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Vol. 71/No. 29      August 6, 2007

New York political activist
Víctor Toro fights deportation
(front page)
NEW YORK—“Having read about the treatment given to prisoners in Guantánamo, I immediately identified with them,” said Víctor Toro, recalling his July 6 arrest and detention by Homeland Security agents in upstate New York, while aboard an Amtrak train.

“Once they determine you are undocumented, the mistreatment and insults begin,” the 65-year-old Chilean activist said during a July 17 interview at his Bronx apartment.

Toro is co-founder of the community organization Vamos a la Peña del Bronx, which provides services to immigrants, the homeless, the unemployed, and people diagnosed as HIV-positive. Toro was returning from California, where he had spent seven months campaigning in the San Francisco Bay Area for legalization of undocumented immigrants.

He was imprisoned at the Cayuga County Jail in Auburn, near the Canadian border, and kept in a cell with 10 other undocumented immigrants. Released July 10 on $5,000 bail, he now faces deportation. No date has been set for further proceedings.

Toro and his family are reaching out for solidarity in his fight against deportation.

“They strip you naked and give you orange jumpsuits,” he said, describing his arrival at prison. “It is humiliating.”

Some cells had 50 or more undocumented workers, Toro explained. Among those detained on the train, “there were Asians, Russians, Pakistanis, Mexicans, and other nationalities,” said Toro. While in jail, “I was able to discuss with Mexicans and others the situation faced by millions. I also learned that some people have been there for three months, others a year,” added Toro.

“It’s common now for la migra to check buses and trains, that’s part of the broader assault” against immigrants, he said. “They boarded the train with dogs. Some people on board protested, but they went seat by seat checking everyone’s documents,” he recalled.

The underground cells of the Cayuga jail also reminded Toro of his imprisonment under the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in Chile. Jailed there in 1974 because of his opposition to the regime, Toro was kept a year in the underground prison at the War Academy of the Chilean Air Force and labeled “disappeared.” He then was “toured” through other jails before fleeing to Sweden in 1976.

After several years of moving from country to country, he crossed the U.S.-Mexican border in 1984 and eventually settled in the Bronx.

Toro has applied for a new Chilean passport several times but has been told that he is officially classified as “dead.”

“I’m an undocumented willing to defend his rights in face of U.S. ‘justice.’ A lesson that can be learned from my case is that any undocumented can defend himself,” Toro stressed. “But you’ve got to fight.”
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