On March 27, Cecilia Gomez went to the Las Vegas U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office thinking this was a standard appointment that would lead to her securing permanent residency. Instead, she was arrested, detained, and assaulted by ICE agents. But after an outcry from immigrant rights activists and the larger Southern Nevada community, Gomez was released last Friday as her case is pending in immigration court.
So what happened, and what does this say about the larger experience of American immigrant families in the Trump era? We heard directly from Ms. Gomez, her children, and her attorney about what occurred, and why it merits our concern.
“In less than ten minutes I was in ICE custody and taken away without the chance to say goodbye to my son, waiting on the other side of the door.”
– Cecilia Gomez
Cecilia Gomez and her attorney held a press conference yesterday with allied community activists in East Las Vegas. During the program, Gomez explained how she was under the impression that this was a standard appointment as part of the process to obtain permanent legal status: “For more than twenty years, I had been waiting for this day, and the opportunity to become a permanent resident in order to be present at my son’s college graduation, and ensure that my two younger sons finish their schooling.”
When Gomez was called up for her interview, she was instead met by ICE agents and quickly arrested. “In less than ten minutes I was in ICE custody and taken away without the chance to say goodbye to my son, waiting on the other side of the door.” And then, according to Gomez, the unimaginable occurred. “[W]hile I was being processed for deportation, I was assaulted by an ICE agent and injured.”
Gomez declined to provide further comment on the assault due to pending legal action, though her family and allies have previously stated that an ICE agent slammed her on a table and caused bruising. After the program, Gomez’s attorney, Laura Barrera, stated that ICE has video evidence of their mistreatment of Gomez and demanded ICE turn the video over to the court.
After her arrest and release, Cecilia Gomez is speaking out about her detainment by ICE https://t.co/RcxUW0j3hK
— Andrew Davey (@atdleft) April 9, 2018
“It was when I was assaulted, that I felt especially powerless. I was humiliated, mocked and stripped of my humanity.”
– Cecilia Gomez
Though Gomez didn’t go into detail on how she was assaulted, she did note how ICE broke her spirit: “It was when I was assaulted, that I felt especially powerless. I was humiliated, mocked and stripped of my humanity.”
After the program, her attorney, Laura Barrera, answered some questions about what happened to Cecilia Gomez client and how ICE mistreated her. When asked whether this was an isolated incident, Barrera pointed to similar cases that have been uncovered throughout the nation.
Barrera is likely onto something: Even before President Donald Trump took office, ICE had an extensive record of using extreme force against immigrant communities to execute their mission of “100% rate of removal”. Yet since Trump directed ICE to show no restraint at all, we’ve seen more reports of immigrants with minor or zero criminal record (even immigrants who were going to authorities to report crimes) being targeted for deportation. As we’ve witnessed ICE’s increasingly brazen attacks on immigrant communities, Cecilia Gomez’s case feels less like an isolated incident and more like one that’s part of a larger pattern of ICE working to deport just about anyone anywhere at any time.
“They think that just because we are immigrants they can do whatever they want with us. While I was detained I saw so much injustice.”
– Cecilia Gomez
During the press conference, Gomez noted how she tried to put ICE on the record for their treatment of her and other immigrants in their custody: “While I was detained I asked multiple times, at different detention centers, for someone to document my injury but was repeatedly refused. They think that just because we are immigrants they can do whatever they want with us. While I was detained I saw so much injustice.”
Despite the cavalier attitude, ICE actually doesn’t have full carte blanche to do whatever it wants. Immigrants are entitled to legal due process regardless of their status, and Congress has the authority to regulate ICE… And make larger changes to immigration law, if they so choose.
And then, there’s one more twist to Gomez’s case. ICE has pointed to a 1998 order of removal as justification for her arrest, an order that originated when Gomez failed to appear in court. Yet Gomez was never actually notified of the court date, as her case was handled at the time by a notario who had no intention of actually securing legal status for Gomez. As Gomez’s case proceeds, her legal team plans to argue to the court that this notario fraud negates the legal rationale for deporting Gomez.
What the Pence might happen next?
Coincidentally, Cecilia Gomez’s arrest and release unfolded during an incredibly auspicious time. During her detention, President Donald Trump had a total Twitter meltdown over Congress’ refusal to fund a border wall or pass legislation that would make it far more difficult for people like Gomez to attain permanent legal status. And as Gomez awaits her next day in court, Vice President Mike Pence will return to Southern Nevada this Friday to hold a rally with the organization America First Policies to promote the Trump-GOP Tax Plan that Congress passed last December and headline a private fundraiser for Senator Dean Heller’s (R) reelection campaign.
It remains to be seen whether Pence mentions Gomez’s case, or immigration policy at all, during his visit to Las Vegas this weekend. Regardless, Gomez vowed yesterday to keep up the fight for her family, and for other families who fear deportation in the Trump era: “This inspires me, and motivates me to continue fighting to become a permanent resident and remain together with my family. It also moves me to let them know that they are also not alone.”
Update (8:50 AM): This morning, the Vice President’s office confirmed to the Las Vegas Review-Journal that Pence will not be coming to Las Vegas this Friday, as President Trump will instead send him to represent the U.S. at the Summit of the Americas in Peru. However, they also said that Pence will likely reschedule his trip to Nevada to campaign with Heller.