The Athens-Clarke County Sheriff’s Department has been secretly working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement through the county jail since July 2017. JoBeth Allen is on the Athens Immigrant Rights Coalition steering committee and works with undocumented students and parents through U-Lead Athens. “We can’t keep helping after the fact. We’ve got to get policies changed. We’ve got to get the Sheriff’s Department not cooperating with ICE,” Allen said. Video by Mackenzie Caudill
With a considerable immigrant population and deportation raids in Hispanic neighborhoods in Athens, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has a large effect on the Athens immigrant community.
This month, a man was stopped at a fast food restaurant on his way to work and detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers. He had lived in Athens since 2005 and was taken away from his wife and four young children.
“This family has been absolutely devastated. The mom has never worked outside the home,” U-Lead Athens co-coordinator and Athens Immigrant Rights Coalition (AIRC) steering committee member JoBeth Allen said. “She’s a homemaker and takes care of the children, does not speak English and for her to find a way to make a living is going to be huge. Her wages will probably not come near what her husband was making.”
Situations like these are familiar for some Athens community members. In 2015, Pinewood Estates, a mobile home community in Athens off Highway 29, was raided by ICE. Several people were taken out of their homes and placed into detention centers.
“Every child that lives in that community doesn’t know when they come home from school if one or both of their parents may have been snatched up by ICE,” Allen said. “In some cases, children never see that parent again. They never get to say goodbye. They’re just gone. They’ve disappeared.”
ICE, a federal law enforcement agency under the Department of Homeland Security, is in charge of deporting undocumented immigrants, people who have entered the country without receiving proper legal documentation.
“I don’t think that ICE is an intrinsically bad organization. I think that the ways that they go about immigration enforcement are terrible,” Clarke Central High School English department co-chair Ian Altman said. “They do some pretty horrible things to good people in their manner of enforcement.”
Charles Kuck, a managing partner and immigrant attorney of Kuck Immigration Partners, represents undocumented immigrants facing deportation. According to Kuck, ICE has positive effects on national security, but their enforcement methods are questionable.
“ICE can be a force for much good as they root out crime and human smuggling and drug trafficking, but they can also unnecessarily cause a lot of damage in people’s lives by focusing their efforts on people who are simply trying to seek a better life and support their families,” Kuck said.
After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the George W. Bush administration created the Department of Homeland Security, tying immigration and terrorism together under the same enforcement agency. Athens Hispanic community member Beto Mendoza believes this causes ICE to criminalize immigrants.
“The reality is that most of the immigrants that have been detained are workers,” Mendoza said. “They are people who prepare the food in the restaurants, people who clean the hotel rooms, the people who harvest the vegetables. They don’t have any interest in overturning this government or to make a terrorist attack.”
In order to lessen the effects of the criminalization and deportation of immigrants in the Athens community, Mendoza co-founded the AIRC, an organization that aids families affected by ICE who live in Athens.
“This organization was created after immigration raids happened in Athens. We start seeing how the families who lost their parents start to deteriorate,” Mendoza said. “We get together with different members of the community and we start working directly with families trying to alleviate the tension or the pain of those moments of the first weeks of deportation proceeds.”
Mendoza lives in Pinewoods and witnessed the raids that took place there. He believes the purpose of the AIRC is to shed light on the effects deportations have on the community.
“A single deportation of an individual in Athens affects the whole community,” Mendoza said. “Athens Immigrant Rights Coalition gives opportunity for many other citizens and residents and immigrants to get together and start to bring light to the issue of deportation of immigrants.”
“I’ve never been able to call a place my home. I’ve been moving all my life. I’ve always wanted to decorate my room pretty.”
— Sally Lopez*,
The coalition provides services to families who have had family members deported or detained by ICE. They help a variety of different ways including helping with costs of food, providing a list of attorneys and putting them in touch with members in the community for support.
“We create a buddy system where one of the members of the group community support become a buddy for this family,” Mendoza said. “They become friends so they become indulged on a daily basis with this family. We try to see what sort of resources there are for this family.”
Altman is the advisor for the CCHS Latinx Student Union and tries to aid undocumented students attending CCHS as much as possible.
“This really started with just helping some of our students here over the years find access to college and to financial aid,” Altman said. “That has evolved over the years to trying to connect students and families with immigration attorneys to help them with things I just can’t help them with. I try to do whatever I can basically without overstepping any professional boundaries.”
Altman believes ICE is cruel in the way they enforce immigration laws and feels change needs to occur.
“It makes me angry. If a family is here, trying to live a dignified life, there’s no reason we shouldn’t let them stay,” Altman said. “To break a family apart, to take mom away or dad away, whether because of a silly misdemeanor conviction or a speeding ticket, over something like that and to damage the emotional life and the economic life of several people beyond just the person who gets taken, I think that that’s immoral.”
CCHS sophomore Sally Lopez* has two undocumented parents and struggles with the fear of her parents being deported.
“I could go home and my parents are gone,” Lopez said. “Unless you’re living in it, you have no idea how it feels to live in fear. You have no idea how it feels every day to wake up and think ‘Oh, ok. When I get home my dad might not be home anymore.’”
Lopez’s father has an automatic deportation, meaning if he is ever sought out by ICE, he will be deported immediately without trial due to his attempt and failure to gain citizenship in the past. Lopez’s family has always rented houses and had to move often in order to evade ICE.
“I’ve never been able to call a place my home. I’ve been moving all my life. I’ve always wanted to decorate my room pretty,” Lopez said. “I get disappointed, I guess, which is why I never try to have my room all pretty and stuff because I’m like this isn’t even my house.”
According to Lopez, ICE often invades people’s privacy in order to accomplish their goals. Lopez has had a personal experience with this and also believes the system needs to be reformed so ICE has less power.
“I don’t think they should be able to go invade people’s privacy and basically go stalk people and what their daily routine is just so they (can) take them,” Lopez said. “That happened with my uncle. He was just sitting in his car and they weren’t even looking for him but since he was illegal too, they just took him and I don’t think that’s right. That’s something that should be changed.”
*Pseudonym for privacy of student
Timeline by Katie Grace Upchurch.