Transcript

498:

The One Thing You're Not Supposed To Do
Transcript

Originally aired 06.21.2013

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/498

Prologue.

Ira Glass

This is a video shot not too long ago. When it starts, you can see the gear shift in a car. The camera's shaky. It's a car full of young undocumented immigrants. They park.

Man 1

Last words? Last words?

Man 2

Take this, ICE.

Ira Glass

The audio isn't so good. One of them said, last words? The other says, take this, ICE. ICE, he means the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, which enforces federal immigration law. The guy who's filming, a 24-year-old named Jonathan Perez puts the camera-- or maybe he's filming with a cellphone-- so that it's peeking out of his coat pocket. You can see the zipper in the frame.

He gets out of the car, walks up a sidewalk to a building's front door. And you can catch a glimpse of a doormat that says, US Border Patrol. And you realize, oh, he's going inside.

Female Officer

Can I help you?

Jonathan Perez

What is this?

Female Officer

Border Patrol.

Jonathan Perez

Oh, [BLEEP].

Ira Glass

Did you get that? When he says, what is this, she says, Border Patrol.

Jonathan Perez

Yeah, we're lost.

Ira Glass

He says he's looking for Mobile, Alabama, which he calls Mo-bi-al.

Female Officer

OK, hang on one second.

Ira Glass

Nothing happens for about a quarter minute, then two Border Patrol agents enter.

Male Officer 1

Hey, what's going on, hoss?

Jonathan Perez

Hm?

Male Officer 1

How you doing?

Jonathan Perez

I'm doing good.

Male Officer 1

Can we help you with something?

Jonathan Perez

What are you all doing here?

Male Officer 1

What are we doing here?

Jonathan Perez

Mmhm.

Male Officer 1

Doing a job. Why?

Jonathan Perez

What's your job?

Male Officer 1

To enforce immigration laws.

Male Officer 2

Can we help you--

Jonathan Perez

So you all are deporting people?

Male Officer 1

We don't deport people. Judges do that. What's it's to you?

Jonathan Perez

I'm undocumented, too.

Male Officer 1

You're what?

Jonathan Perez

I'm illegal, too.

Male Officer 1

Oh, you're illegal?

Jonathan Perez

So you think I should get deported?

Male Officer 1

I don't know. Why don't you show us some ID? See what you've got for ID.

Ira Glass

Soon, the camera clicks off, and the guy gets arrested. OK, why in the world would a young illegal immigrant do this, right, walk into a Border Patrol station, get himself arrested?

Well, that is what our program is about today, about people doing the one thing that they are not supposed to do. What makes that happen? We have three stories in today's show. One of the stories is this one. One is about a teenager who listens to her parents, gets good grades, follows all the rules, until she disobeys the one ironclad rule she was never supposed to disobey. And one story involves a moose that engages in some very un-moose-like behavior, I think you'll agree.

From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life, distributed by Public Radio International. I'm Ira Glass, and let's just get to it. Let's get to the first act.

Act One. Breaking the Ice.

Reporter 1

And Bob, do we have any idea how old some of the protesters are?

Reporter 2

There they go. All right.

Ira Glass

OK, these activists are young. They're in their early 20s, and they are undocumented. You've seen them in the news over the years, probably.

And a lot of them have this very sympathetic story. They were brought here when they were little. They grew up here in the United States. Some of them only found out they were illegal when they got old enough to apply to college and found out they could not go to college in this country.

These are the kids that the Dream Act was designed to put on a path to citizenship. And fighting to get the Dream Act passed is what got many of them into politics. And they have not been shy about using confrontational tactics to get their point across. They block traffic. They get arrested. They lobby Congress wearing graduation gowns. And by 2009, they had stumbled onto this new tactic.

Walter Lara

Hello, I'm Walter Lara. As you know, I'm being deported this 4th of July weekend.

Ira Glass

When kids like Walter Lara right here, who would have been helped by the Dream Act, got pulled into deportation hearings, they made internet videos, they went to the press, they organized petition drives, they got senators to write letters on their behalf. And amazingly, this worked. Walter was allowed to stay. And you can just imagine how this caught on. One of the groups helping immigrants do this was the National Immigration Youth Alliance, NIYA. Mohammad Abdollahi-- everybody calls him Mo-- is one of its leaders.

Mohammad Abdollahi

From there, every time we would do a case, another person would-- it would literally work like dominoes. We would do one case, and then we had somebody else contact us. And then we'd do that case, and then we'd have somebody else contact us. So it was just a complete domino effect, every month pretty much doing a different case of somebody that would contact us from the previous one.

Ira Glass

OK, so it's going great for two years. And then the activists thought, OK, let's scale this up, not just do one person at a time. Let's go for a big group all at once. And just think about it. If you want to help a big group of people who are about to get deported, where could you find them? Well, the obvious place, an immigration detention center.

Mo thought all they needed to do is get inside a detention center that was full of people who are about to get deported. And he thought, that should be no problem, right? Because he and his activist friends were also illegal immigrants. They could get themselves detained. And you might think that his friends would say, no way. That's nuts.

Mohammad Abdollahi

No, when I called people, everyone was super down. Yeah, I just quit my job. Why not? It was pretty much a response of, like, how long? And let's do it. Why not?

Ira Glass

Hence, the video from Alabama of Jonathan Perez getting himself arrested. That was their first attempt at a radical, in your face, bank heist version of this. And by the time the activists tried that, they also had a new weapon at their side.

There was a set of government documents that unless you are involved in this issue, you've probably never heard of. These documents are known as the Morton Memos, named after John Morton, President Obama's current head of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, ICE. He's actually leaving the job next month.

