Lincoln, Rhode Island resident Lilian Calderon never returned home on January 17. While attending a routine check-in meeting with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to legalize her documentation status that morning, Calderon—who has lived in the US for 27 years—was forcibly taken to a detention center in Boston and scheduled for deportation to her birth country of Guatemala. There, despite requesting additional information about her detainment such as where she would be taken and what would happen to her, she received no answers; the officials she spoke with simply said she was going to be kept in custody.
At a press conference held two days after her release on February 12, Calderon said the comment she heard most often from those involved in her case at South Bay House of Corrections was that it didn’t make sense. She and her husband, Luis, had met with ICE to verify the validity of their marriage. Luis is a US citizen and sponsored his wife of two years, with whom he has two young children, for US citizenship. While speaking with an ICE official, Calderon says, the validity of her union was verbally acknowledged and the agent agreed to approve the petition. However, just minutes later, she was detained and denied the opportunity to inform her husband of the agent’s determination. Calderon remained in custody for nearly a month; she was required to watch videos on preventing sexual assault while detained and forced to attend classes on living with HIV and drug addiction, among other issues, despite being unaffected by them. Each time she questioned the necessity of her participation in these activities, she was threatened with solitary confinement if she did not participate.
As a law-abiding mother of two with no criminal record, Calderon is one of the millions of undocumented immigrants who have been promised safety under the Trump administration; Calderon is what the administration would describe as a “non-priority” for deportation due to her clean record. However, as she highlighted at the press conference in Providence, there are many undocumented immigrants in similar situations that are currently in ICE custody and being prepared for deportation. “[Our administration doesn’t] tell you that all the women in those [detention] units are moms and grandmothers. They’re daughters,” she noted. Last week, the Boston Globe reported that Calderon is just one of seven undocumented immigrants who were arrested by ICE last month while meeting with immigration officials in Rhode Island and Massachusetts to fix their immigration status. Her experience is the worst nightmare of many in Rhode Island’s undocumented community.
Luckily for Calderon, she was able to communicate with her husband via payphone at South Bay, who subsequently contacted her lawyer and reached out to community organizations for support. Her case caught the attention of the Massachusetts and Rhode Island chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) who demanded and achieved her release through a federal court order earlier this month. Her release is also largely due to the support she received from the Providence-based community collective Alliance to Mobilize Our Resistance (AMOR), which has led community efforts to achieve Calderon’s freedom by providing the community with real time updates about her case, sharing petitions for her release, and protesting her detainment. The organization has also served as a support system for the Calderon family by accompanying Luis to press conferences and issuing their own public statements to call for Calderon’s release.
Resistance through solidarity
AMOR is a conglomerate of six local organizations: Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE), Providence Youth Student Movement (PrYSM), Colectivos Sin Fronteras, Fighting Against Natural Gas (FANG), Refugee Dream Center, and Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics (Coyote RI). They came together last year in response to the election of Donald Trump, which they anticipated would lead to increased local and state violence against communities of color and other politically vulnerable groups like immigrants and Muslims. While each organization within AMOR exists to serve specific communities on a day-to-day basis such as FANG working with victims of the natural gas industry and Refugee Dream Center working with refugees, the populations they serve are often affected by multiple issues beyond the focus of a single organization. AMOR centralizes community resources by bringing them to a single location and consolidates the efforts of these organizations by creating a network between them.
As stated in the collective’s mission statement, AMOR seeks to mobilize marginalized communities to resist instances of violence and to demand the accountability of those causing harm on interpersonal, local, state, and national levels. It offers crowdsourced resources such as translation, transportation, court and appointment accompaniment, child care, and legal and psychological services to disenfranchised communities experiencing violence, particularly those who are undocumented, low-income, and non-English speaking. Though Calderon had never worked with AMOR prior to her detention, the organization immediately offered its support to the Calderon family and demanded her freedom on Facebook once it learned of her predicament. AMOR reached out to her husband, Luis, and has since been present at demonstrations and press conferences, speaking out in support of Calderon’s release. “Lillian is a Guatemalan woman who came [to the US] at three years old,” AMOR’s director, Catarina Lorenzo, said in Spanish at a Providence vigil/demonstration for Calderon’s release in January. “She knows the United States, not Guatemala.”
