It is Jose Armando’s birthday, and he has been up since sunrise preparing breakfast burritos and washing cars outside the Southside Workers Center in South Tucson. Although few would be thrilled to spend their Saturday working in a blistering parking lot, Armando cannot imagine a better way to celebrate his special day.
“I’m happy to be helping my friend,” he said. “That’s what we do here. He would do the same for us.”
Armando is a longtime member of the center, which organizes day laborers and ensures that they are paid a fair wage. It recently held the car wash to raise funds to pay bond for a Guatemalan national who is a long-time member of the center.
The Guatemalan man was detained by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement on his drive to work one morning in July. He joined the 1,291 undocumented immigrants who were detained in Arizona between Jan. 20 and April 29, the first four months of the Trump administration, ICE data show.
But as immigration enforcement has stepped up, so has the community. Although holding fundraisers to bail people out of immigration detention is not new, the efforts have intensified, ranging from car washes to tamale sales.
When President Trump announced in early September the termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, an Obama administration program that protected from deportation young people brought to the United States illegally by their parents, groups in Tucson and across the country quickly responded with marches, information forums and scholarship funds. A rally in support of DACA at Tucson City Hall on Sept. 6 attracted more than 600 people.
According to Sabina Trejo, coordinator at the Southside day laborers center, policy changes like the end of DACA drive people to be more active in protecting immigrant community members.
“I’ve been surprised at how many new faces we’ve been seeing at events,” Trejo said. “We definitely couldn’t raise the money if we didn’t have much new support.”
The Trump administration has said those who pose a national or public safety risk and gang members remain the top priority for deportation, but anyone who is in the country illegally can be detained and processed for deportation.
Arrests of undocumented immigrants who have no prior criminal histories, such as the Guatemalan detainee in Tucson, rose nationwide from 4,372 from Jan. 20 through April 29, 2016, to 10,937 during the same period in 2017, according to ICE numbers.
“We’re seeing a significant increase in the enforcement of our immigration laws just generally, and with that comes a lot more individuals being arrested and detained,” said Mo Goldman, a local immigration attorney and a representative of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
“On top of that, and even over the last one to two years, before Trump became president, we started to see some of the judges in the immigration detention setting bonds at a higher level than we have seen previously,” he said. “Families just don’t have the resources to pay for it.”
The Guatemalan man’s bond was set at $7,500. Trejo said average bond for an immigrant with no criminal history was around $2,000 a couple of years before.
So far, his advocates have raised $4,000 toward their goal. Since the man lived only with his two dogs and has no family here, backing from the Tucson community is essential for his financial and moral support, his co-workers said.
“There’s been a lot of people really wanting to rally to support him,” said Trejo. “People wrote him letters of support, and sometimes he calls in the morning to hear people’s voices.”
Magdalena Escobedo, a speech pathologist for the Sunnyside Unified School District, follows organizations like the center on social media and has seen a definite uptick in fundraising events.
“There’s a sense of urgency,” said Escobedo, as workers washed her car. “A lot of the time I feel helpless, like there’s not a lot I can do ... but this is something.”
When asked if he felt that holding a car wash is going to make a difference, Jose Vasquez, a worker at the center and a friend of the detained man, didn’t hesitate to answer.
“It makes a difference for him,” he said. “Today for him, tomorrow for one of us.”