And the memos say, basically, that since the United States does not have the money and resources to deport all 11 million illegal immigrants that are in this country, we have to prioritize. So it says, let's focus on the people that we most want to get rid of. And those are, of course, criminals.

And as for all the other people who are undocumented but don't break other laws-- let's say you have a job, you go to church, you raise your kids, you work hard, you pay your taxes. You are low priority. We're not coming after you, the administration is saying. Here's the president at a town meeting on Univision.

President Obama

And so our deportation of criminals are up about 70%. Our deportation of non-criminals are down. And that's because we want to focus our resources on those folks who are destructive to the community. And for a young person like that young woman that we just spoke to who's going to school, doing all the right things, we want them to succeed.

Ira Glass

But there's a catch to all this, the way that the Morton Memos work. And that is, these memos are just guidelines. They're just recommendations to the ICE field offices. They are not legally binding.

If an ICE office stumbles on a low priority immigrant and feels like it has the resources to detain or deport that immigrant, it can do that. And so lots of people are getting detained who the Morton Memos say should not be. And just in case you don't know this, overall, President Obama has been deporting people at a quicker rate than any previous president.

OK, which brings us back to our activists. Remember, they wanted to get into a detention center. They wanted to help release the kinds of people who would be covered under the Morton Memos, these low priority detainees. And that video that you heard of Jonathan Perez getting himself arrested was the very first time they tried to get themselves locked up. It was a test of whether they could get themselves put into a detention center, gather evidence, and then later get themselves released. And this worked.

So a half year after that, July 2012, the activists decided to try again and take things further. This time, they were really going to try to get lots of people set free. Reporter Michael May picks up the story from this point and explains what happened next.

Michael May

Their next target was a detention center in Florida called the Broward Transitional Center. Broward only holds non-violent illegal immigrants, the very people the Morton Memos were designed to steer away from deportation proceedings. Since Broward is segregated by gender, the plan was for a man and a woman to go in.

The man was Marco Saavedra. He's 23. His parents farmed a tiny patch of land in Mexico and brought him to the US when he was a toddler. Through some lucky breaks, Marco went to a fancy boarding school and then to a private college that accepted illegal immigrants.

He wears wire-rimmed glasses. He's earnest and thoughtful, uses words like hegemony in regular conversation. And here he was trying to get locked up.

Marco Saavedra

I got really nervous. And I was-- I guess it's not the worst thing to get arrested.

Michael May

So on a bright, sunny Florida morning last July, Marco dresses up like a day laborer and drives with some other activists to a commercial port with freighters and cruise ships and a lot of security. They had heard of people being detained there before.

Marco Saavedra

I mean, there's, like, two booths. And there's always a guard that needs to check everyone that goes in and out.

Michael May

The other activists drop him off and drive to a nearby CVS drugstore and park. Marco walks up to the security booth.

Marco Saavedra

I'm saying like,

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

A job, a job. I just keep on saying that.

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

I have no money, or something like that. And he just said, go home. I can't do anything for you. And I'm not going to call the police.

So I'm like-- I walk, like, 100 feet away and then I call the folks that are in the CVS parking lot saying, I was shut down. What do I do? And they just said, go back. So three minutes later, I'm right back at the guard in a Kafka-esque situation, like, kind of begging them to take me in. Like, I need a job. I have no money. I'm hungry.

Michael May

But no matter what Marco said, the guard just wasn't in the mood to call the cops on him. Again, Marco walks away. Again, he calls his friends. Again they tell him to keep trying. So he goes back. Gets sent away again. At this point, he's just baffled by how hard this is.

Finally, after three or four rounds of this, Marco just refuses to go away. And then he gets what he wants. The guard calls over a police officer.

Marco Saavedra

He was, like, a big-- I mean, he's a big white guy. He's, like, in his 40s. But he's, like, friendly, right? So he's like, how are you? Like [SPANISH]. He tries to speak his minimal Spanish greeting.

And then again, I gave the cop the same spiel of like, I'm looking for a job. Let me in. The guard hasn't let me in. I really need a job because I'm hungry. I don't have any money. I show him my wallet. I show him that I just have a Mexican ID card and, like, $2.

Michael May

Marco was like, now we're cooking. But the cop also refuses to take the bait. Even though Marco is really pulling out all the stops, talking about how he crossed the desert with a bunch of people. He even says it flat out.

Marco Saavedra

And I do. I do say, like, I don't have papers.

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

And he continuously says, don't tell me you're illegal. Don't tell me you're illegal. He's, like, begging me not to tell him that I'm illegal. At one point the cop-- I mean, I think he almost wants to throw up his hands and say, just go home. We'll pretend this never happened.

So he opens up his wallet. And it looks like just singles. And so to shoo me away, he offers me $5 to get on the bus. And I just refuse just because it's so weird.

Michael May

All these young activists, they'd heard stories of people being detained for hardly any reason. The guy who dropped his kid off at school and a cop sees him and detains him. Or the one pulled over for making a wide right turn. But Marco can't seem to get detained no matter what he does.

Marco Saavedra

That is really strange. And it's so arbitrary.

Michael May

Eventually, he gives up. They leave the port and go somewhere that seems like it has to be a sure bet, the immigration office at the Fort Lauderdale airport.

Marco Saavedra

We knock on the door, and the agent just shuts the door on my face. And he's just like, go away. Don't bother me.

Michael May

The next morning, they decide to keep it simple. They drop Marco off right in front of a Border Patrol station.

Marco Saavedra

I just go to the front door and just ring the bell. Someone responds, and I say,

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

I'm looking for my cousin. And the lady is just like, one moment, sir. An agent will come out to see you. And so this big agent-- he's pretty tall, maybe six foot two, glasses. His hair is thinning because he's probably in his 40s.

