A group of activists and community members gathered on the south side of Cedar Rapids Thursday afternoon outside a nondescript building with a tiny sign: “Homeland Security.” They were protesting the detention of Asucena Natareno Ramirez, who had been detained following a routine check-in at the Cedar Rapids office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
On this particular day, there was good news. Natareno Ramirez was on her way home to her relatives in Mount Pleasant after posting bond. But the protesters still voiced concerns about the treatment of immigrants and the workings of the immigration system.
Following her arrest on Oct. 3, Natareno Ramirez was held in Hardin County Jail in Eldora, initially without bail. On Oct. 16, she was granted bond of $5,000, which she was able to raise, and she was released on Thursday just a few hours before the protest. Her attorney, Dan Vondra, told Little Village that in his 13 years of experience, he had never organized a protest before, “but this case seemed so terrible and so unfair.”
Speaking to the gathered crowd on Thursday, Vondra announced that Natareno Ramirez was free and on her way home with family.
“She was very happy people were coming out to support her,” he said, speaking into a bullhorn. “That’s why she came to America, because this is a country that accepts people. This is a country that helps people.”
Vondra emphasized that although Natareno Ramirez was now out of custody, he didn’t think it was fair for her to have spent even a day in jail.
Natareno Ramirez arrived in the U.S. in 2016, after fleeing Guatemala to escape domestic violence. She voluntarily surrendered to U.S. immigration officials and was granted humanitarian parole, which is used in emergency situations to temporarily let immigrants into the U.S. who would otherwise be inadmissible.
Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa Executive Director Rafael Morataya said that Natareno Ramirez’s release “was a lesson: When we organize we win,” he said.
“Our communities need to know that immigrants come to this country for a reason,” Morataya said. “She fled her country looking for the freedom that this country has. These are real people. They have families. They don’t represent any threat to the security of the country.”
Kent Ferris, the social action and Catholic charities director for the Diocese of Davenport, also spoke during the event, and he said later on that his presence at the event “speaks to our obligation to walk with our brothers and sisters, with immigrants and refugees.”
He cited Pope Francis’ Sept. 27 launch of the Caritas Share the Journey campaign, a two-year public awareness campaign to promote bonds between migrants and communities.
“Solidarity with immigrants and migrants should be strengthened, not just in the U.S. but all over the world. There are times of prayer and learning, but also of action. This is a time of action,” Ferris said.
Vondra said they are currently waiting on a court date, which could be as late as August 2018 unless they request an expedited hearing, and are submitting an asylum application that would allow Natareno Ramirez to start the process of applying for a work permit. With a three-year-old child still in Guatemala, Vondra said, her ultimate goal is be reunited with her child here in the U.S.