By: Carla Castedo, Mi Familia Vota Colorado State Director
When I found out that Congressman Paul Ryan was coming to Colorado, I was excited to have the chance to see him and to ask that he please honor his word and move immigration reform forward. I went with my friend, Salvador, a DACA recipient, and one of the thousands of DACAmented youths who were targeted in the House bill that would defund DACA which was approved by House Republicans, including Congressman Ryan.
We arrived at Barnes and Noble and were directed by a friendly staff member to get in line to purchase Paul Ryan’s book and get a wristband to speak to him and get our book signed.
After the line was moving at a decent rate, we heard some commotion. It turns out United We Dream organizers were questioning Ryan’s lack of action on immigration reform. Congressman Ryan was escorted to a private room, with the United We Dream organizers closely following to ask him questions about immigration. Congressman Ryan did not respond or come out. When the Thornton police arrived, the group was asked to leave and was escorted out. People in the crowd started yelling, ”Deport her!” “You already get too many food stamps,” “If you want to see your dad, then go back to your country.”
After about 15 minutes of waiting in line, a Barnes and Noble staffer apologized for the inconvenience and asked us to be patient. With the DREAMers out of sight, Ryan came out and the crowd started clapping for him.
When it was our turn to meet the Congressman, there were two police officers on each side of him, two other police officers roaming the line, and a commander standing nearby. I certainly did not expect excessive use of force by police by their mere presence. We went up to the Congressman and he cheerfully greeted us and asked who he should sign the book for. Salvador started to tell him about how DACA has affected him, but the congressman didn’t want to hear it. “Please don’t do this,” he said. We told him we didn’t want to cause any trouble and he said, “Let’s just take a picture.” I posed for the photo, as I truly was not looking for any trouble, and Salvador continued to talk to him because he knew he would not get this opportunity at a later time.
As soon as the photo was taken, we were swarmed by police officers. We knew our time was out. One of the police officers came behind me and pushed me with his chest. Astonished, I turned around and asked the officer to please be respectful and not to push me. He continued to push me again with his chest as if he was some type of gorilla. I again turned around and asked him to not push me. Seeing that I was speaking out against the lack of respect, the police officer screeched, “All right, you want to get arrested? Let's go,” and he proceeded to hold both of my hands behind my back, while pushing my right arm closely to my ribs. I asked why I was getting arrested and I let him know that he was hurting me.
When Salvador turned around, he was also apprehended and escorted away, dropping Paul Ryan’s book to the ground. Congressman Ryan did not say anything. He did not speak out for us. He. Just. Stood. There.
While being led out, I repeatedly told the police officer that he was hurting me. I tried to adjust my arm to a less forced position and the police officer asked me why I was resisting arrest. I told him I was not resisting. Being profiled, and then escorted out with such force left me wondering what had gone wrong? I later realized, of course, that the officers saw we were sympathetic to the pain that our United We Dream sisters conveyed and then we immediately became targets.
The people in front of us knew the Congressman. They chatted for some time. The people before them were able to provide comments. Why were we not? We did not come in with the intention of disrupting anything, but only to ask Congressman Ryan, as an elected official, to honor his word and support immigration reform for our families. While he goes on his book tour, thousands of families are separated each day. Contrary to the shouts of the people in line, people who are undocumented are not on food stamps. Good, hard working people are the ones who are getting separated from their families.
Although the congressman did not answer our question, the message we got was clear: to advocate for our families was a big no-no, to ask a question was a big mistake, and to try to calmly reason with the police was met with force.
Salvador and I brought his cousins to the book signing. When they started to record the encounter, they were blocked by the police and were later asked to delete the recording. As obedient children, they did. When we were outside of the bookstore, a gentleman screamed, “You too have rights!” We do, or at least we thought we did. The same police who protected a politician pushed us around for trying to exercise our right to freedom of speech.
I experienced police abuse, intimidation, and almost got arrested for trying to ask Congressman Paul Ryan a question. His lack of action,by standing there seeing how we were treated, reminded us of his inaction on immigration reform. Both are equally disappointing. That is what I will always remember about the day I met a politician who thinks he can lead our country.