Advocacy Group Calls For Release Of Detained Migrant Activist

Apr 22, 2016

The advocacy group Migrant Justice is calling for the release of one of their own. The group says migrant activist Victor Diaz was detained by plainclothes immigration agents in Stowe at a Mexican cultural event.

A group of Migrant Justice activists chanting “Not one more!” crammed into the lobby of Sen. Leahy's Burlington office Friday morning and met with Leahy's state director, John Tracy.

Abel Luna told Tracy why they were there.

“Victor Diaz, a leader with Migrant Justice, a leader in human rights in the state of Vermont, was arrested by two ICE agents in Stowe, Vermont while he attended a restaurant which was hosting a Mexican cultural event,” Luna said. “He was apprehended by two agents wearing plainclothes without a uniform, and they asked his name and arrested him.”

Tracy thanked the group for coming and told them that Leahy's office is already on it.

“One of our staff members in D.C. is on the phone with Victor's attorney at this point in time. We just found out about it this morning. We've got the news article,” Tracy said. “You know, Senator Leahy, like the administration, strongly feels that our scarce resources should be focused on criminals, not on people who are abiding the law, raising families.”

Tracy mentioned Leahy's years-long efforts to move immigration reform through Congress – efforts that have been blocked by House Republicans.

In the meantime, arrests and deportations have continued.

“I wish it were rare,” says Brendan O'Neill, the lead organizer of Migrant Justice. "But this is everyday life in Franklin County and on the border in Northeast Kingdom.”

"This is everyday life in Franklin County and on the border in Northeast Kingdom." - Brendan O'Neill, Migrant Justice lead organizer

O’Neill says the threat of detentions and deportations weighs heavy on Vermont's migrant workers – especially a few years ago, when Migrant Justice got its start.

“We came across workers who had literally not left a farm for two or three years. Not gone to a health care appointment or gone even to buy their own food, for this very reason,” O’Neill says.

O'Neill said a state law that makes it possible for undocumented workers to get a drivers license helped rural workers move around more easily.

Outside Leahy's office, Abel Luna said it's important for the whole community to rally behind Diaz, and to raise awareness of the deportations.

After delivering the Migrant Justice letter, the group of activists stood in a circle outside Sen. Leahy's Burlington office and shared personal stories about how Victor Diaz had influenced and helped them.
Credit Taylor Dobbs / VPR

“It’s very important that … we’re together as a community, because this continues to happen,” Luna said. “It’s a broken system, and we need to stand together to bring our message to Senator Leahy, to make sure that he knows that … Victor has friends, and people that our behind him. Our movement is behind him.”

Diaz told friends Friday morning that he's being moved to New Hampshire to await a court hearing.

Tracy said Leahy's office is trying to get a privacy release to Diaz that will authorize authorities to share details with Leahy, so the senator’s office can try to resolve case.