Dallas meeting with ICE chief, sheriff erupts in anti-deportation chants

Dianne Solis/Staff
Activist Carlos Quintanilla questioned Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez (far right) and ICE chief Sarah Saldaña about deportations at a meeting Wednesday.

By DIANNE SOLÍS dsolis@dallasnews.com
Staff Writer
Published: 20 May 2015 11:07 PM
Updated: 20 May 2015 11:07 PM

A community engagement meeting with Sarah Saldaña, director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez erupted Wednesday night into chants calling for an end to deportations.

Saldaña told a crowd of about 120 that her agency had new priorities to go after “the worst of the worst” — those with criminal records — and those who arrived in the country illegally after Jan. 1, 2014.

“People who are in the country illegally and who are undocumented and commit crimes in this country — guess who their victims are?

The immigrant population, folks,” Saldaña said to the crowd at El Centro College’s West Dallas campus.

The folksy approach of the first Latina ICE chief, who addressed the crowd of immigrants in Spanish and Spanglish, and called Valdez “la sherifa,” elicited a few smiles.

But when the former Dallas-based U.S. attorney opened up the event to questions, exchanges became heated.

Carlos Quintanilla, a community activist, called for a halt to immigration holds at the county jail of those who have passed through a criminal process and then are held for ICE for possible removal. Saldaña responded by listing some of the crimes that trigger a removal.

“We want clarity,” said Danny Cendejas, a community organizer who said he has been trying unsuccessfully for several months to get a meeting with Valdez over immigration policies.

Saldaña responded: “Three or more misdemeanors are not minor offenses. You might think they are minor. You might think someone can drive drunk three times and be convicted of a DUI and that’s OK.

The United States has made a decision that it’s not.”

Marco Malagon, a Mexican immigrant who is active with student groups, questioned why Max Villatoro, an Iowa pastor with an old DUI conviction, was deported this year. “This man was honorable,” said Malagon in Spanish.

Saldaña responded in English that the well-publicized case was looked at “on the basis of law.”

Malagon retorted in English, “Yes, he made a mistake.”

A minute or so later, Malagon, who was standing, pivoted in his back-row position. “If you turn your back on us, we turn our back on you,” he said. Others joined him in the pivot, repeating his chant.

Other chants about deportations began.

The sheriff marched out. A chain of deputies followed.

Saldaña took a side exit as a fresh chant started: “ICE out of Dallas.”