What if you were on your way to work, and you got arrested for a crime you didn’t think you ever committed? How would you react? And how would you try to reconnect with family as police were trying to make sure you’d never see them again?
For many immigrant families, including some here in Nevada, this is not just a hypothetical fear. This has become reality. Over the weekend, we spoke with two families who experienced this terrifying reality about how they’ve gotten through the darker side of our nation’s immigration system. We now have to ask ourselves, and ask a certain set of individuals seeking a promotion to a certain Oval Office, what (if anything) we’ll do about it.
WARNING: This story addresses some very sensitive topics, including frank discussion of violence and suicide. Reader discretion is advised.
“I didn’t expect it. I didn’t know I had an order of deportation.”
– Adriana Arellano Cruz
Back in July, we learned about Adriana Arellano Cruz’s surprise arrest, a stealth attack by ICE that reminded us of Cecilia Gomez’s case. But at the Mijente town hall with Bernie Sanders, we finally heard directly from Arellano Cruz herself about what happened that day. And during our conversation, Adriana and her daughter Kimberly revealed another wrinkle in their case that draws an eerie parallel to Cecilia Gomez’s story.
As Adriana recalled, “I didn’t expect it. I didn’t know I had an order of deportation.” She continued, “I was really surprised. I was scared. I didn’t know what to do.” Kimberly then added, “When she saw the ICE officers, she asked them why she was being detained.”
Here’s where the Cecilia Gomez parallel comes in. As Kimberly was translating her mother’s words for us, she explained, “She had a lawyer who she trusted. She was in shock.” Kimberly continued, “He told her that her status was good. She trusted him and his word.”
Remember that when Cecilia Gomez’s 1998 order for removal originated with her failure to appear in court, and that failure stemmed entirely from the notario (who was hired by Gomez’s family) failing to notify her of this court date. It was only 20 years later, and after ICE’s sting operation to arrest Gomez and falsely label her as a “criminal alien”, when the immigration court realized the faulty information behind that 1998 order for removal and rescinded it so Gomez could apply for permanent residency again.
“We have an apartment where we’re staying after we were [evicted]. […] We’re just trying to maintain a stable [residence].”
– Kimberly Arellano Cruz
After Adriana Arellano Cruz’s arrest, the kids were evicted from their home, and they had to scramble to find somewhere else to live. Even now that Adriana and her legal team won their case in federal court and can now make their case in immigration court, she and her kids are still picking up the pieces.
“Right now, we don’t have a house. We have an apartment where we’re staying after we were [evicted],” Kimberly explained. She continued, “We’re just trying to maintain a stable [residence].” Her elder brother Omar had already been working at a restaurant, and Kimberly landed part-time work after Adriana’s arrest to help the family stay afloat financially.
While the Arellano Cruz family have expressed their appreciation and gratitude for community allies and groups like Arriba Las Vegas Worker’s Center, Mi Familia Vota, and PLAN who have assisted in their time of need, this doesn’t erase the havoc that entered their lives the day when ICE agents decided to arrest and detain Adriana. And due to both Trump’s ongoing deportation regime and local law enforcement (such as Las Vegas Metro Police) participating in it, more families are at risk of suffering similar fates.
“Silas didn’t get to see his dad come home. […] Silas didn’t get to see that. So in his honor, I want to reunite families.”
– Felicia Añorve
Last Friday we spoke with Felicia Añorve, a U.S. citizen who never expected to be thrown deep into Trump’s war on immigrant communities. Like the Arellano Cruz family, the Añorves were caught by surprise when police arrested Felicia’s spouse in August 2018 and transferred him to ICE under 287(g). Yet even though he eventually won his case and won release from jail, their son Silas had already died by suicide following a visit with him in jail.
This tragedy sparked Felicia into action. “Ever since that night, I knew I could not turn my back on this. I have to do whatever I can to reunite families, because that’s what Silas wants,” Añorve told us last Friday. She continued, “Silas didn’t get to see his dad come home. […] Silas didn’t get to see that. So in his honor, I want to reunite families.”
The next day, Adriana and Kimberly Arellano Cruz also spoke of how ICE’s arrest and detention of Adriana has affected the entire family. “We kids get traumatized, because they’re separating our families,” they said. “They need to change the law so that us kids won’t be traumatized, and so we’ll have a chance to grow without having that memory of what happened [to us].”
We’ve heard from the people on the front lines. When will more candidates tell us where they stand?
When we hear about this or that scandal emanating from the White House, it’s easy for many of us to scoff at President Donald Trump, complain about the state of American politics in 2019-20, talk up our favorite presidential candidates, and obsess over poll numbers. However, it’s also too easy for us to forget that real people are affected by very real policies and decisions being made by this administration.
Last Saturday, Kimberly got to ask Bernie Sanders what he’ll do to protect other immigrant families from suffering a similar ordeal. Sanders promised to scrap the 287(g) program where local law enforcement are deputized to perform federal immigration enforcement functions, and he added, “We are going to end the ICE raids that are terrorizing this country. We are going to order a moratorium on deportations.”
As we’ve seen ourselves for over a year, Trump’s anti-immigrant regime goes far beyond the refugee prison camps and border wall stunts that attract the most national media attention. Whether it’s packing the immigration court with hardliners from top to bottom, making the path to legal status harder for refugees who try to “do it the right way”, or utilizing local law enforcement to “do the dirty work” for federal agents, Trump’s actions reach far beyond the border.
Yet to a large extent, many of the presidential campaigns tend to stick to generalities and maybe a few specific policies (like DACA and the refugee prison camps) when they talk about immigration. A few candidates, such as Julián Castro, Cory Booker, and Elizabeth Warren, have been getting more specific in recent weeks, and it’s long past time for the entire 2020 field to explain where they stand on immigration reform and how they’ll address all these matters. As the campaign trail continues to light up and candidates continue to push more voters to commit to caucus for them, it’s worth remembering stories like the Arellano Cruzs’ and the Añorves’ as we remember why this election matters and what it’s supposed to be about.
And finally, in case you or a loved one needs them, some resources
If you or someone you know is facing a major life crisis and struggling with thoughts of suicide, help is available. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is always there at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). So is the Crisis Text Line, where you can start a conversation with a volunteer counselor by texting “START” to 741741. (I can attest from personal experience that it helps.) And for LGBTQ+ youth in need of immediate help, the Trevor Project has a 24/7 hotline at 1-866-488-7386 and a text option (text “START” to 678678) available.
And if you suspect ICE is targeting you and/or someone you know for arrest and deportation, ACLU of Nevada and the UNLV Immigration Law Clinic have compiled resource pages to keep on hand and utilize if the moment comes.