UC Berkeley Workers, Students Protest Arrest of Immigrant Custodian

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday May 14, 2009 - 07:08:00 PM
AFSCME union workers protest the arrest of Jesus Gutierrez by UCPD officers during a rally at Sproul Plaza Wednesday, May 13.
Riya Bhattacharjee
AFSCME union workers protest the arrest of Jesus Gutierrez by UCPD officers during a rally at Sproul Plaza Wednesday, May 13.

More than 100 University of California Berkeley workers and students rallied on the steps of Sproul Plaza Wednesday, May 13, to protest the arrest of an undocumented immigrant worker by UC police last month. 

The crowd denounced what they said was the UC Police Department’s collaboration with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to turn U.C. custodial worker Jesus Gutierrez over to ICE officials, and they urged the university administration to turn UC Berkeley into a sanctuary campus. 

Calls and visits to UCPD Assistant Chief Mitch Celaya for comment were not returned by press time. 

AFSCME union members told the Planet that UCPD officers arrested Gutierrez from UC Berkeley’s Clark Kerr Dining Commons on April 29, charging that he had used someone else’s Social Security number to work. 

A press release from AFSCME Local 3299, which represents UC Berkeley workers, alleged that UC police “arrested Gutierrez and have charged him with felony identity theft, simply on the suspicion that he is an undocumented worker.” 

The statement said that UCPD had contacted ICE after arresting Gutierrez, who is now being held at Santa Rita Jail. It also said that UCPD had denied Gutierrez’s request to have his union representative or a lawyer present after he was arrested 

Although nobody from UCPD called the Planet back to confirm or deny AFSCME’s charges, Marie Felde, UC Berkeley’s executive director of media relations, told the paper that UCPD had responded to a call from Pasadena police who said that Gutierrez was suspected of using a Social Security number belonging to someone else. 

“Apparently a woman who was unable to get benefits for her child because she was told his Social Security number showed he was earning too much money to be eligible reported the misuse of his number to that city's PD,” Felde said in an e-mail. “Campus police interviewed the custodian who they say acknowledged using a false Social Security, and he was arrested for false impersonation on April 30. Immigration got involved afterwards; UCPD’s investigation was related to the question of using false stolen identification.” 

Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesperson Lori Haley told the Planet that ICE had not been involved in the arrest. 

“We did not have anything to do with it,” she said, explaining that Alameda County authorities had taken him into custody to prosecute him. “ICE has placed a hold on him, and if and when he is released he will be turned over to ICE.” 

At the rally, AFSCME organizer Maricruz Manzanarez said that the union was going to submit a complaint to the university’s labor relations department for a violation of the union’s contract. 

“They failed to notify the union that a federal agency wanted to investigate Gutierrez,” she said. “Every time a federal agency wants to interrogate or interview an employee they have to notify us either by phone or by letter. In this case, our member was arrested and nobody knew about it.” 

Manzanarez said the labor relations department had told the union that it had not know anything about the arrest. 

Felde told the Planet that she did not have information on the labor contract. 

Berkeley Councilmember Jesse Arre-guin, the city’s first Latino councilmember, said that he was appalled by the university’s actions. 

“We need to stand in solidarity for Jesus Gutierrez,” Arreguin, who was present at the rally, said. “As an alumnus of UC Berkeley I am offended that UC is doing this to a person who is fighting for justice.” 

Elena Vilchis, a sophomore at UC Berkeley, spoke out against the arrest. 

“It’s horrible that the university takes part in the demoralization of workers who maintain the university and without whom this place would not work,” she said. “It’s a harassment on workers’ rights.” 

Laura Rivas, a member of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said her organization supported the prompt release of Gutierrez. 

“It’s a violation of his rights as a worker and a resident of a city which is a sanctuary city regardless of his immigration status,” she said. “I think this incident also created a pressure point on why we need a comprehensive immigration reform that will include full labor and human rights protection.” 

Rally participants marched down Bancroft Way handing out flyers that asked people to turn up in support for Gutierrez’s hearing in Oakland on May 21.