Over the past month, AMOR has used its network to mobilize in support of Calderon’s case. The collective’s member organizations have each expressed their public support for Calderon and shared petitions for her freedom. At January’s vigil, Lorenzo reiterated AMOR’s stance on the Calderon case publicly, stating, “We are fighting to prevent her deportation.”
Due to the community support garnered by AMOR and the legal support provided by the ACLU, Calderon was released on February 12. A petition circulated by AMOR has received over 4,000 signatures and despite her freedom, continues rising by the hour. The Massachusetts chapter filed a lawsuit in Boston for her freedom earlier that month, on the grounds that her detention is a violation of her civil liberty of due process and a violation of federal immigration law. The mother of two was granted a 90-day temporary stay of deportation by a federal judge in Boston, who questioned the constitutionality of her detainment and has requested further details from ICE agents.
Community rapid response
While Calderon’s freedom is a victory for AMOR and the Rhode Island community, for the undocumented in the state, it has made the threat of detention tangible. Though this is not the first time a Rhode Island citizen has been detained or even deported under the Trump administration, the visibility of Calderon’s experience has caused many undocumented individuals to recognize the real possibility of their detainment in the future. In an effort to relieve the fears aroused in the undocumented community, as well as in other communities likely to be targeted in our contemporary political climate, AMOR has opened a 24/7 emergency response hotline. The free service is a rapid response resource created to support marginalized communities that are likely to experience police or ICE raids. The hotline will provide those in need with court support, legal services and funds, community support, trainings, and transportation. Callers can also be connected to free or low-cost mental health services and work with AMOR to create a family preparedness plan if they fear they will be detained.
Through its hotline, which can be reached at (401)-675-1414, AMOR seeks to support immigrants who fear for their safety: those who are concerned about the process of obtaining documentation, and those who have been contacted by ICE. Callers have the opportunity to speak to a trained volunteer in their preferred language regarding any questions or concerns they have and will be connected to resources accordingly. The languages offered by the hotline at this time are limited to English and Spanish, but AMOR says it will expand these options as it receives volunteers proficient in other languages. The organization is actively seeking out individuals proficient in languages frequently spoken in the area.
Lorenzo says volunteers are held to a strict policy of confidentiality regarding all interactions with clients both through the hotline and the other sectors of AMOR. Citing sex workers as an example, she says that people have historically chosen not to seek help through hotlines due to fear of having their information shared. Stereotyped and stigmatized groups such as the undocumented, sex workers, and STI positive people tend to be fearful of disclosing these identities with others due to the anticipated ramifications of their secrets being shared. This can have negative ramifications on vulnerable communities in that they may not seek help, even when they need it most.
“Part of the goal of AMOR is to build something that is not just a temporary reactionary system, but to defend us against the institutions that we’ve seen in our communities for hundreds of years,” said DARE activist Sophia Wright at the hotline’s launch party on Valentine’s Day. “Fighting against police violence, fighting back against immigration and detention and recognizing that those things are intentional.” It is no secret that the United States has achieved its wealth and global success through the systematic disenfranchisement of communities of color. The incarceration and detention of primarily Black and Brown people in the modern day are the US’ contemporary means of attempting to halt and even stop the immigration of people of color, which is occurring as more and more immigrants from Latin America, the Caribbean, and Africa in particular arrive in the US.
Over the past two months, the Trump administration announced that it will be ending Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for immigrants from Latinx countries such as Haiti, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. Under TPS, refugees from countries experiencing hardships such as armed conflict and environmental disasters have been allowed to live and work in the US legally without fear of removal. However, despite continued turmoil within these countries, their deportation will begin next year.
Last month, President Trump reportedly referred to countries in Latin America and Africa, like Haiti, as “shitholes” and stated that the US would benefit from receiving more immigrants from countries like Norway rather than Haiti or countries in Africa. Though the deportation of Brown and Black undocumented people is by no means unique to the Trump Administration and occurred in greater numbers during the Obama Administration, President Trump has agitated public sentiment surrounding immigration, particularly of individuals who are undocumented and from Latin America and Africa. Both he and those involved in his administration such as Jeff Sessions and Stephen Miller have criminalized immigrants from Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti and claimed that they add little to this country; history shows that quite the opposite is true. His comments preferencing Norwegian immigrants are codified; at their core, they are xenophobic and anti-Black.