He comes out with a pad, and he's wearing his Border Patrol uniform, which is just all green khakis. And I just say, like, I'm looking for my cousin. We think that he was stopped near Broadway Avenue. He doesn't have papers, so we went to the police, but we were thinking that maybe Border Patrol stopped him. And then I said something like, because we all came here together.

(ON RECORDING) We all came together.

Michael May

Marco used his cell phone to record the conversation. It's fuzzy and hard to hear, but Marco goes around and around with the guy for a while. Finally, the agent asks him directly, so you're illegal too? Marco says, yes. The officer says, you know I have to arrest you.

Male Officer

You know I have to arrest you.

Marco Saavedra

Oh.

Male Officer

Yeah. Put your hands behind your back. You presented yourself to a-- I'm a law officer. I have to arrest you.

Michael May

You can hear how surprised the agent is, like someone who's fishing and has a fish jump into their boat.

Marco Saavedra

I'm still holding the phone in my hand, so you can hear the handcuffs clicking as I turn the phone off.

[HANDCUFFS CLICKING]

Michael May

What kind of risk was Marco taking getting locked up? Well, by this point, President Obama had announced a sort of watered down version of the Dream Act, and Marco met its requirements. On the other hand, he had a criminal record from protests he'd been at-- disorderly conduct.

And as he was being processed by an agent who thought Marco didn't speak any English, the agent took a look at his criminal record and said, this guy will be a bag and ready case. They filed paperwork to begin deportation proceedings. And those are still going ahead today.

The young woman who was going to get herself detained is an honors student over-achiever type named Viridiana Martinez. She goes by Viri. She had to try twice before a cop reluctantly detained her and sent her to Broward.

Viridiana Martinez

My brother was like, whoa, dude, you're in the pen? Shut up. When are you getting out?

Michael May

She called her family and tried to explain why she took the risk. Everybody reacted differently.

Viridiana Martinez

I told my mom. I told her on the phone. And she was like why are you doing that? And I was like, Mom, because it could be you.

And it's not right that people go through this, you know? And you say that you have faith, and you go to church and you believe in God. Well, then, Mom, it's time to put that faith to practice. I'm going to be fine.

And my dad, ever since-- this was like, I had already been arrested before. And my dad always says, like, are you ready to go back to Mexico? Well, if you're ready to go to Mexico, then go ahead. I'm like, OK, Dad. Thanks.

Michael May

The night that Marco got arrested, a man inside Broward, a detainee named Claudio Rojas, got a phone call.

Claudio Rojas

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

My son had called me that night.

Claudio Rojas

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

He told me he had a surprise for me.

Claudio Rojas

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

And that I would find out.

Michael May

At this point, Claudio had been in Broward for several months. And his lawyer had been arguing that he was a Morton Memo case. He was a hardworking family man with nice kids who paid his taxes and was devoutly Christian. He'd been in the US for almost 12 years. His lawyer argued he should not be locked up, much less deported.

Claudo is a people person, kind of a natural organizer. And talking to other prisoners, he realized there were lots of people like him who would be covered by the Morton Memos. So completely on his own, he started collecting names and passing them to his son on the outside. And his son contacted the activists at NIYA. That's one of the reasons NIYA decided to send Marco and Viri into Broward. But Claudio was in the dark about all that except for the phone call telling him a surprise was on the way. The next morning--

Claudio Rojas

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

I was in my room.

Claudio Rojas

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

And Marco opens the door.

Claudio Rojas

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

And he asks for Claudio Rojas.

Claudio Rojas

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

He tells me, I know your son.

Claudio Rojas

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

And then he explains how they met, and that's when I realized this was the surprise my son was talking about.

Claudio Rojas

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

I say, what are you doing here, Marco?

Claudio Rojas

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

He says, I came to help you.

Claudio Rojas

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

You came to help me. Yeah.

Claudio Rojas

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

Well, let's get to work. And that's when we began to work. We didn't waste a second.

Michael May

Just like that, the plan was under way. Claudio began introducing Marco to people, showing him around the detention center.

Broward is a strange place. It's in the suburbs of Fort Lauderdale, across the street from a Domino's Pizza. Except for the walls around the perimeter, it could be mistaken for a low budget retirement home. It's painted pastel pink. There's a courtyard with palm trees and a volleyball court. But everyone wears orange jumpsuits. Marco says it's low security, but it still feels like a jail.

Marco Saavedra

It's like a nightmarish boarding school would look like. I mean, it feels like if you were confined to a really, really cheap motel room that you couldn't get out of, that's basically what it feels like.

Michael May

Though the doors aren't locked, there are hours during the day when the detainees are not allowed to leave their rooms. Marco says, kind of the only thing to do is watch TV. As Claudio showed Marco how everything worked, he also told him about what he'd been finding-- that there were all these Morton Memo types at Broward who should be able to get out. And Claudio said that deportation officers openly admitted that those memos, those mean nothing.

Claudio Rojas

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

I've heard immigration agents tell people who were fighting for their rights, tell them, President Obama isn't going to tell me how to do my job.

Claudio Rojas

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

Because their job is to deport people. The president in his presidency and me here.

Claudio Rojas

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

That's how things were done.

Michael May

He heard people say that?

Interpreter

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Claudio Rojas

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

Of course.

Claudio Rojas

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

It was every day.

Michael May

Marco and Claudio began to move systematically through Broward. They went door to door, interviewing the some 600 guys inside, one room at a time. They interviewed detainees in the courtyard, in the cafeteria, in the game room. Always, their plan was to figure out who qualified to get out under the Morton Memos. They wanted the most sympathetic cases they could find. It was a big job.

