President Donald Trump has acknowledged that some undocumented immigrants are “good people” and said he has a “big heart” for some people who were brought to the country as young children. But as president, he has thus far made no efforts to show compassion to them.
Under the Trump administration, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has become emboldened to send a message of its own to undocumented immigrants living in the country: We are watching you, and we may detain you regardless of the situation you are in.
Trump’s deportation operations are now drastically undercutting the enforcement efforts put in place under the Obama administration, which released a series of directives to go after immigrants with serious criminal offenses. Those memos, which call on agents to balance discretion with enforcement, are still in place. But ICE agents are now increasingly detaining people in places where they least likely expect to be arrested — schools, hospitals, places of worship, and other places that have the potential of disrupting the daily activities of people who frequent those places.
Here are some of the people detained this week in the latest round of targeted enforcement efforts.
Joel Guerrero, a 37-year-old green card holder from the Dominican Republic, has been going in for a routine check-in with the ICE agency in New York City every six months for the past seven years. But when Guerrero went in for a check-in on Tuesday morning with his wife Jessica, who is six months pregnant, he was detained and arrested.
The reason that ICE detained him? He missed a court date on January 6, 2011 and has a misdemeanor charge for marijuana possession from a decade ago. Guerrero says the charge stemmed from having a marijuana plant when he lived in North Carolina.
On Tuesday, the Guerreros found out Joel also received an order of removal in 2014, which Jessica said neither of them had previously known about.
After an ICE agent led Guerrero away, he quickly shot off a text message to a family group chat room saying he expected to be deported. “Is bad guys, I’m going in and getting deported,” he texted, according to a screenshot that his brother Tommy provided to ThinkProgress.
A series of frantic text exchanges ensued with his family in disbelief, pleading for him to call them. One family member told Guerrero to “lawyer up.”
“Please show support to Jessica guys,” Guerrero said in one of his last texts.
An ICE officer allowed Guerrero back to the main room to hand Jessica his shoelaces, belt, and wedding band.
“I said to the [ICE] officer, ‘why is this happening’ and he said to me, ‘the Trump administration is telling us to enforce everything,’” Jessica recalled in a phone interview with ThinkProgress. “He said to me, ‘this is because we’re told now that we can enforce these orders.’”
“At that point I said, ‘This is America. This is a man who works five, if not seven, days a week. We’re married. We have a child on the way. We just moved to a new apartment and we have a nephew. How can you do this?’”
“This is America. This is a man who works five, if not seven, days a week. We’re married. We have a child on the way. We just moved to a new apartment and we have a nephew. How can you do this?”
After ICE transferred Guerrero to the nearby Hudson County Correctional Facility in New Jersey, an immigration official told Jessica to send over Guerrero’s passport so that they could process his deportation. She refused.
A lawyer has since taken up his case and filed an emergency motion to stay his deportation and prevent him from going back a country he hasn’t lived in for two decades.
Joel’s brother Tommy, who was at home when he received the text message, believes the Trump administration should take into account the totality of his brother’s turnaround.
“He was never a violent criminal,” Tommy said in a phone interview. “He has no felony and he realized he needed to do something and took matters into his own hands to better himself.”
Guerrero’s case is ongoing, but Jessica now bears the brunt of facing their future — one that includes having to take care of their 15-year-old nephew and becoming a mother for the first time in a matter of months. Jessica says that if her husband is deported to the Dominic Republic, she will follow him.
“How can you possibly do this to a family and tear a family apart?” she said. “The officer literally ripped me from my husband’s arms as I was saying goodbye to him.”
An ICE spokesperson was unable to comment on Guerrero’s case at the time of publication.
Juan Carlos Fomperosa Garcia
Juan Carlos Fomperosa Garcia, a 44-year-old construction worker from Mexico who lives in Arizona, went in for a routine check-in at the ICE office in Phoenix on Thursday morning.
At a press conference held on Thursday, Fomperosa Garcia’s daughter explained through tears that he had gone into the agency’s office to check in, thinking he would be home by dinner to celebrate his son’s birthday that night. But the single father of three kids was never left the building.
Instead, officers came out to the waiting area an hour later to hand his daughter a “green tote bag with the paperwork he had brought for his case,” the Arizona Republic reported after speaking with Fomperosa Garcia’s daughter Yennifer Sanchez. She also said that her father has a worker’s permit and a pending asylum application. The family said he doesn’t have a criminal record. His two daughters and son are all U.S. citizens.
“My father is not a criminal. He’s not one of those people that you hear on the news that President Trump says,’’ Sanchez said. “He’s not a rapist, he’s not a drug dealer and he’s not a murderer. My father’s an honest, working man, a family man that loves everyone he meets. He cares too much and that’s the only crime.’’
An ICE spokesperson told the Arizona Republic that ICE was aware of Fomperosa Garcia’s case, but would not comment until Friday morning. After the press conference organized by the immigrant advocacy group Living United for Change Arizona (LUCHA), organizers brought out a cake for Fomperosa Garcia’s son, who turned 17.
“Please, everyone, be aware. They are taking everyone,’’ Sanchez said.
It’s likely that ICE will continue this disturbing pattern detaining and arresting immigrants during routine check-ins. Last month, ICE also detained Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos, a mother of two U.S. citizen teenage children, who was quickly deported to Mexico. Her children recently came to Washington, D.C. to speak out against the Trump administration and were the guests of Reps. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) and Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) during Trump’s address to Congress on Tuesday.
Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez had just dropped off one of his daughters at school on Tuesday morning, and was on his way to dropping off his second daughter, when ICE agents pulled over his car in Highland Park, CA.
After checking his documents, ICE agents arrested him while his wife and the second daughter watched in the car, according to the immigrant advocacy group National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON).
Avelica-Gonzalez was “targeted for arrest because relevant databases indicate he has multiple prior criminal convictions, including a DUI in 2009, as well an outstanding order of removal dating back to 2014,” ICE Spokesperson Virginia Kice told ThinkProgress.
NDLON says that ICE arrested Avelica-Gonzalez too close to his daughter’s school — a “sensitive location” under the agency’s current directives that agents are supposed to avoid. An ICE official said that Avelica-Gonzalez was detained a half mile away.
A father of four U.S. citizen children, Avelica-Gonzalez has been in the United States for 25 years, factors that immigrant advocates argue should keep him out of deportation proceedings. But an ICE official suggested that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agency doesn’t exempt people if they have committed crimes, pointing to Avelica-Gonzalez’s record.
Avelica-Gonzalez is currently detained at Adelanto Detention Facility in California. He may be deported back to Mexico.
UPDATE (8/31/17): On August 30, Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez was released on a $6,000 bond. His case will head to a local immigration court where it could take years to determine his fate because of the 600,000 court-case backlog, the Los Angeles Times reported.