Greenfield City Councilmember Yanely Martinez peers inside the security fences at the ICE facility at Tornillo, Texas, where children are being housed since being separated from their parents. Below, Martinez shows the rocks she retrieved from Tornillo, which she carries to remind her of the moment of seeing immigrant children on the ICE bus; and United We Dream participants gather outside the facility.
GREENFIELD — Greenfield High School students Jezyka Ballesteros and Joanna Chavez were given an opportunity July 3 to interview local Councilmember Yanely Martinez about her experience during a United We Dream protest against the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility at Tornillo, Texas, where children are being housed after being separated from their parents.
Martinez, who traveled to Texas on her own accord with donor funds from United We Dream, spoke articulately about the harsh reality of how immigrants are being treated, and how humanity needs to change.
At age 3, Martinez was brought to the United States by her immigrant parents for a better opportunity.
She said she was shy and antisocial at first, and therefore can relate to the issues that are involved with the children who have been isolated from their parents and forced to advocate for themselves in the complicated immigration process.
With the topic being difficult to discuss, the conversation started off with a straightforward question:
Joanna Chavez (JC): How intense was seeing the children in the bus?
Martinez: “Very intense. Every night since I got back (from Tornillo), I have a dream that I am confronted by ICE. When I was leaving Texas, I saw four Custom and Border Patrol officers, and even as a citizen I was nervous.”
Martinez went on to explain that the group of around 250 protestors had to walk in the unbearable 105-degree heat. She and seven other demonstrators were holding banners covering metal poles that were going to be used to make a tripod in order to block the port of entry. Those who were in this line were wearing white shirts and were expecting to get arrested.
During the protest, they couldn’t look back. It was not fully expected that buses would be coming down the road. The first two buses that passed by the group were empty, and then they heard that the third bus coming had children in it. The group decided not to try and stop the bus due to the risk of endangering the children in the heat.
When the bus got close enough, Martinez and the other protestors began to shout passionately: “Niños, los queremos. No están solos; no están solos!” which translates to, “Children, we love you. You are not alone!” Little silhouettes of young, innocent elementary school-age children got up on their seats, waving to the crowd.
“As a mom, I wanted to run and stop and hug the kids,” Martinez said.
United We Dream prepared them well, both physically and mentally, before the protest and made sure they had closure when it was finished. All 250 shared what they will take back from the trip.
When Martinez arrived home, she got a call. Two Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students who were part of the group were pulled out of line by Border Patrol on their way back home. They faced three hours of nonstop questioning and were threatened until their lawyers arrived.
Martinez, who is now a legal U.S. citizen, can relate to their struggles.
“DACA students live with this fear; we, who have privilege, should take action. We don’t have anything to lose,” she said.
JC: How much more of an impact is it on you as an activist while having that type of sentiment? It’s great that you are showing sympathy.
Martinez: “They (organizers) were not expecting the children. It was planned as an actual protest, but not to have to decide to consider stopping buses. It affected me as as a mom of four children.”
But regardless, the protesters had to follow procedure and keep to plan despite the struggle to follow their mixed emotions. Martinez shared that the organization sponsoring the protest provided counseling afterward.
She explained that she first heard about United We Dream through a young person named Gabriela, a youth activist in the Santa Cruz area.
Martinez went further on to share that Gabriela is also a DACA student. Gabriela goes to rally events and had shared that she had gone to Washington, D.C., and even got arrested as part of a protest with the support of the Jewish community.
Later on, Gabriela moved to Los Angeles and was given a job as an organizer for United We Dream. She gave Martinez the offer to protest in Tornillo and Martinez took it, deciding to make it a favorable moment.
While Martinez was ecstatic to be helping, she began to wonder if her position as a member of the Greenfield City Council would leave her as a vulnerable target.
Martinez said, “Some people told me, ‘Why did you leave your community to fight for an issue that doesn’t even impact us?’ (I thought), ‘Really?’ Many families in Greenfield have already been separated. King City has many families from El Salvador who are under TPS who report every month to San Francisco, without knowing if they are going to be processed for deportation that day. Lots of uncertainty. So, our community is impacted.”
Jezyka Ballesteros (JB): Do you think there has been a major change in the way that people view immigrants with the images being released to the public?
Martinez: “Definitely! There were people who were skeptical until the images started coming out. I take back with me that when people talk about families being separated, it’s not just at the border. We already have families in Greenfield who have been impacted and separated. It’s inhumane. Even people who once supported Trump (now) feel differently.”
JC: Now that the zero tolerance policy is beginning to crash, considering ICE only has 3,000-plus beds and have already detained 2,000-plus immigrants, do you think they could have done the policy differently? If so, how?
Martinez: “I think so. They (ICE) definitely wants to send a message that we have borders and that you can’t just come here without permission. The first thing was the wall, the great big wall, and who was going to pay for it. Then there was the separation of the families... then supposedly the reuniting, but the parents who do this have to sign their own deportation order. This is inhumane and will have impact. We’re already seeing with children who don’t want to go to their parents because they don’t understand why their parents ‘left them.’ It’s unacceptable and inhumane.”
She acknowledges that the children who end up being separated from parents who have been deported feel abandoned because they are much too young to understand what is happening.
JB: As a small community, what do you think Greenfield can try to do to make awareness on this situation?
Martinez: “That’s a tough one. We have many people who are passionate, but from our past rally (on June 30), many people didn’t show up. There is that fear of retaliation.”
Martinez wants to spread her message that the community welcomes immigrants, and that they are wanted here in town. She said we need to be unified and to support one another. She also pointed out that Greenfield offers workshops and services that are available to educate the community.
Toward the end of the conversation, Martinez took out of her bag two stones that she brought all the way from Texas from the road near the facility. She carries them around as a reminder to herself of the children. She even took them to a class she teaches and shared her experience with the students.
Martinez is hopeful that the community will move toward showing compassion toward others who are struggling. She said United We Dream is a good organization to join and follow online. To get more information on helping to support its cause, follow United We Dream on Facebook.
When asked for her final thoughts of the interview, Martinez exhorted every person in the community, especially people of color, to stop fighting each other. She said there is a bigger enemy that “we need to unite against” — racism and its manifestations — and the community needs to unite to overcome it.