Wright, who was previously employed at the AMOR member site Colectivos Sin Fronteras, and now works at DARE, which has been especially present in supporting Calderon by participating in protests and press conferences, cites AMOR as having allowed her to draw the parallel between immigration detention and incarceration. While explaining the history of AMOR, Wright noted that the significance of the collective lies in its potential to build solidarity and coalitions among groups that, on the surface, seem to be marginalized in disparate ways. “[It] was the biggest thing we could do to unify our fight against one system that breaks down communities of color and claims that it’s different,” she said. The parallels between immigration detention and incarceration can be clearly seen in Calderon’s personal account. Though she was just three years old when she came to the US, while in ICE custody she was treated as if she had committed a crime—as if she deserved to be punished. Calderon was threatened with solitary confinement each time she raised a concern about senseless policies in the detention center, such as being assigned a caseworker who was ignorant of immigration policies despite that being her sole reason for detention. The payphones available for those in custody to call their lawyers often didn’t work and though guards were notified, they did nothing about it; guards solely recommended that detainees wait for what was often two to three days, when their case workers arrived. Immigration detention and incarceration are similar in the sense that both immigrants and incarcerated people are stripped of their agency. They become reduced to (inmate) numbers and begin to be perceived as criminal, regardless of whether or not they have truly committed a crime.
In an interview with the Independent, AMOR director Catarina Lorenzo, noted that while the conglomerate was created out of a desire to build community and care for people experiencing violence, it was ultimately created out of the necessity to mobilize and to collectively combat oppressive political, social, and economic systems. The structural racism that has historically limited Black mobility in the US, while different from the xenophobia experienced by immigrants, needs to be considered equitably and in tandem. As previously stated by Wright, the structure harming them—white supremacy—is the same. By working together, thinking about the similarities between their struggles, acknowledging what makes their experiences unique, and ultimately showing up for each other politically, socially, and economically, they will have the best opportunity to achieve liberation from their oppression.
To symbolize the centrality of inclusivity and unity in its efforts, AMOR has woven the idea of collectively into each element of its existence, including its logo. Though the Spanish word for love, AMOR, is the acronym of the organization and has been made distinct through the replacement of its ‘O’ with a red heart, its creators added black hands with broken chains in an attempt to prevent the romanticization of the experiences of those the organization is meant to serve. The hands are indicated of “all people who are suffering,” which includes but is not limited to Black people, Muslims, the homeless, the undocumented, LGBTQIA+ folks, and women.
Though the heart of AMOR is its inclusivity, its commitment to supporting all people has served as its greatest barrier in receiving financial support to carry out its work. Unfortunately, since the organization’s conception, it has found difficulty in funding its efforts. “There are people who don’t like the name ‘resistance,’” Lorenzo says, referring to the ‘R’ in AMOR. “It’s difficult finding funds, especially when working with immigrants, who are [regarded as] criminals in this country. Working with sex workers, LGBT folks, Muslims...” The unapologetic nature of AMOR’s solidarity has made it difficult for the organization to find sponsors due to the stigmatization of the groups it works with. Particularly in the age of Trump, where every decision can have a polarizing effect on customers, many companies and organizations are hesitant to attach their names such a radical organization. The organization has been able to fundraise enough money to fund Lorenzo’s position and those of two part time employees. However, as with most non-profits, the labor required to run AMOR is far greater than the compensation its leaders are receiving.
In less than 90 days, the Calderon family will be revisited by the seemingly realer-than-ever possibility of her deportation. Lorenzo says that for as long as Calderon likes, she will have the vocal and physical support of AMOR.
“We will do all that we can [for those who call],” Lorenzo says. “But we will not make promises for things we can’t make happen. People get tired of promises.”
MARIELA PICHARDO B’20 has seen what solidarity looks like.