click for video/audio: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_gx8eU2oam4
Anayanse Garza, 956.207.2571
On July 9th, 2009 five members of Southwest Workers' Union (Anayanse Garza, Sofia Peña, Celina Martinez, Victoria Garza, and Ana Maria Lopez) were harassed by ICE and ATSI Officers at the Port Isabel Detention Center (PIDC). This ban on Southwest Workers’ Union members by Michael Watkins was politically motivated.
According to the San Antonio Express News:
“In a statement issued Saturday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Nina Pruneda said a “miscommunication” had occurred.
“ICE confirms there was a miscommunication when members of the (Southwest Workers') Union arrived at the Port Isabel Detention Center (Saturday). Members of the union may return to PIDC for visitation during regular visiting hours,” which the statement said are from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.
The following events prove that there was no “miscommunication” but in fact, direct orders by Michael Watkins, down the chain of command at the Port Isabel Detention Center (prison for immigrants) to purposefully deny members of Southwest Workers’ Union access to the facility and as such there must be consequences for those who denied access to the community, and who further denied detainees their rights to visitation.
The morning of July 13, 2009, during regular visitation hours, we (Southwest Workers’ Union members) stopped our car at the guard booth located at the gated entrance to the PIDC at about 11:15am.
ICE officer Jesus Peña asked for our identification. He asked Anayanse Garza what we were there for and she told him that she was going to visit Barrett Bevans, a witness of the assault on Rama Carty, on the day Amnesty International visited PIDC to document abuses. (Denial of his visitation rights although he is currently within the general population and not in the infirmary and any other discrimination against Barrett Bevans is retaliation against him as a witness to the abuse and must be documented as such.)
Anayanse handed the five ID's to Officer J. Peña. At that point we noticed that Officer J. Peña was holding a clipboard with pictures of Southwest Workers' Union members. Ana Maria Lopez and other members saw the pictures of Sofia Peña and Anayanse Garza, as Officer J. Peña flipped through the papers. There were two pictures blown up in size on an 8x11 sheet and there were more pictures on the other sheets.
ICE Officer J. Peña muttered to ATSI officer J. Ortiz,"Yes, it's all of them." He then told us that the order was passed down to him that we were no longer allowed in the facility, on the premises.
When we asked why we could no longer visit PIDC, Officer J. Peña insisted that he was just following orders, and the reason was “unknown”. When we asked who gave the order, J. Peña clearly told us "Michael J. Watkins."
When Anayanse asked ICE Officer J. Peña for his badge number he refused by angrily saying, "No, I'm NOT going to give you my badge number!"
Officer J. Peña told us to call 956-547-1700 to speak to Michael Watkins.
He insisted that we call this number and stop asking them questions. Anayanse said that she was going to call a lawyer because what they were doing was not right. We said that we needed to speak to a supervisor.
We parked inside the gates and exited the car. After a few minutes we were asked to step back inside our car by ATSI officer P. Rodriguez who had driven an ATSI truck near our vehicle.
We got back in the car to avoid possible repercussions because they were getting aggressive and raising their voices at us. At this point, another ICE officer, J. Contreras, along with Officer J. Peña, approached the car. Officer J. Contreras [badge number 3703] told us we had to leave right away, "no more questions". We asked him where his supervisor was. They said he was on the premises. When we asked WHO the supervisor was, we told us it was “Supervisor Aguilar”.
We asked to speak to his supervisor because we needed a written document stating why we were no longer to be allowed on the premises. J. Contreras was intimidating us by speaking loudly over our voices and interrupting us if we opened our mouths to ask a question. We were using our cell phones to contact lawyers and press because we knew that denying the public access to PIDC for an 'unknown reason' was wrong, possibly illegal.
"Put that phone away!" J. Contreras yelled to Ana Maria Lopez, reaching into our vehicle. When we asked again why exactly we were not allowed in the facility, the answers we got were, 'We got the order two days ago' but Michael Watkins was not on the premises.
