If you're a Portland Latino, don't walk into the federal building on NW Broadway to file your taxes without photo ID—unless you want to be deported.
That's the chilling message making the rounds of Portland's Latino community following the recent deportation of a woman and two members of her family—a process which began when she simply walked into the federal building to pick up tax forms and was detained on the spot by a security guard last March.
The woman, an illegal immigrant— whose advocates have asked that she not be identified to protect family still in the area—was merely following the advice of Latino community groups like the Latino Network and El Programa Hispano: requesting a tax identification document, available from inside the building, so she could file tax information.
Filing tax identification forms are separate from the US immigration process and allow people to pay taxes in this country without legal residency, making it easier to seek citizenship further down the line. But thanks to the over-zealous actions of a federal building security guard, whose role is to screen people coming into the austere circa-1918 building, many Latinos in Portland are now terrified to go near the place.
"We encourage our community members to file taxes to show they have a history of working and contributing to the US economy," says Maria Lisa Johnson, executive director of the Latino Network, a nonprofit supporting Latino youth. "But when there are barriers to doing that, like getting arrested, it's pretty frightening."
Disturbingly, Johnson thinks the woman was also coerced into giving information about the location of the two family members who were then also arrested, and subsequently deported.
Since the incident, Johnson has been advising people to file their taxes remotely by giving them to a representative of El Programa Hispano—part of Portland's Catholic Charities group—instead of going to the federal building in person.
The security guard may have been enforcing the letter of immigration law, but the way the situation escalated—from a woman trying to pick up paperwork, to a woman being deported—is symptomatic of a wider breakdown of trust and confidence between Portland's Latino community and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement services.
Sean Cruz, legislative aide to Oregon State Senator Avel Gordly, says Latinos are being singled out for sanctions like this and would like to see immigration law enforced more fairly.
"If you or I walk into the federal building without any ID," Cruz says. "Nobody is going to force us to remain there until we can produce some. We already know racial profiling is an issue here [in Portland], but if you get pulled over by the police and you're anything but Latino, you're not worried about the immigration people at all."
Siovhan Sheridan-Ayala is an immigration attorney working with Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Services. While she knows of the deportation case last March, and the family involved, she could neither confirm nor deny acting on their behalf, and would not discuss the specifics of the case with the Mercury. However, she would speak on the larger problem of immigration issues disproportionately impacting Latinos.
"The negative consequences for being in the US unlawfully fall more heavily on the Mexican population," Sheridan-Ayala says. "For example, those who are here for one year and leave, and then come back, face a permanent bar on immigration, even if they are married to a US citizen. A lot of people who fall in love and want to build their lives here are denied access."
Sheridan-Ayala adds that there is a common misconception that people just have to wait in line for their chance to immigrate, but the sad fact is that some people have to wait up to 20 years to do so, while others are permanently ineligible—she says such policies are not family friendly and laments the current situation.
Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, could not discuss the specific case without the Mercury naming the family involved. But she responds: "We deport over 100,000 people every year and encounter thousands of people coming into federal buildings. Nobody is deported without due process."
Kice adds, "When we go out seeking somebody, in most cases it is because we have had information, but there are also encounters, in some cases, where we come across people, and we are sworn to enforce our nation's immigration law. It sounds like the Latino community in Portland has found a way to address this."