Claudio Rojas

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

We began speaking individually with the detained, asking them what their situation was.

Claudio Rojas

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

If they had wives, kids, how long they'd been in the country.

Claudio Rojas

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

If they had criminal records.

Claudio Rojas

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

Something that could help them.

Claudio Rojas

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

And all of that, we turned over to the people outside, the people with Mohammad.

Mohammad Abdollahi

So the role of the outside team was, essentially, we fielded calls all day.

Michael May

This is Mo, Mohammad Abdollahi, the guy who came up with the idea to infiltrate Broward. While Marco and Viri were inside, Mo and the others had set up at a house not far away where they were pulling together all the information coming out of Broward.

Mohammad Abdollahi

We'd get our first call every morning like clockwork. I'd be sleeping-- 7:00 AM-- because Claudio was a gardener, so he's used to waking up really early in the morning. So every morning, 7:00 AM, Marco would call me. And every morning, he'd give me a list of 20 names-- at least 20 names, if not more, of people to contact.

Michael May

The first thing they'd do with these names is to make an attempt to vet the person's story, call friends and family to make sure they were telling the truth. If they thought the person really did have grounds to be let out, they'd launch a public campaign to get them released.

They'd put up an online petition that told their story. They'd help families hold press conferences and vigils, help them get media attention. They'd reach out to the detainee's church and get them involved.

They'd urge people to call politicians and give them sample scripts asking congressmen and senators to intervene with immigration authorities. Day after day, Marco and Viri and Claudio were now roaming the halls of Broward, slipping people tiny pieces of paper with the phone number of the activists in the house outside. Here's Mo.

Mohammad Abdollahi

Initially, when we got to Florida, everybody would call my phone, because that was the number that Marco and Viridiana had memorized. After the third day or so, it got to the point where literally every 30 seconds, we were getting a phone call from a family member from the facility or somebody in the detention center calling us. And that's when we realized, we can't do this with just one phone.

Michael May

So the group set up a hotline and enlisted activists in several other states to help field calls from detainees in Broward.

Lindora

This is Lindora. I talked to you about Hugo. He's in the Broward County Detention Center.

Michael May

These are recordings from that line. It's hundreds of calls and messages.

Maria

[SPEAKING SPANISH].

Angel

[SPEAKING SPANISH].

Michael May

Most of the calls are in Spanish. You can often hear children crying or playing. A few tell whole stories.

Elefsina

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Michael May

This woman named Elefsina, she got the number from her husband who had been in Broward for months. She says, please, truly, from my heart, I need you to help me. I have three children. One who's 16 is disabled.

He says he's worthless, that he's a nobody, the he won't be able to help me. He made it clear that he wants to kill himself because he doesn't have his father. At this point, she starts to cry.

Elefsina

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Michael May

And then she finishes, please, please, I need you to help me. I need you to help me get my husband out. He is a good father, a hard worker. Please help me.

It may seem strange that a bunch of 20-somethings with no legal experience could become the best option for so many detainees so quickly. But most detainees at Broward have no lawyers. Immigration violations don't qualify you for a free public defender.

I talked to a lawyer who does pro bono work inside. She told me most of the detainees are confused, can't afford a private lawyer, don't know their rights. Sometimes she has to explain to them what the place is and why they're there.

This lawyer, her name is Jessica Shulruff. She works for a group called Americans for Immigrant Justice. She said that most of the people she encounters in Broward shouldn't be there. But last year, when she provided ICE with a list of all the people who would qualify under the Morton Memos--

Jessica Shulruff

To say, these are individuals that we feel would benefit under the Memos that you should take a look at to go ahead and release quickly. And in conversations with ICE officials, they came back to us and said, no, we need you to provide individual documentation for each of these individuals. In all honesty, the purpose of the memo was for ICE to be reviewing these cases on their own. And so that's, I think, what's been problematic.

Michael May

The reality is that the implementation of the Morton Memos has been tangled and messy. Lawyers like Shulruff say that ICE should be investigating the detainees, that most detainees, while they're locked up, have no way to gather the documents and witnesses they'd need. Most, as I've said, have no lawyers. ICE, meanwhile, says it's not their job to investigate. It's their job to review all the evidence that detainees show them.

Then there's the question of whether ICE should be detaining any low priority cases at all. Immigration lawyers like Shulruff argue that if someone squarely falls within the guidelines of the Memos, the answer is no.

When I talked to the head of ICE in Florida, the guy who's in charge of Broward, he saw it differently. His name is Marc Moore. He says the Memos clearly allow him to detain low priority immigrants. Let's say his agents run across two illegal immigrants. One is high priority, and one is a typical low priority case, stopped on a traffic violation.

Marc Moore

So if it's a choice between somebody who has an aggravated felony for manslaughter or a choice between somebody with no driver's license, both are illegally present in the United States and subject to removal. Director Morton is clear that he wants us to focus on the one that presents the greatest threat to public safety, and we would go after the individual with the aggravated felony crime.

Now, does that mean we're going to turn a blind eye to everyone else? Not necessarily. Where there's an ability to do both, then sometimes yes, we're able to do both.

Michael May

Moore is saying that if he's got the manpower and resources to deport them both, that's what he'll do. The low priority detainee will be deported. And he's right. The Morton Memos leave him that discretion.

So though a memo from December 12th states that only real criminals, not people with traffic offenses, should be detained, one page later, it says, and I quote, "Nothing in this guidance should be construed to limit ICE's power to apprehend, charge, detain, administratively prosecute, or remove any alien unlawfully in the United States." In other words, Moore can throw out anyone he wants.

