From the Field

“Free Pancho!”: the Occupy Movement Steps Up for Immigrant Rights

Cloee Cooper • Dec 12, 2011

photo by Miguel Vargas

“If you want to be a rebel, be kind: human-kind, be both.” - Pancho

Pancho Ramos Stierle was known by members of the Fruitvale community in Oakland as a spiritual leader. Following the Occupy Oakland General Strike of November 2, Pancho joined three people in meditation to peacefully defend the site against police removal at Occupy Oakland. During a police sweep of the encampment on November 14, police arrested him and entered his name into a federal database.

In a personal letter that was drafted by members of the community after Pancho’s arrest, it stated, “Pancho’s case is unique, in that he faces not only the charges in connection with his peaceful protest, but also an impending deportation hold because of his immigration status.” Here’s is a video of Pancho, made after his arrest (here).

Occupy Oakland then joined community members in the Free Pancho campaign to release Pancho from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). According to the San Francisco Gate, “About 50 supporters of Stierle gathered at noon Tuesday at Seventh and Clay streets outside a downtown Oakland jail” to rally for his release.

As it happened, Occupy Oakland and the Free Pancho campaign were successful in their efforts. On November 18, Pancho was released from ICE.

According to the Free Pancho Movement website, “Now we need to join Pancho and elevate the Occupy Wall Street dialogue to include building more ‘constructive programs’ that meet the needs of people and communities outside the current system of greed and violence.”

On Wednesday, November 23, Occupy Oakland passed a proposal to hold a rally on November 30 in Solidarity with Occupy Phoenix to “say no to criminalization, incarceration, and corporate profiteering at the expense of immigrant communities.” The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization comprised of 2000 legislators and 300 corporate members, was scheduled to hold their national States & Policy Summit in Scottsdale, Arizona, on that day. Behind much of this nation’s anti-immigrant legislation, including infamous Senate Bill 1070 in Arizona, ALEC has drafted over 800 “model” bills and resolutions, according to the ALEC Exposed website.

The rally was scheduled to be held in Fruitvale Plaza, the predominantly Latino neighborhood where Pancho lives.

Cicily Raye, a former volunteer with Community Action and Defense in Oakland and No More Deaths in Arizona, who was an organizer of the Fruitvale rally said in an interview:

“ALEC is just one face of the anti-immigrant movement that tears families apart and criminalizes communities. What is starting to happen inside of Occupy Oakland is what I have wanted to see in the movement against deportations and border deaths in general. It makes so much sense to apply the power of the movement to the issue of immigration because of how pertinent it is to California.”

During the rally and speakout in Fruitvale, Pancho addressed migration, detention, and the fear many people live through every day in the communities of Oakland. He discussed the legislation that unjustly criminalizes members of his community and the perseverance of the human spirit to always resist. “What they don’t know, is that if there is a law that attacks human rights and human dignity, there are going to be citizens of the world breaking that law again and again and again.”

That night included accounts from several other members of the Fruitvale community, and during the day Occupy Oakland hosted an information session on ALEC and the unjust laws that they promote.

However, Oakland is not the only place where the Occupy Movement is engaging the immigration debate in support for human rights. Across the country, Occupy activists are turning out and showing up for the rights of immigrants:

  • On November 30, 13 people were arrested at Occupy Phoenix for the SHUT DOWN ALEC protest.
  • Occupy Phoenix and Occupy Chicago held a meeting to discuss solidarity actions in Chicago for November 30.
  • Occupy Denver also held a solidarity rally on November 30, against ALEC.
  • On November 21, Southern California Public Radio produced a radio segment titled, “More on Occupy, Immigration and Race,” documenting the story of Pancho, which also covered the “Occupy ICE” march in San Diego, and other demands related to immigration coming out of the Occupy Movement.
  • A December 6 article by David Bacon titled, “Unions and Immigrants Join Occupy Movement,” describes the participation of the immigrant rights community–as well as that of unions–in the Occupy Movement, particularly in Seattle, New York, and San Francisco.

In cities across the United States, the Occupy Movement is beginning to take bolder actions against unjust immigration policies and anti-immigrant sentiment. And according to the Occupy Oakland website, what we are seeing is just the beginning:

“Now it is time to demand the freedom of our brother as we speak out against police crackdowns [and] unjust U.S. immigration policies[,] and [to] support this growing movement against Wall Street greed.”

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