mayor Pro-Tem Ramirez should be lynched.

Another white woman representing the County Chambers of Commerce called our cause a nuisance. We – who were there, skipping school and work because our city ranks in the top 90th percentile for asthma and climate crisis continues to ravage our globe – a nuisance.

Out-of-towners from the Valley, Bakersfield, and beyond. One after another talked about how “the fossil fuel industry has been hit pretty hard due to global circumstances” and “we’re concerned about jobs,” even though conducting an environmental review would not negatively impact  jobs on this project.

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Pro-oil people trying to contain their excitement at the meeting going their way.

They bragged about how many generations their family had lived here and called their oil companies responsible champions of the environment with concern for the planet being their second priority and safety for their workers being their first. (I guess profits is their third priority?)

A few young sell-outs in suits and even one Brown woman who claimed she just wandered into the hearing, yet revealed she worked for oil and gas and later stayed for the whole meeting, talked about the poor, victimized, oil company.

The chair smiled and even laughed at some of their jokes, meanwhile our side received no such pleasantries. The closest we got was when the chair smiled in condescension when our local living legend, Lupe Anguiano age 88, talked about her health issues from dirty operations and how she personally met with Reagan who created the CA Air Resource Board and Nixon who created the EPA.

So at 12pm, once the oil side had finished saying everything they had to say, the chair called for a one hour recess.

Some of us approached him immediately after to express our concerns at this unfairness, but he maintained that “everyone would get a chance to speak.” Of course many of the oil people left during this recess as well as a huge chunk of our base, working class people who had called out of work and had kids to attend to, had to leave as well.

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The public hearing ran for eight hours.

Finally, the meeting reconvened. It had been nearly five hours later and it was finally our turn to deliver public comments. Attorneys, educators, scientists, former petroleum employees, local residents dealing with respiratory issues, mothers, and young people gave impassioned speeches backed up by state of the art research and mapping tools.

People that had gone to support, but were too shy to support could not just sit by while the oil folks spread such heinous lies about our people and our cause decided they had to speak.

Folks talked about the connection between fossil fuels and the climate crisis, of course. The heavy floods in South Asia, the hurricanes in Houston and Florida, and the raging wildfires in our next-door county, Los Angeles.

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“They call us environmental extremists,” one young person said. “But what is extreme about defending our air and our water?”

Throughout the meeting the County Staff was called on to clarify questions and deliver expert opinions. Of course, the county had initially approved the project, and the staff insisted that they had done all they could regarding health concerns and there was insufficient cause to call for an Environmental Impact Review

We were demanding environmental justice for our community of color, but at this point it may be fair to mention that all but one person representing Ventura County was a white person.

The commissioners, or half of them, asked some important questions about the oil truck traffic, the air quality, and socio-economic status of the Oxnard people.

In the end, the commissioners voted to approve the project with one “no” vote and one abstention. The one Brown person on the commission voted in favor of the oil company.

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Out of 10 people on the county side charged with deciding an issue of environmental justice, only one was a person of color. Comissioner Rodriguez still sided with the oil company even though he represents the city of Oxnard.

“Commissioner Kestly (Dist. 4), made the motion to approve the project as recommended by staff, with Chair Onstot (Dist. 3) seconding the motion. They were joined by Commissioner Rodriguez (Dist. 5) for the majority vote in favor of the project with staffs analysis that fails to consider the cumulative impacts of the expansion of the Cabrillo Oil Field on the disadvantaged community.”

Commissioner White (Dist. 1) proposed to ban flaring at the site, a process whereby the company burns excess methane gas, but other than commissioner Aidukas (Dist. 2) no one supported the proposal.

​For the climate warriors of Ventura County and the working-class people that missed work to attend the hearing, it was a heart-breaking ​loss.

​Our groups have 10 days to pay another $1,000 to appeal the decision again, which we plan to do, and take it up with the Board of Supervisors in a couple months.

One commenter mentioned the forces of White Supremacy and Colonization, and as we have learned from these struggles, the battle for justice is not a sprint, but a marathon.

Though we have lost this battle, the war continues. We, the people, will never stop fighting for the future our ancestors could only dream about.

Stay tuned…

Para El Pueblo: Environmental Racism in Oxnard, CA

(oprima aquí para leer en español )

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Fighting for environmental justice means acknowledging that marginalized peoples, including Latino communities, are among the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and that we too deserve clean water and breathable air. As a young person coming of age in Oxnard, one of the most polluted cities in California and a supplier of dirty fossil fuel based energy to people in three counties, I know we are a proud people and much more than just a “sacrifice zone,” our existence is sacred.