So Broward was full of hundreds of people needing to make their case to ICE. After about a week, the activists had taken on dozens of detainees, were holding press conferences, counseling families. Mo says at the peak, they were working from 7:00 AM until 11:00 PM, sometimes later.

During the infiltration, Mo and the other activists scrambled to keep up with this huge demand Claudio and Marco and Viri were finding inside.

Mohammad Abdollahi

So tell him to try and refuse to board, like do that same strategy as Andy that he did, which was he told the pilot that he was afraid that his life is in danger. He refused to board.

Michael May

There's a video of Mo on a typical day during the infiltration. You can see him pacing the halls of the house they're working out of. He's on the phone with Marco trying to feed advice to a detainee at Broward, a guy who's scheduled to be deported on an airplane that afternoon.

Mohammad Abdollahi

Tell him to refuse to put on his seat belt and those sorts of things. I mean, ICE can drug him right there on the spot if they want to. So just try and see if he can stall it and say his life is in danger. I don't know how else people stall that [BLEEP]. But can you please, please, please try and find out what time his flight is?

Michael May

Then after Marco had been in Broward for just over three weeks, the group decided it was time to make their next move.

Reporter

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Michael May

What they did next was make the infiltration public. Marco and Viri both did interviews over detention center phones with TV stations outside.

Viridiana Martinez

So Marco spoke with Univision, and I spoke with Telemundo. It was, like, a Thursday evening. This is Broward with all these Hispanic detainees. So that's on, like, every TV.

So Marco and I are on there, and everybody's like, [SPANISH]. They're like, the infiltrator. She's here. And people were coming into the room.

Michael May

You probably can already imagine what happened next. They got kicked out.

Viridiana Martinez

That happened on Thursday evening. Friday morning, ICE calls us to an office and, like, Simone Lee-Fatt is her name. And she said, I'm here because you all meet the requirements for release. And I was like, OK, why aren't you bringing everybody else that meets the requirements for release as well?

I'm not in the business of telling you about anybody else's case. So please, like, you meet the requirements for release. All of a sudden, right? Like, what a coincidence that after this interview and people make a big deal, we meet the requirements for release. It took two weeks. Wow.

Michael May

In a sense, this was true. The activists say that some days, the main requirement to get released seemed to be that you get media attention. Now Marco and Viri had done just that. About an hour later, they were being released.

To give you a sense of what the whole thing meant to those held at Broward, it's worth mentioning what happened. After Marco and Viri were kicked out, detainees demanded to know what happened to them. Right away, people gathered in the courtyard in the middle of the detention center and refused to move, yelling and chanting. Only when Claudio was assured that they had been set free did everyone agree to go back to their rooms.

That weekend, the detainees held a hunger strike to protest their incarceration. Claudio Rojas was still inside for a month after Marco and Viri were released. He says the change was remarkable. He says he saw new ICE staff brought in to review people's cases, and people started getting out.

Claudio Rojas

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

When you leave the lunchroom and go into the store where they sell goods, that's where they've put up the court forms. It's like a form for the court.

Claudio Rojas

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

Of the people who had court that day.

Claudio Rojas

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

Before, the 25 people who may have had court that day, maybe one or two would qualify for bond.

Claudio Rojas

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

Everybody else would be deported. After Mohammad's people started working, and the system opened, we saw the change, when that closed system opened up.

Claudio Rojas

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

When the system opened up, those pieces of paper and now said next to each name, relief, relief, relief, bond, bond, bond.

Michael May

That's what Claudio says he saw. But the total effects of the infiltration, well, they're actually kind of hard to pin down. The activists say they took on around 150 cases and got somewhere between 40 and 60 people out of Broward. ICE denies that the activists got anyone out. They say those people would have been released anyway.

Claudio was released about a month after Marco and Viri. He'd spent a total of seven months in detention. One day, an ICE agent just took him to an office, told him he'd met the qualifications for release.

Michael May

Did they tell you why they let you out?

Interpreter

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Claudio Rojas

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

No.

Michael May

In the months after the infiltration, 26 members of Congress signed a letter to ICE head John Morton. It was put together by Congressman Ted Deutsch, whose district includes Broward. And it asked for a case-by-case review of every single person in the facility.

When I talked to Congressman Deutsch more than half a year after ICE received his group's letter, he said ICE had refused to do what the letter asked for. He says low priority people are still being locked up across the country, which he thinks is a problem.

The immigration reform bill that's now in the Senate tries to address this head on. It orders ICE not to detain any low priority immigrants unless there's a specific reason, like they're a flight risk.

Viridiana Martinez

But what are you noticing, Cynthia, in your surroundings? Like all of this is happening--

Cynthia

Like how many people are there and who's talking to who.

Mohammad Abdollahi

And while you're doing that, they're going to cuff your hands like this instead of cuffing you like this.

Michael May

In April, Mo and Viri and three other organizers were in a condo in the outskirts of Raleigh, North Carolina. Mo and several of the organizers had just finished driving in from Texas to be there. The point of this meeting was to train two young activists to be the new infiltrators to sneak into another detention center in Michigan.

The meeting was surreal. The condo belonged to the family of one of the women planning to go in, though her parents had no idea she was planning to do this. They weren't home. Her brother played video games with a friend while just outside the door, the activists sat around the kitchen table, discussing what the women should expect when ICE brings them into custody.

Viridiana Martinez

They're going to ask you about your family, at which point you can choose to answer or not, right? About your family?

