Hillary Clinton smiled for an extra second when she heard an audience member trying to interrupt her speech at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s gala on Thursday. The man yelling at her was near the stage holding a sign that read “Hillary for immigrants in prison.”
Clinton seemed unfazed, and for a full minute she continued to deliver her speech, talking over the man as he chanted, “Hillary, we’re watching. My deportation will be your funding.”
The man was Juan Carlos Ramos, a seasoned interruptor. He’s 22 and said he first participated in an action interrupting an Obama speech in 2011 when he was still a teen. He also interrupted Marco Rubio in South Carolina last year. Last night marked the second time he has challenged Clinton.
“It had been a while since I had been to an action, and it was exciting to get back to it this way,” Ramos said speaking from home in a telephone interview Thursday night.
Ramos is a member of United We Dream Action, the political wing of the largest immigrant youth-led organization in the nation. The group is known for having a strong social media presence at its actions, uploading videos of demonstrations in real time. But this time there was no video because Ramos was all alone. C-SPAN captured the moment.
On a scale from 1 to 10, Ramos said interrupting Clinton last night was a 4. But only because he had no time to think about what was happening. He just continued to repeat his chant to call attention to donations to the Clinton campaign linked to lobbyists for private prison corporations.
Roughly 23,000 immigrants are held each night in private prisons that are contracted out to corporations by the Bureau of Prisons. An estimated 62% of all immigration detention beds in the U.S. are operated by for-profit prison corporations, up from 49% in 2009, according to a report released earlier this year by Grassroots Leadership, a group whose mission it is to end for-profit incarceration.
Clinton herself actually spoke out against corporations who run immigration detention centers earlier this year at a campaign stop in Las Vegas.
“I’m not sure a lot of Americans know that a lot of the detention facilities for immigrants are run by private companies and that they have a built-in incentive to fill them up,” Clinton said, referring to a congressional mandate that immigration officials have 34,000 beds available every night.
“So people go out and round up people in order to get paid on a per-bed basis,” Clinton said. “That makes no sense to me."
But Ramos said he believes Clinton was only saying it to court Latino votes.
“Our message to Hillary Clinton is simple: immigrant youth do not trust you. It is time to drop the prison money and stand with our community — you can’t have it both ways,” he said in a statement ahead of the protest. “Each dollar of private prison money accepted by the Clinton campaign undermines her pro-immigrant policy promises, and our community will not be fooled.”
Clinton didn’t address Ramos at Thursday’s gala, but the host did. According to Politico, after Clinton presented her award actress Roselyn Sanchez took the stage and said, “That was real intense. My Puerto Rican temper would be like ‘excuse me?’”
Ramos got a ticket late into the event. By the time he got through security, Clinton was already on stage and it just so happened that it was the exact moment when she was talking about GOP presidential candidates who have made anti-immigrant comments.
“I heard the word immigration and I rushed through to the front of the crowd. I looked at her and she looked at me and I got right in front of her,” Ramos told Fusion.
That’s when Ramos began chanting “Hillary we’re watching. My deportation will be your funding.”
“Something came in to me. ‘You really need to do this now,’ I told myself. There was no time to think about it. Other times I was nervous and thought about whether I would do it, but this time I was by myself, no one to support, and that pushed me to move forward,” Ramos said.
“People were staring at me and not saying much. Security came and then someone said ‘have some respect,’” Ramos said. Eventually an audience member also grabbed his sign and ripped it into pieces.
“Elections are coming and these are the people that going to carry out the future of immigrant communities. At the end of the day of the day there’s many things that happen behind close doors, and I want people to be informed and follow what’s happening,” Ramos said.
Ramos was detained in a Border Patrol facility for two days in 2008. He say he was transferred to a shelter in Brownsville, Texas, where he was held with immigrants from other countries.
He came to the United States as an unaccompanied minor and said he crossed a river into the U.S. to come meet his parents in Charlotte, North Carolina. Last year when Hillary Clinton said she would send back unaccompanied minors he took it personally. It motivated him to speak out.
The Clinton campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.