When my mother dropped me off at University last year and said she was sorry she couldn’t do more for me – finish her education and make more money – I would have cried like a baby if I wasn’t so angry with the knowledge that it wasn’t just us experiencing these disadvantages. Millions of Latino families have had their land, wealth, and livelihoods stolen from them over many generations, and behind all the sweet smelling stories this country had instilled in us about equality and the American Dream lay cold harsh truths of extreme exploitation and an unmatched greed that would consume the very Earth it stood on if given the chance.

Although American schools do not teach us, the history of our people is older than maíz and our spirit is stronger than an aguacate tree, but this society has taken nearly everything from us and made people like my mother believe our family’s poverty is her fault rather than the deliberate design of a ruthless system where the super rich own everything from medicine to the media.

The longer I’m away from Oxnard the more clearly I can see the many ways our community is on the frontlines of the climate justice movement, as well as the global struggle between the rich and the poor – a fatal battle for human rights and liberation.

Latino people are on a treadmill in this country. No matter how fast we run, how hard we work, we will never achieve the dignity we deserve under this repressive system that was built on the stolen labor and slaughter, not only of Indigenous and Black people, but on non-white people and poor people all around the world.

Sometimes the violence our community suffers at the hands of the authoritarian system is slow, as in the case of toxic chemicals in our fields (and near our schools) causing birth defects, cancer, and some of the highest asthma rates in the state. Other times the violence is swift as evidenced by the millions of our city dollars paid to the families of victims unjustly slain in the streets by the Oxnard Police Department, a microcosm of the state terror that has taken the lives of so many of our brother and sisters on all sides of these man-made borders.

It was a mistake to register my grandfather to vote last summer. I understand now that when it comes to voting, the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. If ever democracy has existed in this country, the ability for working-class people to influence politics, it has now been washed away and replaced by the corporate state and military industrial complex that becomes more powerful by the day.

This is why Oxnard has been plagued by multi-billion dollar fossil fuel corporations that operate multiple oil refineries, drill sites, and three gas-fired power plants on our beaches – more than any coastal city in California. The environmental health hazards experienced by Communities of Color and presented by the extractive economy represent the failure of state agencies and elected officials to protect the people against an industry that values profits far higher than even air and water.

Hundreds of citizens have testified in opposition to a new proposed natural gas power plant over the past three years, yet state agencies including the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) insist on holding yet ever more public hearings, the next of which is scheduled for July 26th – 28th at the Oxnard Performing Arts Center. If this power plant is approved it will no doubt operate for at least 50 years – in this way, the future of Oxnard’s energy production will inform whether the state will continue to rely on fossils, or if we are bold enough to blaze a new path powered by renewable energy like wind and solar.

Our current president is not the first racist, misogynist, business man to be president of the United States nor should his election come as a shock to us who have been targeted as criminals and “bad hombres.”  Instead Trump is but a familiar symptom of capitalism, and his hostile policies towards undocumented migrants, Muslims, People of Color, and the environment represent a descent into fascism – the true face of what America is becoming

No one is safe in Trump’s America; neither citizenship nor social status will shield even the most law-abiding among us from persecution by the State. The crises facing our climate and communities have become so great that even waiting until tomorrow to act will be too late; either we stop going along with the system or let it destroy us.

Our people’s spirit of resistance, as well as this historic moment, demands that we take our destiny into our own hands to reach across identities and build a massive social movement  that will take power and ensure a collective liberation for all families! We are more powerful than we are forced to believe.

 

Para El Pueblo: Racismo Ambiental en Oxnard, CA

(link to English version)

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Luchando por la justicia ambiental quiere decir que la gente marginada, incluyendo las comunidades latinas, son las más vulnerable a los efectos del cambio climático, y que nosotros también merecemos agua limpia y aire respirable. Como un joven creciendo en Oxnard, una de las ciudades más contaminadas en California y el proveedor de energía sucia basada en los combustibles fósiles a gente de tres condados, yo se que somos un pueblo digno y mucho más que una “zona de sacrificio,” nuestros cuerpos son sagradas.

Cuando mi Mamá me dejó en la universidad este año pasado y empezó a disculparse por no poder hacer más por mí – completar su educación o ganar más dinero – hubiera llorado como un bebé si no estuviera tan enojado con el conocimiento de que no era nosotros solos que estábamos padeciendo estas desventajas. Millones de familias latinas han tenido su tierra, riqueza, y sustento robado de ellos sobre muchas generaciones; y detrás de todas las dulces historias que este país nos había inculcado acerca de la igualdad y el sueño americano, se esconden tristes y duras verdades de extrema explotación y una codicia inigualable que consumiría la misma tierra en la que se encontraba si se le diera la oportunidad.

