Fundraisers for arrested immigrant workers and families underway

ARLINGTON Arlington residents are pitching in on behalf of several employees of Aerospace Manufacturing Technologies, Inc., who were arrested June 26 by agents of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Lisa Engle, a self-described advocate for Spanish-speaking families in Arlington, staged a yard sale at her house July 11, to raise funds for the workers, who were charged with administrative immigration violations, and their families.

Her yard sale was attended by a number of the arrested employees, who had been held at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.

"Rosa," who has lived in America for six years, worked at AMT for two years. Speaking through an interpreter, she stated that she took the job to help support her family.

"I've never committed a crime, and I have no problem with the law," said Rosa, who noted that she paid both taxes and Social Security through her job, even though she knew she wouldn't be able to draw from Social Security.

Rosa was hired to work at $7.63 an hour, and remembers the dirt, dust and metal shavings in the air at her job.

"It wasn't the greatest job, but I needed the money for my son," Rosa said.

On the day of the arrest, Rosa was patted down and placed in handcuffs and ankle-shackles, which were connected by a a chain.

"They didn't yell at us or treat us badly," Rosa said. "But they treated us like delinquents, when all we were doing was working."

Rosa and the other arrested employees spent half an hour at the work site, before being transported to Tacoma. Rosa was then detained at Tacoma for two weeks, without being told how long she would be there.

"Joel," the husband of an AMT employee who was also arrested, likewise received no contact from authorities regarding his wife's status. Although not detained himself, he still had to cope with raising their child on his own until she made bail.

"The baby wouldn't sleep, and was crying all night for his mother," said Joel, speaking through an interpreter. "He didn't want to eat, and he didn't understand what was happening. It's bad for a child that young to have his mom taken away."

Joel believes raids should be conducted in a way that does less to separate families.

"Even though we're not born here, we're not criminals," Joel said. "We just came to this country to chase a dream. Regardless of their stance on immigration, people should consider the effect of these raids on the children, because it's not their fault."

While detained at Tacoma, Rosa reported having barely enough to eat, and feeling sickened by the smell of the uniforms that she and her fellow detainees wore.

"They would wash our uniforms together with the mop-heads," Rosa said.

According to Engle, bail for detainees ranged from $6,000 to $10,000, depending on the detainees' suspected flight risk and other factors. Both Rosa and Joel's wife had their bail set at $10,000.

"I had to borrow from relatives and beg from friends," said Joel, who also had to adjust to being the sole breadwinner in his family. Even with the support of friends and extended family members, he had to cancel his cell phone and his car insurance. He's now riding his bike to work, and preparing to sell his car to pay back the people who have lent him money.

Rosa's husband faced the equally daunting challenge of explaining to their son where she was, while she was detained.

"He told him stories, to make it less traumatic," Rosa said. "He said that I had to go to Mexico to visit my sick mother, and that I'd left straight from work, which was why I couldn't take him with me."

Engle and others are conducting an ongoing "tamale order" pick-up, to help cover the costs incurred by the arrested workers and their families. So far, they've only raised $1,500.

"That's not even enough to put a dent in their expenses," Engle said. "We hope to find people who are willing to adopt certain families, to help them feed their children."

Engle is suggesting donations of $15 per dozen tamales, and can be reached at 360-631-9127. She's also set up an account at bank of America, under "Unite the Families," to which people can donate.

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