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“I’m Still Not Free,” Claudia Rueda Takes DHS To Court

The fight takes the form of a new lawsuit.

Claudia Rueda speaks, with her attorneys John Ulin, left, and Monika Langarica, right, behind her.

Claudia Rueda and her attorneys did not know that they would be filing a lawsuit against the Trump administration the same day that the President announced his plan to end birthright citizenship, but the timing is prescient. This morning, in front of the federal immigration courts in downtown Los Angeles, Claudia announced that she had filed suit against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), US Border Patrol (CBP), as well as Lee Francis Cissna, current director of USCIS, Kathy Baran, Director of USCIS California Service Center, and several Border Patrol agents. The suit alleges that Claudia was unfairly targeted for arrest and detention by Customs and Border Patrol agents, and subsequently had her DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) application rejected in an act of political retaliation.

Immigration attorney Monika Langarica, who represented Claudia in her fight for release and her DACA application filing, started off the press conference by reviewing the timeline of events. She stressed that Claudia’s clean record and academic achievement are more than enough to meet the requirements for DREAMER status, but that her work as an immigration activist has brought reprisal from the federal government.

The facts of Claudia’s arrest and detention are well established. In April of 2017 Teresa Vidal-Jaime, Claudia’s mother, was arrested in a joint task force operation targeting narcotics. Vidal-Jaime was not charged with a criminal offense, but was since she is undocumented authorities detained her nonetheless. Claudia began staging protests and advocating for her mother’s release, which she won on May 12th. On May 18th Claudia was arrested in Boyle Heights by CBP agents in unmarked cars while parking the family car and still in her pajamas. She was taken to a CBP station and then ultimately transferred to the Otay Mesa Detention Center, a private prison managed by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). Claudia was held virtually incommunicado for several days and her family was not told of her whereabouts. ICE lawyers fought every attempt at release and refused to offer conditional release, aka bond. Claudia was eventually released on her own recognizance over the objections of DHS lawyers, and this decision was upheld by the Board of Immigration Appeals.

In June a DACA application was filed. According to the suit, there was no contact or follow up from USCIS for three months. In October Kathy Baran, named in the suit, sent a one line denial notice, lacking any reason for the decision.

John Ulin, a partner at Arnold & Porter, explained that the lawsuit is driven by both the arrest and DACA denial as attempts to silence a young immigration activist. They are seeking to have the DACA application restored and properly evaluated by USCIS as well as other damages.

Claudia Rueda speaks to the press about her lawsuit against DHS.

Claudia was the last to speak at this morning’s event. Flanked by ICE Out Of LA members, her neighbors, fellow Cal State LA students and professors, she gave an emotional speech about being detained and the trauma that followed her after release. She talked about her PTSD diagnosis, the stutter she developed, and the effect this has had on her education. “I’m still not free. This is state violence that lives inside my body,” she said through bouts of tears.

When she was released in 2017 Claudia launched an effort to secure bail for other detainees that she met at Otay Mesa, asked about how this suit is effecting her activism, “I’m still helping out people that I met inside detention, but because of what has happened to me has deeply impacted the way I organize.” During her speech she stressed that the actions of DHS and USCIS are not random but are part of a coordinated effort to repress immigration activsts. Nationwide a dozen young immigration activists, some of them with DACA status, have been targeted for detention. Claudia was firm in her commitment to organizing, but admitted that this lawsuit, as well as the other legal hurdles, make it hard to balance.

Each of the speakers focused on the nexus between local law enforcement and immigration authorities. Teresa Vidal-Jaime was detained during a joint task force operation that saw local police working directly with immigration agents. LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell was mentioned several times as the model for collaboration and the model that ICE Out Of LA activists hope to end. While the lawsuit is limited organizers see an opportunity to examine the intersectionality of Claudia’s case.

David Abud addresses the crowd.

ICE Out Of LA member David Abud noted that this lawsuit is part of a broader strategy to resist Trump administration attempts at strict enforcement. Claudia’s case provides a demonstration of what it means when activists charge that ICE and CBP are rogue agencies acting outside the bounds of the law. In light of President Trump’s rather sudden announcement that he would attempt to repeal the 14th Amendment by Executive Order, Abud noted that it is not certain to fail. What we’re seeing is “fanatics in all parts and levels of government hiding their ultimate agenda, to build wealth and power.” As such organizers and activists are pursuing multiple strategies including occupations, direct actions, electoral organizing, and media campaigns. Ultimately, this isn’t just an immigration issue but is an issue that effects everyone in the working class, he noted.

For now the focus shifts to Claudia’s next court hearing which comes at the end of November, since she is without DACA protections it is still possible that she may be deported.