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Vigil supporting Guatemalan immigrant in Iowa City confronts ICE

Advocates worried he might have been deported

People clap Wednesday as Jacinto Rivera Ramirez emerges from his visit to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement o
People clap Wednesday as Jacinto Rivera Ramirez emerges from his visit to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Cedar Rapids. Supporters, who said they didn’t know why Rivera Ramirez has been called in earlier than expected to meet with immigration officials, feared he might be deported. Rivera Ramirez, from Guatemala, has been living with his teenage son in Iowa City while awaiting a trial on his immigration case. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — With about 50 supporters at his back, Jacinto Rivera Ramirez arrived Wednesday at a Homeland Security office in Cedar Rapids for a meeting with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.

Originally from Guatemala, he has been living at the Catholic Worker House in Iowa City with his son, Antonio, for the last several months. He is awaiting a trial for his immigration case, which means he has regular check-ins with ICE and was wearing an ankle bracelet to monitor his whereabouts.

He has applied for a legal work visa and in the meantime started a garden at the Catholic Worker House to help feed the community.

“The reason I came here is to work, and my son came here to study,” he said, with Emily Sinnwell of the Catholic Worker House translating for him. “Life in Guatemala was really hard, and so we decided to come here so he could go to school.” Antonio, 15, will be a high school sophomore this fall.

Rivera Ramirez said when he crossed the border from Mexico after his journey north he was detained by immigration authorities, and that they treated him well. Now he has been released on supervised parole while he waits for his day in court. Antonio is scheduled to have an initial immigration hearing Sept. 10 in Omaha, and Jacinto’s next scheduled check in was meant to be Sept. 2, he said.

So he was alarmed when he was called in early for the appointment Wednesday. Supporters at the Catholic Worker House worried he would be deported.

A statement to The Gazette from ICE’s regional field office in St. Paul said the appointment was just to fix a faulty ankle monitor.

The Catholic Worker House called for a vigil, and at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, a group of people, all wearing masks and spaced out for social distancing, gathered in front of the office for songs and prayers.

Catholic Worker House volunteers were joined by community members, along with Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker and other supporters of the Cedar Rapids Black Lives Matter-affiliated group Advocates for Social Justice.

Manny Galvez, owner of Spanish-language media company El Truque Iowa, said the vigil was about more than one family.

“Jacinto represents hundreds of thousands of people in this country who only want to have a better life,” he said. “Our fight is for the right to live in peace, with justice, without fear. We won’t rest until justice is served for everyone in this country.”

While Rivera Ramirez was inside the ICE building — Sinnwell was allowed into the lobby, but not into the meeting — the group took a knee for eight minutes and 46 seconds, evoking George Floyd, a Black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for that long.

Walker, who has been working with Advocates for Social Justice, said the calls for justice for Black lives and for immigrants are connected.

“Do our rights of freedom, liberty, justice and the pursuit of happiness end at our border, or do we have the ability to extend those rights to all people?” he asked. “Here, now, in 2020, we are called again to ask ourselves what kind of country do we want to be, what kind of community do we want to be?”

When Rivera Ramirez emerged from the office, he was happy. ICE officials had removed his ankle bracelet and told him his next check in would be in January, he said. The crowd cheered.

Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

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