Mar 272010

What will college’s, community’s response be?

By Danny Mayer

On March 17, immigration officials entered the Amazon warehouse located off Leestown Road just past New Circle and arrested Julio Martinez, who worked there part-time to help pay for his college.

The ICE officials had a “lawful” reason, of course. (They always do). Eleven years ago, when Martinez was 7 years old, he was caught with his family crossing the U.S./Mexico border. At the time, Clinton-era immigration policies stressed arrest, but not deportation, of undocumented migrants caught making the journey north. The policy was called “Catch and Release,” as if human beings were equatable to fish caught for sport and then magnanimously released free back into the water. Under the Catch and Release program, Martinez, along with the rest of his family, was caught, booked and released free inside the vast expanses of the U.S., officially declared a “fugitive” in, to and by his new country well before he hit the ripe old age of 10.

But times they do change. In March 2006, in the midst of an intense moment of national debate on immigration, a time when heavily armed militias of vigilante gringos stalked the border to patrol their idea of the homeland, acting Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff went from suck to blow: he announced that the “Catch and Release” policy was changing to a “Catch and Detain” strategy. Instead of releasing detained undocumented immigrants as the “Catch and Release” policies had done, “Catch and Detain” instead called for holding immigrants in jail until such time as they could be deported to their country of birth.

Now 18 years old, Martinez got caught up in the shifting winds of immigration policy. Since he was already declared a fugitive at 7, immigration officials only needed to follow up on that charge to give them grounds for detaining and ultimately deporting Martinez to his country of birth. Currently sitting in a Boone County jail, Martinez will soon leave his home in Kentucky for Chicago, where he can expect to await deportation to Honduras, the country of his birth, a place he last lived when he was 7 years old. In the sick con game of state-sanctioned reverse immigration, played out US style, ICE agents and the federal court system get to play lead Coyote, dropping off their dazed cargo at cutrate prices throughout Central and South America.

I don’t know enough about Martinez to speculate on his particular circumstances, but I imagine him being in a similar position as Walter Lara, who last summer was scheduled to be deported to Argentina, a country he left at the age of three and which he now has “no memory of.” That is, I imagine Martinez is facing the similar prospect of being suddenly dropped off in the middle of what is, to him, a foreign country, one I expect he has little or no memory of.

Though I do not know Martinez, I am connected to him in at least one way. We are both citizens of Bluegrass Community and Technical College: I as an instructor of English at the college’s Cooper campus, located at the ass-end of the University of Kentucky campus; he as a first-year student at our Leestown campus, located across the street from the Amazon warehouse where he worked part-time to help pay for his college, the place where the ICE agents arrested him. Another fish caught and detained.

I do not yet know what our official college response will be–either at the college level or at the state system level–to the arrest, detention and deportation of one of our students. I do, however, want to offer my own thoughts as to why I hope my college leadership uses its immense intellectual and political capital to work diligently and vocally to keep one of its students, Julio Martinez, from being forcibly deported from this state and this country.

The first reason is that, in this state at least, by most sane accounts Martinez isn’t an “alien,” illegal or otherwise. Assuming he ended up in Kentucky soon after his Catch and Release, Martinez arrived to the state with his family at the age of 7. He attended school here and graduated from nearby Franklin County High School. After graduating, Martinez did what many recent high school graduates did this year: he came to BCTC for college, and he worked a part-time job while attending to pay for it.

Martinez is not just part of the immigrant community, his work and life testify to the fact that he’s a part of the fabric of many communities around here: mine at BCTC, his co-workers at Amazon, his classmates at Franklin County High, and the list goes on. In fact, by comparison he’s more rooted to Kentucky than I am, an interloper who arrived a year later, in the summer of 2000, at the much older age of 25. The very idea of Martinez’s illegality or alien-ness, not to mention my native-ness, is intellectually and morally absurd. And yet, because he was born in in a squiggly shaped country we call Honduras and I was born in a squggly shaped U.S. state named New Jersey, he gets deported and I get a tenure track job.

That is both a moral and intellectual argument, and it is one that I hope my KCTCS president, Michael McCall, considers when as president and intellectual leader of our state system of community colleges, he publicly discusses his thoughts on Martinez’s potential deportation.

But there is also an institutional reason why my administration should support the release of Martinez. Simply put, Martinez is a student from our college who was forcibly removed from his home; this fact alone should compel a vested BCTC interest.

Unlike the better-funded state schools in Kentucky, at our community college we deal mainly with groups existing on the edges–the borders–of economic, social, and civil stability: pregnant teens, refugees, returning soldiers, laid off workers, middle-aged single moms, and, yes, immigrants of all sizes and colors. Our college’s mission statement, in fact, boldly asserts that we provide an outlet for”a broad community of learners,” and that we do “community outreach” and “economic development” geared towards empowering people from such diverse border communities. Arguably, what we provided Martinez at BCTC was a combination of all three of those things: an outlet for a hardworking, marginalized person coming from our immediate Kentucky community to better his life through our community-focused institution.

And now the state has taken his opportunity away, for a victimless crime committed 11 years ago when the perp was 7 years of age.It is my hope that my administration finds this action taken against one of our students as instituitionally intolerable as I now find it as a low-level faculty member. It is also my hope that they convey that message, publicly, to our state senator, Ben Chandler, and in other media outlets. It is my hope, in other words, that in their capacity as our community college leadership, that my administration engages with a social and political concern that necessarily has something–everything–to do with the college they lead.

Here at NoC, we will offer space in our paper should anyone from BCTC, or the larger KCTCS system, need a public outlet to help sustain the needed public dialogue on BCTC student Julio Martinez’s deportation from the land of his home.

If you are interested in helping to stop BCTC student Julio Martinez’s deportation, call Representative Chandler’s Office and urge him to help Julio, 859-219-1366

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