Monday, June 11, 2018

What I Saw At the "Free Pablo" Protest

You may have heard now of Pablo Villavicencio, an undocumented Ecuadoran immigrant from Long Island working in New York City for a pizzeria. While making a delivery to a military base in Brooklyn, which he had done several times, he had his papers checked and was reported to ICE and detained, then told he was to be deported. He was married with two children, all American citizens, and he himself had been applying for citizenship. Like the vast majority of people in his situation, he was working and raising a family without causing any trouble.

There have been protests in the area around this. I went to one on Saturday here in New Jersey at the Hudson County Correctional Facility, where he was being held. I got the tip from a friend of mine who is a member of the local chapter of the DSA (Democratic Socialists of America) and decided to go.

Just going to the location was an eye-opening experience. It is located in one of those famously ugly stretches of swamp, warehouses, and factories amid a tangle of highways one finds in the parts of New Jersey right across from New York City. Getting there meant having to avoid accidentally taking the New Jersey Turnpike or going through the Holland Tunnel. It was located off of old Highway 1, jammed between industrial parks and truck stops, a place that no one would take a second look at.

In fact, I arrived late to the protest because I had taken a wrong turn in the confusing highway maze and had to drive to other side of Highway 1 to find parking in a lot of a run-down truck stop diner that also advertised packaged liquor. At the protest itself there were maybe thirty people, a great many of them wearing DSA gear. Although they were not the only organization involved, almost everyone there seemed to be DSA.

A middle aged woman in a "I am an immigrant" t-shirt asked if I was a part of that group, and I said no, I was there merely to protest Pablo's detention. She seemed a little put off by the speeches I missed, which I can guess were full of the fire and brimstone of the old Marxist religion. I mostly talked to her and another woman there who was not part of the organization. While standing in the blazing early summer sun in a sea of asphalt, we were joined by a woman there with her mother and two children. She was trying to gain entrance to the facility to see her husband, who was detained there. She wasn't sure if she was going to be able too. One of her children was a two year old, the other a baby. One of the protestors held the baby so that the mother could talk about her situation to a couple of reporters on the scene.

I had made a sign on thick posterboard for the occasion, and I used it to shade the woman and baby from the sun, which in the late afternoon was beating into us. I stood there for several minutes looking at the little sleeping baby, remembering when my daughters were that small. It was almost too much to take, this tiny person having its father ripped away so soon after coming into the world. Having my children taken away from me is my absolute worst nightmare, nothing really compares to it. I kept thinking about that as the baby's mother talked to the reporters, I hope they did something with her story and that it gets heard.

Standing there in a space very much not intended for people to stand in, all I kept thinking was that there were many other places like this in America. At that moment and every other there are nondescript buildings in quiet industrial parks in this country where families are being ripped apart and American dreams are being shredded. These places may be in your town or close by, and their machinery operates right under your nose, every single day in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Ever since the day of the protest that thought has not left my mind. I woke up this morning with horrible vertigo and nausea, and ended up violently puking and having to take a sick day. I'm beginning to wonder if it wasn't psychosomatic.

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