Immigration officials arrested two more undocumented Migrant Justice advocates Friday afternoon, leading to protests that drew hundreds of people.
Enrique Balcazar, 24, and Zully Palacios, 23, were arrested and detained by undercover Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents during a traffic stop on Shelburne Road in Burlington, said Will Lambek, a spokesman for the Vermont-based human rights organization.
Migrant Justice members arrived on the scene to see both Balcazar and Palacios being loaded into an ICE van. Neither had a criminal record, according to Lambek.
The incident marks the third ICE arrest in three days. On Wednesday, 23-year-old Cesar Alex Carrillo was detained on his way to a Burlington courthouse to respond to a misdemeanor DUI charge. The charge was later dismissed, though Carrillo was not present at the hearing.
On Friday evening following the latest arrests, nearly 100 protesters gathered outside the ICE offices in St. Albans to denounce the detentions, said Lambek. Migrant Justice also organized the march and rally on Saturday in Burlington to call for the release of Palacios, a Peruvian national, and Balcazar, from Mexico.
A few hundred people gathered for that event and marched along Church Street. "Not one more!" they chanted, in a procession that ended outside the federal building on Elmwood Avenue.
Protesters marching on Church Street
The organization has collected 1,300 signatures on a petition demanding Carrillo's release, according to a Migrant Justice news release.
Balcazar and Palacios were not permitted to consult an immigration attorney who tried to reach them Friday night, Lambek said, though the two did communicate with their respective consulates. Lambek noted that he had not been told where Balcazar and Palacios were being held.
File: Paul Heintz
Balcazar came to the U.S. from Tabasco, Mexico, with his parents six years ago to work on a Vermont dairy farm. Now, he works as a community organizer and spokesman for farm workers around the state. Lambek said Balcazar consulted with Attorney General T.J. Donovan on immigration issues and helped craft a document called the "Guidance to Vermont cities and towns regarding immigration enforcement," which the AG released ahead of Town Meeting Day.
An ICE spokesman put out a statement at noon Saturday about the latest arrests:
On March 17, Special Agents with ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), with assistance from ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), conducted a targeted arrest of a female individual in Burlington, Vt., who entered the U.S. legally, but overstayed the duration of her visa by nearly a year. While making this arrest federal agents also encountered Jose Enrique Balcazar-Sanchez, who was also found at the time to be in violation of U.S. immigration laws. Both were arrested and are in ICE custody pending removal proceedings.
Lambek decried the arrests as retaliation for Balcazar's activism. In September, when activist Miguel Alcudia was arrested, immigration agents allegedly put out a warning for Balcazar.
"They said, 'Enrique's going to be next. Tell him to watch out,'" Lambek said. "It was a clear threat."
"We wholeheartedly denounce this escalation of immigration enforcement," Lambek added. "It's an attack against an entire community and an entire state."