New Brunswick community rallies in support of detained local
Frustrated with recent removal raids conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, protesters gathered in the heart of New Brunswick and demanded the release of German Nieto-Cruz, an undocumented city resident.
About 60 people came to the intersection of George Street and Livingston Avenue on Jan. 30 to participate in the protest organized by various local immigrant and humanitarian groups. Family members, city residents and students joined in solidarity with Nieto-Cruz, who was detained at their Newark office.
“We want (the agency) to know that we are aware of the case, that are watching the case, that we are very upset that they were here in New Brunswick and that they conducted the raid in the manner that they did,” said Ellen Whitt, one of the event's organizers.
During the protest, participants made clear their discontent with the immigration office's presence in the city and in all of New Jersey.
“Rutgers students should care about this because this is our community. These are the people that live around here and this is an issue that’s absolutely relevant to everybody,” said Samantha Melisi, a School of Arts and Sciences junior.
Posters, some of which read, “no human being is illegal,” were displayed at onlookers while the demonstrators appealed for Nieto-Cruz’s return home.
Nieto-Cruz, a 21-year-old Mexican native, was arrested on Jan. 5 when immigration agents entered his home and accused him of being affiliated with a gang, said Francisco Nieto, Nieto-Cruz's brother.
Nieto was present at the house when his brother was taken into custody.
The officials entered through the backdoor of the house even after being told there was no one inside by the name of “Rodriguez” — the last name of the person they were reportedly looking for, said Anel Nieto, Nieto-Cruz’s niece.
“When I turned around, they were coming in from the back door. They told me and my dad to get on the ground. Then I started to cry,” she said. “My dad said don’t cry and when he lifted his head a little bit, they stepped on his neck and told him to get down.”
After asking the males of the house if they had tattoos and handcuffing Nieto-Cruz and his father Antonino, the agents questioned the 21-year-old and then escorted him out of the house, said Maria Aguilar, Nieto-Cruz’s sister-in-law.
“They took him away just like that,” she said.
In the weeks that have elapsed, the whole family is still experiencing the void that Nieto-Cruz’s absence has left. They remain certain that their beloved German is innocent and that his arrest was unjust and unwarranted.
“What they did to us was an injustice and we feel discriminated. They took him away because of his long hair and his tattoos,” Francisco Nieto said.
Nieto-Cruz came to the United States as a child and attended middle school in New Brunswick and high school in Piscataway. He never got into trouble and has always been a good family member, said his mother, Ema Nieto.
He benefited from President Barack Obama’s executive actions in 2012, which allowed him to obtain a driver’s license and a work permit that he utilized to work at a tire shop in Edison. His Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status was valid at the time of the raid, Ema Nieto said.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals is attempting to change the immigration enforcement system by focusing on public safety, border security and the integrity of the immigration system.
Individuals who meet their specific guidelines may be granted action for children arrivals for two years, subject for a renewal and employment, according to http://www.dhs.gov.
The legality of Nieto-Cruz’s arrest was scrutinized by Teresa Vivar, director of Lazos America Unida, one of the groups that sponsored the protest. His deferred action status protected him from persecution, especially when taking into consideration the absence of a warrant, she said.
“There is a lot of injustice around this case … because he had (a deferred action status),” Vivar said. “To justify the way how their agents behaved during the raid, they said that German is guilty of being part of a gang and that he is a criminal, even though German has no criminal record.”
Vivar, who studied at Rutgers, also wanted to illustrate the importance of this case to students and to reach out to them about social justice in New Brunswick.
“I think it is also important that students realize that New Brunswick is confronting issues that they are reading in books,” she said. “They are teaching you about social justice, they are teaching you about discrimination, they are teaching you about culture, but we are right here.”
Students and undocumented community members, such as Nieto-Cruz, have more in common than they might think, Vivar said.
“I was a Rutgers student as well, and the thing that we have in common with undocumented immigrants is that we have to work so hard to have money to pay for meals and basic things,” she said. “Students and community members, we are all in the same boat, we are not different from each other.”
Camilo Montoya-Galvez is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year majoring in Spanish and journalism and media studies. He is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum. See more on Twitter @camiloooom.