Aunque las escuelas americanas no nos enseñan, la historia de nuestro pueblo es mayor que el maíz y nuestro espíritu es más fuerte que un árbol de aguacate, pero esta sociedad nos han quitado casi todo de nosotros y han hecho que gente como mi madre creer que la pobreza de nuestra familia es su culpa en vez de un diseño deliberado de un sistema despiadado donde los súper ricos poseen todo, desde la medicina hasta los medios de comunicación.

Cuanto más lejos estoy de Oxnard, más claramente puedo ver las varias maneras en que nuestra comunidad está en la línea de frente del movimiento por la justicia climática, así como la lucha global entre los ricos y los pobres – una batalla fatal por los derechos humanos y la liberación.

Las personas latinas están en una rueda de andar en este país. No importa lo rápido que corremos, lo duro que trabajamos, nunca lograremos la dignidad que merecemos bajo este sistema represivo que fue construido sobre el trabajo robado y la masacre, no sólo de indígenas y negros, sino de gente no blanca y de gente pobre en todo el mundo.

A veces la violencia que nuestra comunidad sufre a manos del sistema autoritario es lenta, como en el caso de los productos químicos tóxicos en nuestros campos (y cerca de nuestras escuelas) que causan defectos de nacimiento, cáncer y algunas de los niveles más altos de asma en el estado. Otras veces la violencia es rápida, como lo demuestran los millones de dólares de nuestra ciudad pagados a las familias de víctimas injustamente asesinadas en las calles por el Departamento de Policía de Oxnard, un microcosmos del terror estatal que ha causado la vida a tantos de nuestros hermanos y hermanas en todos los lados de estas fronteras hechas por el hombre.

Fue un error el haber registrado a mi Abuelo para votar este verano pasado. Ahora entiendo que cuando se trata de votar, las herramientas del maestro nunca desmantelaron la casa del amo. Si alguna vez la democracia ha existido en este país, la capacidad de la gente obrera para influir en la política, ahora ha sido arrasada y reemplazada por el estado corporativo y complejo industrial militar que se vuelve más poderoso por el día.

Es por eso que Oxnard ha sido plagada por corporaciones de combustible fósil de miles de millones de dólares que operan varias refinerías de petróleo, sitios de perforación y tres centrales eléctricas a gas en nuestras playas, más que cualquier ciudad costera de California. Los peligros para la salud ambiental que experimentan las Comunidades de Color y presentados por la economía extractiva representan el fracaso de las agencias estatales y los funcionarios electos para proteger al pueblo contra una industria que valora los beneficios mucho más altos que incluso el aire y el agua.

Durante estos tres años pasados, cientos de ciudadanos han testificado en oposición de una nueva planta de energía basada(?) en el gas natural, a pesar de esto agencias del estado como el California Public Utilities Commission siguen insistiendo que necesitan todavía más juntas públicas para llegar a una decisión. Esta próxima junta va suceder en el centro de artes escénicas 800 Hobson Way durante los días 26-28 en el mes de Julio.

Si esta planta de energía es aprobada, sin duda va operar por 50 años al mínimo – en esta manera, el futuro de la producción de energía en Oxnard va informar si el estado va continuar contando en fósiles, o si somos demasiados atrevidos para marcar un camino nuevo y alimentado por la energía renovable como la del viento y solar.

Nuestro presidente corriente no es el primer racista, misógino, hombre de negocios a ser presidente de los Estados Unidos tampoco su elección debe escandalizar nosotros que han sido digeridos como criminales y “bad hombres.” Al contrario Trump es poquito mas que un síntoma familiar, y sus políticas hostiles hacia emigrantes sin papeles, musulmanes, Gente de Color, y la naturaleza representan el descenso al el fascismo – la cara verdadera de lo que se está convirtiendo este país.

Nadie está seguro en el América de Trump; ninguno la ciudadanía ni el estatus social va proteger ni siquiera los más repuestos con la ley entre nosotros de la persecución del Estado. El crisis opuesta del clima y nuestras comunidades se han convertido en fuerzas tan gran que simplemente esperar hasta mañana para actuar será demostrado de ser demasiado tarde; podemos confirmar con la sistema hasta que nos destruye, o podemos resistir eso que nos busca obliterar.

El espíritu de resistencia en nuestro pueblo, igual como este momento histórico, demanda que tomemos nuestro destino en nuestras propias manos para alcanzar a través de identidades para construir un movimiento social masivo que tomará el poder para asegurar una liberación colectiva para familias alrededor del mundo. Somos más fuertes de lo que nos obligan a creer.