Were These Vermont-Based Immigrants Detained by ICE as Retaliation For Their Activism?

Lead Photo: Photo: Migrant Justice
Photo: Migrant Justice
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When Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested Miguel Alcudia, they reportedly told him that they’d come for Enrique “Kike” Balcazar, a fellow organizer with Migrant Justice, next. Balcazar – who’s also part of the Vermont Attorney General’s task force on immigration – felt fearful, but it didn’t stop him from fighting for justice.

“Kike certainly took measures to reduce his risk,” Will Lambek, a Migrant Justice staffer told me in a phone interview. “And at the same time, though he received a lot of offers from people to provide him sanctuary or refuge in churches or in people’s homes, what he said very clear was that his purpose here is to organize to defend his rights and the rights of his community, and he wouldn’t be able to do that by hiding from ICE. His decision was to continue to be a spokesperson, to be a public defender of human rights for his community, and that was his decision.”

On March 17, as Kike, 24, and fellow organizer Zully Palacios, 23, exited the Migrant Justice office in Burlington, Vermont, ICE agents arrested them. Neither Zully or Kike has a criminal record. What they do have is a history of effectively defending the rights of workers and immigrants in Vermont. With President Donald Trump intent on deporting a larger number of undocumented immigrants – including those who haven’t committed crimes – many see the arrests of Zully and Kike as retaliatory.

Zully became involved with Migrant Justice last year. Zully has worked to create Migrant Justice women’s groups, bring more female famers into the fold. Kike arrived in Vermont about seven years ago, where he began working 70 to 80 hours a week in the dairy industry, making below minimum wage. He couldn’t leave the farm for groceries or to visit the doctor without relying on his employer. He felt like a prisoner on the farm. Around 2012 or 2013, he became highly involved in a campaign that fought so that undocumented immigrants could receive driver’s licenses.

He’s also involved in a campaign called Milk With Dignity. “This is a campaign to get corporations that buy dairy from Vermont farms to take responsibility for human rights violations in their supply chains,” Lambek added. If companies sign on, farm workers will have quality housing provided, fair wages, access to bathrooms, and other important rights.

Immigration officials have taken note, Matt Cameron – their lawyer – tells me. “ICE has been targeting and surveilling Migrant Justice leaders and members for some time now,” Cameron told me over email. “Another MJ organizer was told in September that Enrique Balcazar would be the next to be arrested, even though Enrique had no prior contact with immigration or criminal authorities and was in no way a priority under the prior or current administration’s enforcement agenda. Zully had only overstayed her visa by about eight months, but was aggressively hunted down by Homeland Security Investigations, the branch of DHS which usually investigates serious fraud and trafficking cases.”

Currently, ICE is holding Kike on a $14,000 bond; Zully has no bond. Both of these circumstances are rare, according to Cameron. “Enrique’s bond was set at an amount that we would expect to see from someone with a criminal record,” he said. “And it is unusual for someone with no record whatsoever to be held without bond.”

As their supporters push to find answers, they’re taking the next steps. Their lawyer pushed for a bond hearing, which will take place on Monday, and their supporters will be there protesting their arrest. “We’ll be packing the courtroom and rallying outside to make sure that the immigration judge understands just what they mean to the community of immigrant farmworkers in the state of Vermont,” Lambek said. “That they have deep community ties and deserve to be free and back with their community where they can continue to organize for human rights and dignity.”

The rally will take place outside JKF Federal Building in Boston on Monday.