On a cold, windy Wednesday morning, activists gathered in front of Department of Homeland Security offices to show support and solidarity to, María Martínez-Chacón, an undocumented woman whose husband was taken by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) two months ago. This is Martínez’s second check-in with ICE, who now requires her to check in monthly with them. The protest was organized by Columbia County Sanctuary Movement, and ICE-Free Capital District.
Supporters came with signs from all over the Capital Region and Columbia County; some drawn here by email notices, others by their religious congregations. The crowd, at 8:30 AM, is thin. ICE agents ask the gathered protesters to move their cars — the protesters acquiesce with a smile. More arrive; supporters with their children. The conversation shifts from discussion about what it’s like being a Unitarian to politics — whether the Trump Administration will be bold enough to pull federal funding from localities who refuse to go along with what they see as a repressive immigration policy.
An unnamed gentleman tells his fellow supporters, “Love your neighbor as yourself. That’s what it’s all about, right?”
“We’re here to be a presence standing here, so when [Maria] arrives, she knows she has a community behind her,” said Priscilla Fairbank, who wielded a sign that read “Keep Maria and her Family Together.” The name “Maria” is pasted on top of the previous name — this sign has been used before. Fairbank told The Alt that she alters the sign; personalizes it for each undocumented person she is asked to support.
Bryan MacCormack, an organizer with Columbia County Sanctuary Movement, addresses the crowd with a megaphone. “Hopefully whatever happens in there will yield a good outcome for Maria.” He told The Alt that the current climate was one of “terror and uncertainty,” for undocumented people and the organizations that service them. “It’s unclear whether [Maria] will be detained or deported.”
Gloria Martinez, Maria’s niece and organizer with Columbia County Sanctuary Movement, was also in attendance. “Most of my family is undocumented,” says Martinez, who is herself a citizen. “It’s more frightening,” Martinez answers, when asked if the current political environment is more severe for those who are undocumented. “The situation is changing drastically, and ICE is being more aggressive with the raids.”
How is Martinez herself doing? “It’s terrifying,” her niece told The Alt. “It’s stressful, my mom has had to go through this as well. I’ve had panic attacks,” she said. Martinez said that her young cousins — Maria’s children, aged 6 and 12 — are too young to truly understand what’s going on. Their main take-away from this situation, Martinez told The Alt, is that “they miss their father.”
Maria’s husband Ramiro was arrested and taken away from the Martinez family in February. He is currently being held in Albany County Jail — ACJ has a contract with ICE which allows them to detain individuals suspected of violating immigration statutes. When Ramiro was taken, Maria was instructed to make monthly visits to the Latham Department Homeland Security office, an innocuous, anonymous-looking building tucked away behind the Route Seven Diner on Troy Schenectady Road. Her passport was taken.
Organizer Joe Paparone, who works with the Labor-Religion Coalition and ICE-Free Capital District, looks at the building where Martinez is, right now, being interrogated by ICE officers. “People drive by this building all the time,” he says, to the crowd. “And no one knows what happens behind that glass and brick. What happens inside that building is shameful and embarrassing.” “Thankfully, we have solidarity. We have each other. And we have moral superiority.”