On May 21, Mary Caceres (whose name has been changed to protect her privacy) appeared at a routine check-in with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in Jacksonville, Florida. By the end of the day, the 56-year-old mother with no criminal record was wearing an orange jumpsuit and sitting in a detention facility.
The day of her check-in, Caceres received a letter stating that she had been granted a year-long temporary work visa from May 15, 2018 to May 15, 2019. So when she arrived at her meeting, she already had a valid work visa. ICE agents, however, claimed she had missed a check-in meeting. She did, but only because the immigration lawyer in charge of her case committed suicide and she never received the notifications ICE sent directly to the lawyer.
ICE maintained that she was intentionally hiding from authorities and commuted her work visa to just 3 months and placed a tracking device on her ankle — a common practice among ICE agents. While testing the device outside, ICE agents informed her that they had changed their minds and that she would be detained the same day.
In an emailed statement to ThinkProgress, ICE spokesperson Nestor Ygelsias doubled down on the Trump administration’s policy to “no longer exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement.”
“Mary [Caceres] entered the country on a nonimmigrant visa in September 2005, but failed to depart in accordance with the terms of her admission. On Feb. 15, 2011 an immigration judge issued her a final order of removal, and ICE arrested her May 21 pursuant to the judge’s order.
As Director Homan has stated, ICE will no longer exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement. All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States.”
After 13 years of fighting an unjust immigration system & trying to do things the RIGHT way, my mom was arrested and treated like a criminal today. My mom has NO criminal record/ paid her taxes. don’t know when I’ll see her again. WE NEED IMMIGRATION REFORM. NOW. @UNITEDWEDREAM pic.twitter.com/qqHgwS4AEu
— D 🦋 (@danielagaona_) May 21, 2018
“It was devastating,” Daniela Gaona, Caceres’ daughter, told ThinkProgress. “The first time she goes to an immigration meeting without me and she gets detained.”
In 2005, Gaona and her mother came to the United States from Onzaga, a small, dangerous town in Colombia run by Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia guerrilla forces (known as FARC). In Colombia, Caceres was a victim of repeated domestic violence and lived through the death of her brother, who was killed by militant forces. Seeking a better life for her and her daughter, Caceres came to the United States under a temporary visa and applied for asylum, but was denied. For the next 13 years, Caceres paid her taxes, maintained a clean criminal record, and worked tirelessly to provide her daughter with the best life imaginable.
“There were times where she had to work three jobs, even four jobs at one point, to make ends meet for our family. I cannot think of anyone more selfless and dedicated,” her daughter wrote on a GoFundMe page dedicated to raising money for her mother’s legal defense fun. “She helped me go from community college to graduate school at Johns Hopkins University. I could not have done this without her.”
Gaona, a DACA recipient, was in Baltimore when her mother was detained and flew down to Florida the minute she heard the news. However, she was not told which detention facility her mother was held at. After placing calls to different centers in the area, Gaona was informed her mother had been transported to four different detention facilities throughout the state before finally being placed at the Broward County Transitional Center in Pompano Beach, Florida — over 300 miles away from home.
“She wasn’t given the ability to shower or brush her teeth during those days. She was treated like an animal,” Gaona said.
When Gaona was finally able to talk to her mother, it was through a television screen outside the detention center. When she wanted to bring her mother a picture to help give her strength during this difficult time, her request was denied.
She also offered to pay for her mother’s ticket back to Colombia, but that request was also denied.
“I just want the dignity of at least taking her to the airport and giving her a proper goodbye. She has a life here. A job, a house in her name,” Gaona said. “There are some people who are actual criminals and commit crimes intentionally, and then there are people like my mother. It was not our fault we missed that meeting.”
Gaona maintains that ICE tricked her mother into that May 21st meeting.
“They wouldn’t let me pay for her flight home because they want her detained. They want to make money off of her,” she said.
Detaining undocumented immigrants at routine check-ins wouldn’t be completely unheard of for ICE.
In 2017, Jose Hernandez, a U.S. resident for nearly two decades, regularly attended check-in meetings, and paid his taxes on time, was detained when he showed up for a scheduled appointment.
Non-criminal, undocumented immigrants across the country are continuing to be detained by federal law enforcement agencies through questionable operations.
A 30-year-old undocumented immigrant with Down syndrome named Juan Gaspar-Garcia, who came to the United States from Guatemala after his mother’s death when he was 14, was detained by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) while at work on March 28, 2018 this year, where DHS asked employees “for their documents.” He was held at the Broward Transitional Center, where Caceres is currently detained, for three weeks. He was released on April 18. If deported, Gaspar-Garcia would have had no one in Guatemala to take care of him, as his three siblings and father live in Florida.
After his release, Nestor Yglesias, a spokesperson for ICE in Miami, issued the following statement, also citing the Trump administration’s stringent detention policy:
“ICE conducts targeted immigration enforcement in compliance with federal law and agency policy. However, as ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan has made clear, ICE does not exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement. All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States.”
In Florida alone, ICE arrests jumped more than 75 percent from 2016 to 2017, coinciding with Trump’s presidency and the implementation of his policy giving ICE agents carte blanche to arrest or deport whomever they want. The data also includes those detained in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. According to the Pew Research Center, that 75 percent spike was the single-largest spike in ICE seizures in any area across the country last year.