Revolution #96, July 22, 2007

Chilean Activist and Others Rounded Up in ICE Raid on Amtrak Train

On July 6, agents of Homeland Security’s Immigration Control Enforcement (ICE) went down the aisles of an Amtrak train near Rochester, NY, checking the documents of people who they profiled as immigrants. The ICE agents pulled off the train 35 people who were unable to provide proof of citizenship or legal residency and took them to jail. This was a shocking example of an increasingly common outrage--immigrants being terrorized by ICE raids where they live and work, and while traveling in cars and on public transportation.

Among those detained on July 6 was Victor Toro, a Chilean exile and political activist. Toro is known by thousands for his decades of struggle in revolutionary and progressive movements, originally in Chile and now in the U.S. Toro was detained as he was returning to New York from a national immigrants rights conference in California. His arrest has raised concern among many that he might have been targeted for his activism and beliefs. His detention was reported twice on the front page of New York’s El Diario/La Prensa newspaper and was also covered by the New York Times, New York Post, and other media.

Victor Toro and others pulled out from the train were taken to a county jail. He told supporters who had gathered in the Bronx after his release, “When I was in jail, on the first day they put us in these orange jumpsuits like what you have seen so many times in that Guantánamo concentration camp. That for sure brought out a ton of memories, seeing so many Asian brothers, Mexican brothers, and all our brothers who come here without documents, dressed in that same color… My first response was great anger. Everyone has seen the…prisoners in Guantánamo in those horrible clothes, their feet and hands tied, almost falling over. That’s the first response, and it makes you think. But as the days pass, you realize that all of them are dressed in orange.”

In an interview in El Diario/La Prensa, Toro also said, “Those orange jumpsuits are horrible and cause terror. I will not forget their inscription: ‘Cayuga County.’ I felt the same humiliation as the prisoners in Guantánamo, and also it made me recall when I was a political prisoner of the military dictatorship in Chile.”

Victor Toro and his wife Nieves Ayress were among the many thousands of Chileans who were arrested and tortured by the Pinochet regime, which seized power through a U.S.-backed coup on September 11, 1973 (what writer Ariel Dorfman and others call “the other September 11”). Many thousands were outright murdered or disappeared by Pinochet and Co. When the fascist generals took over radio stations and announced their coup, they identified Toro by name as one of the people most wanted “dead or alive.”

In the late 1970s Toro and Ayress were able to escape from Chile. In 1984 they made the dangerous crossing into the U.S. without papers and settled in the South Bronx. Soon after that, the Chilean government declared Toro to be legally “dead,” complicating his ability to obtain legal status.

Toro and Ayress breathed new political life into a devastated part of the South Bronx. They founded the cultural/political center Vamos a La Peña, which hosted and supported many progressive causes for many years. (The center had to close last year but hopes to re-open.) In October 1996, La Peña was one of the initiators and organizers of the first national immigrants’ rights marches in Washington, D.C. La Peña was the organizing center for many powerful International Women’s Day gatherings. Victor Toro was among the first to sign the World Can’t Wait—Drive Out the Bush Regime Call and mobilized for the November 2, 2005 launch of this movement.

Toro told his supporters after his release from jail, “There is an economic and political counterrevolutionary and ultra-reactionary current that borders on fascism. This is what now characterizes all of the political decisions in the U.S. As a result we pay the price with a shift toward the right, war in Afghanistan, war in Iraq, arrogant and criminal interventions and bombings in various countries. But in opposition to this there is a resistance, men and women who are willing to not back down in the face of all of the tremendous oppression that we have been subjected to in recent years, and this resistance is felt in many places.”

When Toro was detained, his supporters quickly swung into action, raising $5,000 so he could get quickly released on bail. He now awaits a deportation hearing. A demand for political asylum in the U.S. has been filed.

Victor Toro pointed to the larger implications of the ICE raids and other intensifying attacks against immigrants: “If you check out almost all the different versions and different [immigration] bills that are being presented and that the Congress and Senators have failed to pass, of course they affect those without papers. But they also affect society overall. They are more than immigration laws. They are laws that affect national security, that mean more police in every city, walls on the Mexican border, more soldiers--that is, they mean greater restrictions on political life, more restrictions of human rights and civil rights.”

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