When we asked why they were not letting us inside to visit the answered, 'We are in charge of the main gate, we say who goes in and out'.
Celina Martinez asked Officer J. Peña, "So then we just need to talk to your supervisor (Aguilar) and Michael Watkins is not available?"
Officer J. Peña responded, "You can call the number that I gave you and they'll connect you with somebody."
Celina Martinez then asked J. Peña, "But as far as for you, you are just taking orders and you don't know the reason?"
Officer J. Peña told her, "We have orders."
We asked J. Contreras for a written response. J. Contreras said, "No, you need to call the number."
We were repeatedly told by J. Contreras that they had orders, these orders were from "higher up" not to let us in.
When Sofia Peña asked “what happened to the person who was in charge that was going to see us?” J. Contreras responded, "He's not going to come. Just call the number we gave you."
We asked J. Contreras who was the supervisor who was refusing to see us. J. Contreras responded, "Supervisor Aguilar."
During this conversation, Victoria Garza was forced to use a manual breast pump in the car to relieve her swollen breasts of milk (using a t-shirt to cover her breasts from the officers). When visiting her PIDC Victoria usually does this in the privacy of the bathroom within the facility.
J. Peña circled our car to the window where she was sitting to the side where her breasts were exposed and peered closely into the window. He told Victoria Garza, "You need to turn that off", pointing to her breast and the attached pump. Victoria responded, "I need to pump my breast milk." Mastitis is an infection of the milk ducts which Victoria has had before and occurs when milk is not expressed. She was startled by the closeness and aggressive tone of Officer J. Peña.
Again, we were told to leave.
We turned on our car to leave but could not back out because the officers were behind us. J. Contreras returned to tell us to turn off the car because the supervisor was going to see us. We turned off the car and waited.
A white DHS truck sped to where we were parked. When Supervisor Aguilar came to the car, he was dressed casually with a blue polo type shirt and blue dress pants. His name tag was clipped to the bottom of his shirt, facing his shirt so that we couldn't see his identification information. We have no way to prove if this person that claimed to be the supervisor was really Supervisor Aguilar.
Aguilar did not answer any of our questions, refused to give us a written statement, and told us to leave the property. He gave us a phone number to contact Michael Watkins, (956-547-1765). (Anayanse called this number after leaving PIDC and left a message asking for a reason for denied entry and visitation, she left her contact information but was never contacted by Michael Watkins, or anyone else to clear up why we were banned from PIDC by his orders.)
Aguilar repeated that we should call the number, and that he had gotten the order to refuse to let us in by his superior officer. When we asked for Aguilar’s full name he rudely said no and angrily turned his back to us and quickly walked away.
Finally, we turned the car on, got our IDs back from the ATSI guard and ICE officer in the booth and drove away approximately at 11:45AM.
The next day, Sunday, we returned to visit and were told by ICE that we could not visit the people we had not been able to visit on Saturday due to ICE officers and Michael Watkins’ orders. We were eventually taken outside of the building by three ICE and three ATSI officers.
When we asked ICE officers for their badge numbers they all refused and one of them purposefully hid his badge number. When we requested complaint forms they refused to provide them. We asked to speak to Supervisor Gonzalez and were told she would not come to see us. We needed to call the general number.
We called the number and received no answer many times. Finally, we spoke to supervisor Gonzalez, she also refused to provide any complaint forms or to document our complaints.
We were told that we were not allowed to visit Barrett Bevans, Kenson Lima (who had just put an end to their Hunger Stike the week before), David Freeman (currently 10 days on Hunger Strike) and others because we had to follow the schedule. The question is whether ICE must respect the scheduled visitation for prisoners, since we and the prisoners were wrongfully denied access to visitation. Also, Michael Watkins issued orders throughout the chain of command of ICE at the facility which led to the intimidation and harassment of Southwest Workers’ Union members on the premises of the Port Isabel Detention Center (PIDC).
The impunity of ICE must stop. Harassment of prisoners in the facility and community members who visit immigrants within PIDC must stop.