Mohammad Abdollahi

Yeah, you can choose to answer or not, but I mean, obviously, don't say anything. And so that's the part I was talking to you about yesterday. Did you answer--

Michael May

Maybe the most striking thing about seeing all this, though is how different it was from the early videos of the activists preparing for Broward. Those videos exist. I've seen them. And in those, it's clear that nobody has too much of an idea about what they're doing. It feels like 20-year-olds imagining something they've been taught never to do but otherwise know very little about, with cartoonish ideas about how the cops will treat them.

This night in Raleigh, Viri and Mo tell anecdotes about Florida, strategies for gaining people's trust, how not to attract attention. The two women ask questions, and Mo and Viri explain what to expect in detention. Their advice is matter of fact and practical.

They found a strategy that works, that frees people. And this summer, they're rolling it out in seven detention centers across the country. Michigan's just one of them. They're not waiting for lawmakers to fix the problem from Washington. When all this started, infiltration felt outlandish and risky. Now, it just seems pragmatic.

Ira Glass

Michael May. He also wrote a version of this story for American Prospect Magazine. Thanks to filmmaker Alex Rivera, who's working on a movie about this and provided audio of the activists when they got detained.

Coming up, disobeying a rule that is so important in your family that you wait half your lifetime before admitting it to your parents. That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International when our program continues.

Act Two. The Gun Thing You’re Not Supposed to Do.

Jan Gentry

Well, we were all sitting around at Buffalo Wild Wings, Matt, our son who'd just gotten out of the Marines, his wife, and Ron and I. And we were just enjoying our company.

Ira Glass

Ron, by the way, is Christine's dad. Anyway, here's Christine.

Christine Gentry

And because it was a sports bar, there were these screens everywhere. And because Sandy Hook had just happened, almost every screen in the place had some kind of news program running about it.

Jan Gentry

That's how the subject came up.

Matt Gentry

I remember us sitting at the bar, and we were arguing about Sandy Hook.

Ira Glass

That's Christine's brother, Matt.

Christine Gentry

I think the beers hadn't even arrived. They start talking. I was like, oh boy, here we go. Like, I know that this is going to be used-- now they are going to come for our guns. Like, that's what's going to happen.

Matt Gentry

I mean, we definitely feel that that sparked a movement for the government to come after the guns and not necessarily come into our homes and take them, but they were already starting to pass gun bills and gun right laws.

Christine Gentry

And my dad and my brother are both wearing these brand new NRA hats that they had gone out to buy right after Sandy Hook.

Ira Glass

Sandy Hook happened, and they thought, we have to stand up for what we believe in. They got new NRA hats?

Christine Gentry

Yes.

Ira Glass

Wow.

Ron Gentry

I don't believe that that's the case. I believe we had already joined the NRA, then seven weeks later, they sent us the caps.

Jan Gentry

They came in the mail.

Ira Glass

Christine's dad and mom say, no, she is mistaken about the hats.

Ron Gentry

No, no, no.

Jan Gentry

Oh, that's funny. No, actually, they just came in the mail.

Ron Gentry

They just came in the mail. They had nothing to do with that.

Ira Glass

So Christine's the one blue stater in the family, and she says that she generally tries to keep her beliefs to herself during these kinds of conversations. But then the discussion took a turn.

Christine Gentry

My dad started blaming Adam Lanza's mother.

Ira Glass

The shooter's mother.

Christine Gentry

Yes.

Ron Gentry

And I said, well, I think that the mother is as much at fault as the boy that shot the kids. And she kind of looked surprised when I said that. And Matthew said, yeah, you know, we were taught from an early age not to handle guns and not to do things like that.

Ira Glass

And this finally brings us to the biggest rule of their house when they were growing up. Ron collected antique guns. He hunted. He taught the kids to shoot and hunt from an early age. And so there were always lots of guns around the house, maybe 25, 30 guns.

Christine Gentry

One of my earliest memories is actually my dad taking a pistol apart and cleaning it and putting it back together. And he called me over to watch him do it. He said, listen, I want to tell you something about guns. I don't want you to be afraid of them, but I want you to respect them. And if you ever have any questions, if you ever want to touch one, if you ever want to shoot one, just ask me. But you are never to touch a gun when I'm not at home, when I'm not here.

Ira Glass

OK, so that was the rule.

Ron Gentry

Oh, absolutely. They could never touch a gun unless I was there. And they could never touch a gun unless I physically got it first and made sure that the gun was clear.

Matt Gentry

You know, that's what he preached when we were kids to everybody. Like, all you've got to do is teach your kids how to use them and what to do with them, and everything will be OK. He preaches that to everybody that ever has any questions about firearms and their children.

Ira Glass

So Christine says that she was finding this whole conversation at the bar pretty upsetting. She was a high school teacher for five years. She still teaches classes in the public schools. And she had a very different reaction to Sandy Hook than her dad's and her brother's reactions.

And she remembers saying to her dad, OK, so you think that you did everything right as a parent teaching us about guns. And he said, yeah, I taught you right. And Matt chimed in agreeing with her dad.

Jan Gentry

What Matt said was, it was so good that Dad taught us all that and that he taught us never to touch the guns, and we never did. And at that point, Christine got very emotional and actually kind of tearfully broke down and said, that's not true.

Ron Gentry

And then that's when she went into her story about what had happened.

Ira Glass

Here's the story. Back in her junior year of high school, Christine was in this play where her character in the play committed suicide. One day, her parents were out at one of Matt's soccer games, and Christine was home babysitting with her little brother, Derek, who was around eight at the time. And Christine was in her room rehearsing this scene where she's supposed to shoot herself.

Christine Gentry

When I had this thought. I was like, man, this would be so much more intense if I was rehearsing with a real gun. And I know where to get one. I walked into my parents room, I shut the door, I sat on their bed, and I opened my mom's underwear drawer where I knew my dad kept the gun-- that I'd shot multiple times.

