ST. ALBANS, Vt. - Two migrant farm workers living in Vermont are in federal custody following an arrest by Border Patrol Saturday night.
The group Migrant Justice demanded their release during a protest outside immigration offices in St. Albans Monday.
“I know firsthand the experience of being detained, being treated like I was nothing, feeling as if I had no rights,” said Victor Diaz, a Migrant Justice member, through a translator.
Diaz, Enrique Balcazar and Zully Palacios protested Monday. They were all previously detained by immigration officials.
They’re awaiting deportation proceedings. They spent Monday afternoon fighting for their friends.
“It's important for me to be here to show my face and speak to the press to let them know that we're not taking this lying down. We're united as a community,” said Diaz.
"No human being is illegal. We all have the right to live and work where we want to,” said Balcazar, through a translator. "Migration is caused by many factors: by poverty, by instability, even by natural disasters and this has been a centuries long process."
Saturday night, Esau Peche and Yesenia Hernandez were taken into custody by Border Patrol in East Franklin, Vermont, near the dairy farm where they both live and work. They’re both originally from Mexico.
Based on their behavior and the behavior of the vehicle, a Border Patrol agent developed a level of reasonable suspicion, based on articulable facts, that they were in the country illegally, according to Brad Brant, Special Operations Supervisor with the U.S. Border Patrol.
“The agent stopped the vehicle and during questioning determined the occupants may be illegally present in the U.S. The two occupants were taken to the Border Patrol station for further investigation where they were arrested for immigration violations,” wrote Brant in a statement.
"Border Patrol has a long and sorted track record of racial profiling, of discriminatory conduct, of violating people's rights. They treat this 100 mile radius that they have to operate within from the border like they're own personal fiefdom,” said Will Lambel, a Migrant Justice spokesperson.
Peche and Hernandez helped lead the “Milk With Dignity” March to the Ben & Jerry’s factory in Waterbury on Saturday before their arrest.
"It makes it even more powerful the sacrifice that these workers knowingly made to say 'we aren't going to live in the shadows. We're going to come out, show our faces, demand dignity, demand our rights and they paid a heavy price for that,” said Lambek.
“He has strong family ties, strong community ties,” said Abel Luna, a Migrant Justice member. “People care about him and Yesenia and they're both very much missed."
Migrant Justice members took the protest to the ICE office in St. Albans Monday. They entered the building to plead for their friends’ release.
Peche and Hernandez are being held in state jails.
A supervisor, who declined to share his name, inside the ICE office told them to leave. “You are trespassing,” he said pointing to the Migrant Justice members.
According to Migrant Justice, migrant workers were detained without committing crimes under the Obama administration but they were then released.
Border Patrol Special Operations Supervisor Brad Brant says the policy has changed since President Trump took office.
Staff at Senator Bernie Sanders office made inquiries to ICE and Border Patrol after hearing about the arrest of Peche and Hernandez.
“While we do not know the details of this case, there is no question that President Trump’s executive orders on enhancing immigration enforcement have caused widespread anxiety among Vermont’s undocumented farmworkers and dairy farmers alike,” wrote Daniel McLean, spokesperson for Sen. Sanders (I - Vt.) , in a statement.
Sen. Sanders, Senator Patrick Leahy (D - Vt.) and Rep. Peter Welch (D - Vt.) recently spoke with ICE leadership in Boston to urge the agency to detain criminals who pose a threat.
“The Vermont farm economy very much continues to depend on some of our migrant labor. That's real. The consequences for our farmers are real. The cows don't milk themselves,” said Rep. Welch.
Meanwhile, Migrant Justice members say they won’t stop visibly fighting for their rights, even if they think it makes them a target.
“All the progress that has been made by farm workers stepping up and fighting hard, what they're trying to do is send us back to the shadows where we came out of,” said Abel Luna.
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