Deportation Nightmare for Palo Alto Family
A story from our work in 2007, a story that is repeated even today across our nation:
Isabel Aguirre trembled as we stood outside 630 Sansome Street. It wasn't just because it was cold. Her husband had already been deported to Mexico with nothing but the clothes on his back and she was facing the choice of leaving her children in foster care or taking them with her to be deported to Mexico.
Pedro Ramirez and his wife Isabel Aguirre had done all the right things, hiring a lawyer to handle the renewal of their work papers and applications for green cards. Unfortunately, it seems, they hired the wrong lawyer. He's now been disbarred. All the money he'd been given to file their paperwork and handle their case, gone.
On February 28th, Pedro Ramirez was arrested and immediately deported to Mexico. Isabel was placed under electronic surveillance. Both had worked in this area for many years and raised four children (now ages five through fifteen), all of whom are U.S. citizens (born in the United States).
Isabel was ordered to fly out of the country by Wednesday April 4th, but she didn't have enough money to take the children too. She asked Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) if she could drive to Mexico instead, so that she could take her children. She was initially told no.
Her story was reported in the Palo Alto Weekly on Thursday March 29th and many people jumped into action. Perhaps because of the publicity, ICE called Isabel to their office on Tuesday the 3rd to let her know that she could drive. By then, because of the publicity, enough money had been raised to pay for plane tickets for the entire family. She was accompanied to that meeting by religious leaders, many of whom have been working on finding ways to keep Isabel and her family here.
Sadly, ICE agents also informed Isabel during this meeting that she was being banned from visiting the United States for ten years. So, even if her fifteen year-old son came back to the United States (he is a citizen), finished school, and then when he was 18 applied to have his parents come back to the United States (he could sponsor them), she might not be able to return.
Isabel was stunned as she left the ICE office that morning. Just before everyone got into their cars to head to a Palo Alto news conference, the phone rang. New lawyers had been found who were willing to meet with Isabel. We have not yet heard what the results of that meeting were.
At noon on April 3rd, Samina Faheem of American Muslim Voice (AMV), the Rev. Dr. Diana Gibson of Multifaith Voices for Peace and Justice (MVPJ), and the Rev. Katie Goetz of the First United Methodist Church of Palo Alto convened a press conference at the Methodist Church in Palo Alto. In addition to local political and religious leaders speaking on behalf of the Ramirez-Aguirre family, three of the children appeared and spoke. They'd just come from the ICE office in San Francisco. Though they could not say much, being somewhat shy and still upset from the events of the last few weeks, they did make it clear that they want to stay together as a family, here, living in their home. They didn't want to leave.
In her press release, Samina Faheem said:
The American Muslim Voice strongly condemns the federal ICE raids that are displacing families throughout the United States. Targeting the undocumented immigrants and deporting them will not make America safer, stronger or richer. These hard-working people are not the problem; they are symptoms of our broken immigration system.
On February 28, 2007, the lives of four Palo Alto school children, all U.S. citizens, were thrown into chaos when their parents were arrested in a federal raid. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested Pedro Ramirez and Isabel Aguirre, both undocumented immigrants who had been working and paying taxes here since 1985 and 1989, respectively. Ramirez was deported within an hour of his arrest with only the clothes on his back. He was not allowed to cash in his paycheck, making him instantly homeless. Aguirre was placed under house arrest and shackled with a tracking device that monitors her every move.
Rev. Dr. Diana Gibson of the Council of Churches of Santa Clara county wonders, "Aren't we better than this? What good could possibly be served with such an action? We simply cannot sit by and let parents be torn away from their children right before our eyes by our own government."
The Ramirez-Aguirre family is caught in a vicious catch-22 and the children stand to suffer the most. Aguirre must present plane tickets for her and her children to the ICE office in San Francisco by Wednesday, and the tickets must show that they Will board the plane to Mexico on Friday, April 6th. Aguirre's 30-day reprieve is already over and she still cannot afford to pay for five plane tickets since being on house arrest forced her to lose her income. Her deported husband could not get the necessary paperwork notarized, authorizing their children's transportation across international boundaries. If Aguirre cannot produce the plane tickets by the imposed deadline, ICE will immediately place her children in foster care. Aguirre will be subsequently arrested and deported.
ICE presents this lose-lose scenario as a choice: Leave the country and take your children with you or leave the country and leave your children in foster care, an overflowing system with many flaws of its own. The Ramirez-Aguirre case shows that there is no such choice at all. The parents must leave U.S. born children behind when loopholes in the immigration system make it nearly impossible to remain together.
These federal enforcement tactics have not been effective in the past nor will they be effective in the future. Tactics like the ICE raids only create fear in our communities. AMV National President Khalid Saeed stated, "By separating families, we are not just hurting them, we are further tarnishing America’s image as a humane nation."
Craig Wiesner, an MVPJ leader and a board member of MicahsCall.org, who spent the morning with Isabel and the children at the ICE office in San Francisco said:
You can tell the true character of a nation by how her people treat the stranger, the orphan, the widow, the homeless, the migrant, the least of these. Storming into people’s homes and literally ripping parents and children apart is certainly not what God had in mind.
Tonight is Passover, and within a Haggadah I like to use for the seder are the clearest instructions on this matter which are also found in the holy book shared by Jews, Christians and Muslims, God said “When an immigrant sojourns with you in your land, you shall do her no wrong. You shall treat her as a citizen, and you shall love the immigrant as yourself, for you were once immigrants in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”
Surely our justice is better than Pharoah’s. Surely we’ve learned that when we encounter this family on the road to Palo Alto, God says we could in fact be encountering Elijah the Prophet or Jesus. Surely we realize that today’s immigrant is the bible’s good Samaritan. Surely on this eve of Passover as we enter into Good Friday and Easter we can show the world, or at least this family, our true character. Or have we already shown it to them? Surely we are better than that.
It was a heart-breaking day but one that at least gives a little hope that with the enormous attention now focused on this case, someone may somehow intervene to keep this family here, and maybe even find a way to bring the father back from Mexico.
That is the hope right now. Stay tuned for more news.
What can you do? Pray! Call Senator Feinstein, Senator Boxer and Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, and ask them to do whatever they can to help keep this family here.
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