The Occupy Wall Street movement has made it its mission to include immigrants into their growing social movement.
But there is one segment of this population they have reluctantly, almost nervously, brought into the fold: the undocumented.
As images of mass arrests at Occupy Wall Street demonstrations across the country have dominated TV news, an unspoken question has been whether undocumented immigrants who rally should put themselves at risk of arrest, and possible deportation.
Once they know the issues and are aware of the risks, it is up to the people to make up their mind. Sometimes, the issues and the cause are more important than deportation.
The issue was put on the front burner this week when Francisco “Pancho” Ramos-Stierle, a former astrophysics doctoral student in California who happened to be undocumented, was arrested while meditating during a raid at an Occupy Oakland encampment. His charges were dropped but he was taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement after his fingerprints showed up in federal database.
Ramos was released Thursday, though he could still be called for deportation proceedings at any time.
The Occupy movement has pointed to his case as a symbol of a broken federal system and they say his plight shows that social changes – from the financial system to immigration – needs to happen. And, they say, it shows the two go hand in hand.
“His intention was just to meditate. And he felt whatever needed to happen would happen,” said his friend Melissa Dickman, who organized a petition to free Ramos. “He was aware of the risks. But he refuses to live in fear, and he won’t let that fear control his life or prevent him from becoming involved in causes he believes in.”
But, Dickman acknowledged, she sees that fear keeping many undocumented from joining the movement. Where she lives, in Arizona, she sees a large disconnect between the proactive immigration rights groups and the Occupy movement.
“They know that there is a threat of arrest, and they live in fear of deportation,” she said.
Occupy groups, who have said they need Hispanics and other immigrants to rally to their cause, have realized that the growing number of arrests could frighten undocumented immigrants – and they’ve taken steps to make sure they aren’t a neglected group.
Mariano Muñoz, who is part of the Spanish assembly for Occupy Wall Street in New York, said it is an issue they are aware of and trying to address.
He said immigration training classes are offered to undocumented who want to join, where legal experts and lawyers address any questions they may have, any issues they could face and how to deal with worst-case-scenario cases. The classes offer police procedure and immigration rights instruction.
“Once they know the issues and are aware of the risks, it is up to the people to make up their mind,” Muñoz said. “Sometimes, the issues and the cause are more important than deportation.”
Meanwhile, Ramos’ Free Pancho petition has gathered almost 8,500 signatures, and a website details his legal updates. And while he free and the threat of deportation still looms, he’s not letting that keep him from speaking his mind.
Once he was released, he had a vegan lunch, held a press conference, and did a few media engagements. And he may very well rejoin Occupy.
“What he saw out of this arrest,” Dickman said, “was a chance to bring the dialogue not only of immigration but to tie it into the Occupy movement and really help immigration, migration and also the Occupy movement understand that they are interrelated and they need to be the same movement.”