Last September, Livio Arias Torres ran to the door of his Cottage Street apartment as thundering knocks in the early morning hours awakened him suddenly.
He had been disturbed from his slumber and didn’t even have enough time to put on a change of clothes to find out who was continuously knocking so early in the morning.
He opened the door, and even though he was awake, he entered into a nightmare that he has not been able to wake up from for the last 10 months.
At the door that morning were Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, and they were there to take the 70-year-old choir director and community activist to a detention center to prepare him for deportation to the unfriendly confines of Venezuela.
Neighbors are still saddened and angered about the scene they witnessed – that of their affable and talented neighbor being led in handcuffs to a black police vehicle while still in his pajamas.
They would never see him again on Cottage Street.
“The neighbors of Cottage Street…are troubled and angered by the arrest of our respected neighbor and beloved community member, Livio Arias,” wrote Cottage Street resident Fran Rosnowski last October. “Livio, known for his outstanding talent as a musician and singer, as well as a teacher of varied musical instruments to people of all ages, and respected because of his strong work ethic and civic-mindfulness; Livio, our friend and mentor, was removed from his home at night in his pajamas. This is an important reminder to all to know your Constitutional rights regardless of your immigration or citizenship status; do not open the door for agents from ICE unless they have a warrant for your arrest. Always ask who is knocking before opening the door. This is our Constitutional right. You always have the right to remain silent.”
This week, Torres’s case is one of seven cases that is being highlighted by a conglomeration of immigration reform groups who are holding a collaborative New England Week of Action protest. One major push in the protest is to draw action to cases that are worthy of dismissal by ICE. They have submitted seven cases – including that of Torres – to ICE and are hoping it’s the push that will release Torres from his bondage.
“As always, ICE has the ability to dismiss any case that is pending for deportation,” said Lily Huang, a leader in the Mass Jobs With Justice Campaign and someone who has worked intimately with ICE on Torres’s case. “Working with ICE directly is how we often get these cases resolved in a positive manner. Going through the legal channels is very hard because judge’s hands are tied. They can hear your story and be sympathetic, but the law is the law. ICE isn’t bound by that and has what they call prosecutorial discretion, which means they can just dismiss any case and release the detainee.
“ICE has put out an order not to deport low priority workers, fathers of U.S born children and the elderly,” she continued. “We’ve found and pointed out these cases to ICE and have had success. It’s exactly what we’re trying to do with Livio’s case and his case is in the final timeline, so action is necessary.”
Torres came to the United States 12 years ago from Venezuela – fleeing political persecution from the brutal dictatorship of the late Hugo Chavez. He applied for political asylum and had a work permit for some time. He even worked at a job with the Cambridge Health Alliance before retiring. However, his application for asylum got tangled up and forms were not filed correctly and necessary actions were not taken.
“He lost the work permit and everything got messed up,” said Huang. “He didn’t have papers, but he retired and became a volunteer at St. Luke’s Church in Chelsea, leading the choir. He also volunteered at many Chelsea organizations like ROCA, and taught music as well.”
Eventually, last September, the paperwork snafu caught up to him, and ICE came knocking at his door.
Since being led out of his house in handcuffs last September, Torres has been detained in the South Bay House of Corrections with no visible end in sight for his case. He faces deportation back to his native country of Venezuela, where there will likely be repercussions to face from the past.
Many in Chelsea have become tireless advocates for him, such as Father Edgar of St. Luke’s Church. Many visit him frequently, but Huang said that jail has taken a toll on the elderly Chelsea man.
“He was hospitalized last November at Boston Medical Center, and he is elderly and frail,” said Huang. “He’s still in detention after 10 months, but we meet every Tuesday to talk about his case. Just last week, a group of immigration leaders met with ICE and it was the first time we were able to bring up specific cases like Livio’s. His is a really strong community case.”
On Monday, Huang and numerous immigration advocates from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Vermont gathered at the South Bay House of Corrections to stand in solidarity with those detained for immigration violations – including Torres.
Prisoners were able to look out of their cell windows and hold up signs for the protestors to see, including one moving sign that read ‘Seven Years on ICE.’
A number of Chelsea people were also at the rally outside of South Bay Monday afternoon, including Melania Bruno – who sang a moving song in Spanish to highlight Torres’s cause.
Today, Thursday, June 27, many of those same protesters will meet at the ICE Regional Headquarters in Burlington to protest immigration policy in general and to highlight strong community cases like Torres’s.
“We’ve never protested at the Burlington office before and we’ve never done anything on a regional or statewide basis concerning immigration cases,” said Huang. “We’re going to be doing that this time and we hope it will be the push that helps free those like Livio from detention.”