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A recent ICE arrest in Amenia: José’s deportation arrest and its cause

Part 2 of 3

 

José, an undocumented immigrant and the father of two preschoolers, is a stocky man with a kindly manner and close-cropped hair. In the last column, I described his wife Elizabeth calling me at 6:13 in the morning because ICE agents were at the door of their Amenia home. It was a frosty day. We were waiting downstairs in the kitchen for José, who was upstairs with their 3-year-old daughter Ana, preparing himself for what he had to do. No one knew how long José would be held in the detention center. When he finally came down the stairs he was empty-handed. 

We were all feeling very sad. Evelyn, Director of Immigrant Outreach at Grace Episcopal Church in Millbrook, asked me to lead a prayer. She, Elizabeth, José, my wife Deborah and I held hands in a small circle, closed our eyes and prayed for the family. 

When I opened my eyes, tears were streaming down Elizabeth’s cheeks. José wept as he leaned into me for a hug. After he signed his last paycheck, we all embraced. Then Evelyn, José and I walked out the front door. José went ahead, and with dignity shook hands with each of the agents.

All was silent as the agents walked him to the black sedan. His head and shoulders were slightly bent. He was handcuffed only after he was out of sight of his family, for which Evelyn thanked the agent.

One by one, the four ICE cars and two police cars drove away, and we all went inside. Deborah went upstairs to comfort Ana, who was crying, “I want my daddy, I want my daddy.” I wondered if the four ICE agents understood how profoundly damaging their arrest was to a family, and how this trauma would reverberate throughout a community of mixed-status family and friends. 

Luis was sitting in the highchair in the kitchen drinking Nestlé‘s chocolate milk and eating Oreos. A while later, Elizabeth sat at the bottom of the stairs weeping, holding Ana in one arm and Luis in the other. Then she pulled herself together and began to make phone calls. A mutual friend and advocate arrived to offer comfort and practical advice. We were all wondering who would enable Elizabeth to hold down her two jobs by caring for the little children. Fortunately, she has family in the area. When things felt a little calmer, Deborah and I returned to our safe home, pondering how José had come under ICE’s radar. 

About a year ago, after he had drunk two beers over a couple of hours, José was pulled over by the police and charged with a DUI. According to Elizabeth, the officer was intent on coming up with an infraction: when José passed the breathalyzer test, he was given the test two more times, which he also passed. Then the officer took him to the police station where he finally got his DUI: the fourth Breathalyzer test registered one-tenth of 1 percent over the legal limit. 

When an undocumented person gets charged for a DUI, they are fingerprinted. Once this person is in the police files, the record is vulnerable to being scanned by ICE, which is what must have happened with José — and what is happening randomly every day to some of the 12 million undocumented people in the United States who have made a small misstep and been fingerprinted. Because of the ties that bind the documented to the undocumented, the level of fear in the Latino community grows higher day by day. 

Unfortunately, recent history provides too many examples of totalitarian regimes isolating and targeting the most vulnerable for demonization, persecution and even murder. While these crimes against humanity generate fear and chaos in the vulnerable population, more broadly they also create favorable conditions for despotism. 

 

John Carter is an Episcopal priest. He lives in Lakeville with his wife, Deborah. Before retiring, he served for 15 years as Rector of St. John’s Church in Salisbury. He is the director of Vecinos Seguros, which is dedicated to supporting undocumented people and their families and to educating the public about local immigration circumstances. 

Gratitude to Carol Ascher for editorial guidance.