"This started as a personal project, but everyone has taken an interest," Alva says.

They also hope to prove electric cars can run fast. "Not like z-room, but like zeez-zeet," Helbing demonstrates with a rapid hand gesture toward SW Sixth Street.

Soon, Rodriguez closes up the small corner shop in the modest barrio, and Alva and Helbing head to their rides parked near the Money Orders and Meat store across the street. Helbing's souped-up 1998 white Mitsubishi Eclipse zooms up to Alva's 2003 gray Porsche Boxster. They wait, side by side, at the stoplight.

See "Punch Buggy," by Janine Zeitlin, below.
Christopher Smith
See "Punch Buggy," by Janine Zeitlin, below.

Hero Halted

The feds try to gag immigrant students' best friend.

By Janine Zeitlin

Gaby Pacheco should be a hero to subtropical immigrants. The tall, outgoing soon-to-be Miami Dade College senior has for years advocated for undocumented students' rights. Once president of the student government, she has lobbied lawmakers on behalf of immigrant students, led student marches, and even addressed reporters at the National Press Club.

But late last month, she ended up in the front row of the sixth-floor U.S. Immigration Courtroom of Judge Carey Holliday on South Miami Avenue. Authorities want to deport her family — father Gustavo, his wife Maria, and Gaby's sisters Erika and Maria — because they overstayed tourist visas after arriving from Ecuador in 1993.

Two years ago, immigration agents led an early-morning raid on the family's home, where, Gaby says, her white Honda Civic was parked outside. It was marked with messages such as "Yes to Fair Immigration Reform!"

Erika, who is 29 years old and seven months pregnant, explains that one agent said, "Tell your sister to take that shit off her car."

Another said, "Thank your little sister for all this."

Gaby, who has a legal student visa, says she questioned another agent about his knowledge of her activism. "What channels have you seen me on?" she asked him.

"What channels have I not seen you on?" she says he responded.

Gaby never thought her actions could bring consequences for her family. "It really hit me that everything I did created this reaction," she says. "I wasn't doing anything wrong. This country has been built on free speech."

In a March court filing, Judge Holliday responded to Gaby's argument this way: "People who live in glass houses should not throw stones. In this case, it appears Gaby Pacheco might have indeed lived in a glass house. She freely chose to draw unwanted attention to herself and her family."

Geoffrey Hoffman, the lawyer representing the Pacheco family pro bono, argues the government violated Gaby's constitutional rights. "Just as the government may not target someone for deportation because of their race, religion, or gender, the government may not target someone's family at the expense of that person's First Amendment free speech rights."

During the Tuesday hearing, Judge Holliday gave the family until mid-September to find a way to stay in the country legally. "God bless America," proclaimed Gustavo, a 51-year-old former Baptist minister.

But then as the Pachecos filed out of court, three plainclothes immigration agents blocked them in the hallway. Their brief moment of relief was gone. They were told they were randomly selected to be tagged with ankle bracelets.

Gustavo, eyes now downcast, put an arm around Erika as agents escorted them all away. (Eventually officials would put bracelets only on Gustavo and 28-year-old Maria. They did not cuff the others for health reasons, Gaby says.)

A frustrated Gaby waited downstairs in the lobby. Her tired brown eyes filled with tears. "I call this the humiliation program," she said, her voice tense. "This is not out of chance."

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