Ron Gentry

And the pistol that we keep in our bedroom was a semi-automatic with a clip.

Christine Gentry

I took the clip out, and I started rehearsing.

Ira Glass

OK, so you took the clip out.

Christine Gentry

Forgetting, of course, about the bullet in the chamber.

Ira Glass

Because there's still one bullet in the chamber if you take the clip out.

Christine Gentry

Exactly.

Ira Glass

She pointed the gun at her head, was about to pull the trigger, and then this thought popped into the back of her mind.

Ron Gentry

She thought for a second, I'd better check it just to make sure that it's not loaded. And she pointed it at the floor and squeezed the trigger, and it went off.

Christine Gentry

It was an absolutely terrifying moment, probably my biggest secret. I never told anybody. And I didn't shoot a gun after. I didn't want to touch one again, and I haven't.

Ira Glass

Her little brother, hearing the blast, ran into the bedroom, and she told him that it was just a car backfiring outside. He left, and she poked around the floor until she found the bullet hole.

Christine Gentry

We didn't have a finished basement. It was just mud beneath our house. And it had gone through into that mud. And my parents had this really old shag carpet that I was able to tease enough with my fingernails to cover up the hole.

Jan Gentry

And so she's telling us this story.

Matt Gentry

And I remember my dad being very upset. He actually-- I think he cried.

Jan Gentry

We all did.

Ron Gentry

Yeah. Yeah, we all did.

Ira Glass

And what were you feeling at that moment? When she first told you, Ron, what did you feel?

Ron Gentry

At first, disbelief. Christine couldn't have done that. Not Christie. No, she would have never done that.

But then I realized that, yes, it happened. And then what if it really would have killed her? She'd have been laying there when we came home. We'd have never known what happened.

My daughter was dead. She blew her brains out. Why did she do that? What did we do? What's going on? Whether she committed suicide, whether it was an accident, I mean, how would you know?

Ira Glass

That is the craziest thing that if the gun had gone off, you would have just thought, like, she killed herself? But why? And then, you know, I can imagine a family after that thinking, well, do you think she was rehearsing for her play? And then everybody would go, no, that's ridiculous.

Jan Gentry

No, because that wouldn't have been Christine. She's always very obedient. And I'm very thankful that she shared it with us.

Ira Glass

And so did she convince you?

Jan Gentry

Of what?

Ira Glass

That you can do everything right and still--

Ron Gentry

Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I taught them the right way to do it. At 17 years old, you think, it's sunk in. It's done. And you find out that you're wrong.

Ira Glass

Wait, so you're saying that if she had actually succeeded in shooting herself, you would have blamed yourself.

Ron Gentry

Absolutely. How could you not? How could you not? It's a second from going either direction. One second. It could have been either way. One second's all it was.

Ira Glass

What do you think would have happened if she would have told you when she was 16 that she had done this?

Ron Gentry

Well, personally, I think a lot of things would have changed. I would have probably-- at that particular time, I probably would have bought a safe, a small hand safe with-- you put your fingerprints on it, you can get it open, to where somebody couldn't have got a hold of it.

Ira Glass

Gotten a hold of the gun, you mean.

Ron Gentry

Correct. And I would think that maybe I would have been a little bit more thoughtful about what I told other people.

Ira Glass

He means the advice that he was always giving people about kids and guns. A couple months after this Christmas conversation, Jan and Ron took all the handguns out of their house, they were so upset about it. Now those guns are back, but when friends' children come over to the house, the guns are locked away.

Ron's not getting rid of his guns. His views of gun ownership and gun rights have not changed. He still thinks the media does not give enough coverage to the millions of gun owners who safely own their weapons and have great experiences hunting and shooting with their kids and do not do crazy stuff with their guns. He's probably right about that. The only thing that's changed is that he thinks he should have locked up his weapons when he wasn't at home.

Christine still feels a little embarrassed that she dropped this story that was so upsetting for her parents onto them to win an argument about Sandy Hook. And as for her brother Matt, well, his reaction that night was very different from his parents'.

Matt Gentry

I just kept calling her how stupid she was and, like, she must have been adopted. And my sister asked me if it changed anything the way I would do, or when I have kids, would I do exactly what Dad did, or would I change it? And I told her, no. I wouldn't change anything.

Ira Glass

So your plan is when you have kids, they're not going to be idiots like your sister.

Matt Gentry

Right.

Ira Glass

You know I'm making a joke here, right?

Matt Gentry

Yeah. Well if they are, I'll lock them in the closet, give them a food bowl or something.

[MUSIC - "DON'T DO IT" BY RUSTY YORK AND WILLARD HALE]

Act Three. Out of the Woods.

Ben Loory

A moose is standing in the forest when he suddenly hears a noise. He looks up and sees a plane flying overhead. As he watches, a man jumps out. A parachute bursts open, and the man floats safely down.

The moose goes over and looks at him. "Hello," says the man, gathering in his parachute. "Hello," says the moose. "What are you doing?" "Oh, nothing," says the man, "nothing much. I just jump out of planes every now and then."

The moose looks up at the sky. "Is it fun?" he says. "Oh, yes," says the man. "Have you never done it?" "Me?" says the moose. "Oh, no." "Well, come along with me," says the man. "We'll go back to town and get you all suited up, and then off we'll go. What do you say?"

"I don't know," says the moose. "Isn't it dangerous?" "Dangerous?" says the man. "No, not at all. Well, a little, but hey, isn't everything?" "I guess," says the moose, "when you put it that way."

And after a while, he starts to nod. "All right," he says, "OK." "Great," says the man. "You're going to love it." And he claps the moose on the back, and the two of them start off.

