Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested Samuel Oliver-Bruno on Friday, November 23, and deported him less than a week later. Samuel is a longtime North Carolina resident, having lived in Greenville for two decades until 2011 when he returned to Mexico with his family to take care of his ill father. He returned to North Carolina in 2014 in a search for proper medical treatment for his wife Julia, who had been diagnosed with lupus. It was also during this time that he began taking theology classes at Duke’s Divinity School. While Samuel was originally given a permit to live in the United States due to Julia’s illness, changes in immigration policies under the Trump administration made it impossible for him to apply for renewal. At the time of his arrest, Samuel had been living in sanctuary at the Citywell Church in Durham for 11 months and had spent over 23 cumulative years in North Carolina before being deported.
Samuel’s deportation highlights the deeply broken system that has allowed ICE to intimidate and target residents of our communities without scrutiny. The formation of ICE occurred as a part of the broad national security reforms in the aftermath of 9/11. At the signing ceremony for the legislation introducing ICE, then-President Bush specifically noted that “The continuing threat of terrorism, the threat of mass murder on our own soil, will be met with a unified, effective response." ICE’s existence is predicated on a fear that immigrants are somehow intrinsically dangerous to our national security. We are made to believe that ICE is an integral part of the United States’ existence, but the fact of the matter is that this country has functioned and can continue to function without it.
However, the story behind Samuel’s deportation implicates not only ICE, but the system of government that supports it. Samuel, who made himself vulnerable by following the legal governmental process to seek renewal of his work permit, was arrested and deported by the very government who claimed to be trying to help him. Samuel’s case is a clear refutation of the argument that unjust and violent immigration policy is justified because immigrants should simply follow a legal process to permanent residency in this country. These systems are broken. A federal government that supports ICE cannot simultaneously believe in a distinct system of law and order whereby following the law will protect you.
Samuel’s deportation was also shocking because it happened in an area with progressive politicians who actively oppose deportations and the kind of fear tactics employed by ICE. Even conversations between ICE representatives and G.K. Butterfield and David Price, two members of Congress representing North Carolinians, were unable to alter Samuel’s fate. The systems of power that are supposed to protect and support its constituents are powerless in the tyranny surrounding ICE’s existence and administration. This revelation begs the question: how do we protect those living in fear of arrest and deportation?
As an institution, Duke has, at least on the surface, pledged its support to undocumented students. Divinity School Dean L. Gregory Jones issued a statement expressing the Divinity School's deep support for Samuel as well as calling for his release by ICE. However, beyond the walls of campus, there is little the University itself can do to protect those in the community. Therefore, the answer must lie in the actions of each individual. Duke graduate students were among those helping during Samuel’s time in sanctuary as well as during the protests against his deportation. The undergraduate student population is isolated from the Durham community by both physical and informational barriers. As students, those who want to help must work with the communities in which those in sanctuary exist, listening and understanding the needs of the communities we are trying to serve. Though we cannot always overcome the physical barriers, we can at least actively seek out information about where we may be needed most. In this moment, the best we can do is actively make relationships with those providing services and support. Duke’s Define American chapter has continuously advocated for the rights of undocumented residents.
The story of Samuel Oliver-Bruno’s arrest is shocking, frustrating and deeply tragic, but is not uncommon. As long as ICE exists and has unrestricted power to enforce xenophobic immigration policies, the events surrounding his detention will remain commonplace. While the government continues to commit these brutalities against its own residents, it is the duty of those around vulnerable persons to protect and support. Information about the CityWell sanctuary and how to assist Samuel’s family can be found at their website.
This was written by The Chronicle's Editorial Board, which is made up of student members from across the University and is independent of the editorial staff.