My Speech on the Creation of a Legal Defense Fund for Immigrants Detained by ICE
Posted: April 18th, 2017 under Councilmember Sawant.
On April 17, 2017, the Seattle City Council voted to allocate $1 million to create a Legal Defense Fund for immigrants detained by ICE. It’s essential that we back legal action with mass political action. See my full remarks below.
I am very happy to be able to vote in favor of this ordinance to allocate $1 million to a Legal Defense Fund for detained immigrants. As many of the accounts have highlighted during public testimony, having access to legal representation can make all the difference to the many human beings who are caught in this extremely unjust system.
I thank all the dedicated legal service providers throughout this nation who are doing this important work. I wanted to share one story that I was a part of with Colectiva Legal del Pueblo, which is a really important group providing such services. Many of them, as one of our speakers said, are indigent and cannot afford these services, so it’s really important, the work that they are doing.
They had organized this political action in coordination with the legal defense that was being carried out. We were all gathered at the ICE office in Tukwila last week, in solidarity with Jose Robles, who is going to be in the process of deportation, unfortunately, unless we build a movement that will stop it. But the reason I’m mentioning this is because, in my mind, it was a very important confluence of legal action and political and mass action that need to go hand-in-hand in my view.
And my own experience of being there was really poignant to me, as an immigrant, because, when you go to this office in Tukwila, there is a Happy Floor, where people go for their citizenship swearing in, where I went a few years ago, as an immigrant. And, two floors up, there’s what I call the Room of Hopelessness, where so many people end up — where you only come out with paperwork that says you live on borrowed time in the country, you go out with an ankle bracelet, or you’re picked up for deportation. It truly is the Room of Hopelessness.
It was a room where regular working people end up. There were so many women there: women with children, children with their toys. It is an absolute indictment of the completely dysfunctional and unjust system that we have.
And we were there in solidarity with Jose Robles, who is a family man with children. His young daughters were in tears. And I thought that the most striking thing about him was that he was a worker who helped rebuild the Capitol Building in Olympia, the capitol of our state. It’s such an irony that people who actually laid down the bricks of the Capitol Building of our state are also being targeted, and it really highlights how widespread the need is to build our movement.
I also wanted to say that because of this, we need to remember that we will not be able to win a decent society on a case-by-case basis. So along with the legal defense, we also need to build a political mass movement that stands in solidarity with immigrants.
There are so, so many important examples: May 1st, 2006, when immigrants nationwide went out on strike and defeated the Sensenbrenner Bill; and more recently, we had success with this approach when Trump tried to implement his Muslim travel ban, and mass demonstrations, peaceful demonstrations, shut down airports across the country. That was the starting point for the victory against that Muslim Ban.
And there’s another example from history: when an overwhelmingly Republican Supreme Court passed Roe v. Wade, which was a landmark abortion rights decision — that was under the right-wing Richard Nixon administration. All of these victories were won solely because mass movements decided to build independently of the political status quo.
And right now, as another speaker mentioned, our immigrant sisters and brothers are helping to build that movement with hundreds of detainees from the Northwest Detention Center, having started a hunger strike last week to protest inedible food, $1/day wages — which are slave wages — and other inhumane conditions.
I really thank everybody who has already become part of the movement, and I urge everybody watching this to join us on May 1st, International Workers’ Day and also, historically, an immigrants’ rights protest day. Let’s all fight together!