When they get to the edge of the city, the moose suddenly stops. "What about the people?" he says. "What about them?" says the man. "Well," says the moose, "I'm not saying that I'm afraid of them, understand. But they're always out in the woods looking at me. It makes me nervous. I don't know what they want."

"Hm," says the man. "I doubt they want anything. But OK, here's what we'll do." He takes an extra t-shirt and hat out of his bag. "Put these on. Nobody will recognize you," he says. The moose looks at the offered disguise for a moment. "All right," he says, and puts it on.

The man and the moose wander into town. The moose is very, very nervous. "Hey, Tom," someone says, and a group of people come over. "How'd your jump go today, and who's that?"

The man turns and looks at the moose. "This is my friend, Lawrence," he says. "He just came in from the coast." "Quite a grip you've got there, Lawrence," says one of the men. "Are you bringing Lawrence to the party?" says another.

"Shoot," says the man, looking at the moose. "I completely forgot about that. You mind coming along to this thing tonight? It's sort of a shindig for my most recent jump." "Sure," says the moose, feeling self-conscious, "Sure. That'll be fine."

That night the man and the moose go to the party. It is at the Explorers Club. There are a number of long tables arranged in a square. The man and the moose are in the place of honor.

The moose is having a wonderful time. The food is really very good. Different people make different speeches, and the moose finds the waitress quite fascinating.

But then, suddenly, something draws his attention-- heads, animal heads. They're lining the walls all around the top-- lion, zebra, deer, elk, and moose. Fear grips the moose's heart. "Killers," he thinks, looking around the room.

"What is it?" says the man, sensing trouble. The moose turns and looks at him in horror. "You're trying to kill me," he says, his voice a whisper. "You brought me here to kill me." "What?" says the man. "Why would I do that? I don't understand."

But the moose is too scared to explain. He stumbles backward to his feet. He points a hoof at the abomination on the wall.

The man sees it, then his eyes go wide. "My god," he says, "I just didn't think." He reaches out to reassure the moose, but his hand grabs the t-shirt, and it rips and falls off. And then, to make matters worse, the moose's hat tumbles to the floor.

Everybody turns. "A moose," they cry. "Get him. Get him. Get the guns." The moose takes off. He galumphs out of the ballroom, knocking people over left and right. He barrels through the doors and off down the hall. The members of the Explorers Club are striking the glass on the gun cases. "Hurry," they are yelling, "It's a big one, the biggest."

The moose careens out into the street. He's weaving in and out of cars. There's honking and screaming. The moose has never been so terrified.

"Wait, wait," cries a voice. The moose looks back. It's the man running after him. "I'm sorry," yells the man. "I didn't think. I'm so stupid. I'll make it up to you. I'll get you out of this, I swear."

"Are you kidding?" yells the moose. "Why should I trust you?" Just then, gunfire erupts. It's the Explorers Club hot on their trail. Bullets whiz past, close, closer. "I can take you to the plane," says the man. "It's your only chance."

The moose thinks. Another bullet whizzes by. "All right," the moose yells. "Climb on." The man jumps on, and the two of them charge through the streets. "Turn left," yells the man, and the moose turns. Up ahead is the airfield, behind, the men with guns, getting closer with every passing second.

"There's the plane," the man hollers, and the two dive on board. The man guns it, and the plane taxis toward the runway. Behind them, the Explorers Club lines up in a row. "Fire," says the leader. "Fire more."

The plane is hit in 10,000 places, but still, it manages to lift off. Behind it trails a cloud of smoke and fire that is terrifying to behold. "We're not going to make it!" the man yells to the moose. "We're going to have to jump." He turns and looks for the parachutes, but there is only one.

"You take it," says the man, pushing it to the moose. But the moose just stares at it in silence. "No, you," says the moose. "I don't even know how to use it. Besides, I wouldn't have gotten this far without you."

The man thinks for a moment. "We go together," he finally says. "It might work. It might not. Who knows?"

He straps the parachute around them both and edges the moose toward the door. "On the count of three," the man says. And the moose jumps.

The man and the moose plummet through the air. "Is that the forest," the moose calls, "down there?" "Yes," says the man. "Isn't it pretty?" "It is," says the moose. "I can see why you like doing this."

At this point, the ground is coming up pretty fast. "All right," says the man, "moment of truth." The two grip the pull cord tightly together. "I hope we can be friends," says the moose.

Ira Glass

Ben Loory-- so good, right-- reading a story from his collection of short fiction. It's called Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day.

[MUSIC - "WOKE UP THIS MORNING (THEME FROM THE SOPRANOS)" BY ALABAMA 3]

Credits.

Ira Glass

Our program is produced today by Robyn Semien and myself with Alex Blumberg, Ben Calhoun, Sarah Koenig, Miki Meek, Jonathan Menjivar, Lisa Pollak, Brian Reed, Alissa Shipp, and Nancy Updike. Our senior producer is Julie Snyder. Production help from Thea [? Bennen ?]. Seth Lind is our operations director. Emily Condon is our production manager. Elise Bergerson is our administrative assistant. Research by Michelle Harris. Music help from Damien Graef and Rob Geddes.

[ACKNOWLEDGMENTS]

Our website, thisamericanlife.org. WBEZ management oversight for our program by our boss, Torey Malatia, who has been doing a lot of flamenco dancing-- that's right, flamenco dancing-- on the sly. He sneaks into these fancy parties. He dances a while, until somebody spots him and declares--

Viridiana Martinez

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

They're like, the infiltrator.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of this American life.

[MUSIC - "WOKE UP THIS MORNING (THEME FROM THE SOPRANOS)" BY ALABAMA 3]

Narrator

PRI, Public Radio International.