This fam­ily’s strug­gle is all too fa­mil­iar

Lives are up­ended when fa­ther, who has a mi­nor crim­i­nal past, is jailed by ICE.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - ROBIN ABCARIAN robin.abcarian@la­times.com

Lives are up­ended when a fa­ther with a mi­nor crim­i­nal past is jailed by ICE agents.

OAK­LAND — Yibi Heras was stand­ing at the sink of her mod­est East Oak­land home one morn­ing in Fe­bru­ary when she no­ticed some cars driv­ing slowly past. The neigh­bors raise chick­ens and ducks, which some­times es­cape the yard. She fig­ured the cars were slow­ing for an­i­mals in the road.

Min­utes later, she saw seven men in front of her house and heard a knock on a kitchen win­dow. Her part­ner, Maguiber Ramos, had just got­ten into bed, hav­ing re­turned around 4 a.m. from his job clean­ing restau­rants.

“I got scared,” Heras told me Thurs­day. “I thought it was a gang or rob­bers.”

We sat in her kitchen, as two of her three chil­dren scram­bled around, look­ing for snacks, play­ing with their Chi­huahua puppy.

She woke Ramos, who thought the men were in the wrong place. They opened the kitchen door, and two men, who iden­ti­fied them­selves as po­lice, said Ramos’ car had been in­volved in a hit-and-run ac­ci­dent. Could he come out­side?

Must be a mis­take, Ramos said. The car had been parked for three days. They beck­oned him out­side to show the regis­tra­tion.

“I told him, ‘If you didn’t do any­thing, why don’t you just go out and show them?’ ” Heras said.

“OK,” he told her, as he walked out the door. “I put my life in the hands of God.”

When he showed the car’s regis­tra­tion, he was hand­cuffed. Their fourth child is due Sept. 6, and Heras has not seen Ramos since. ::

The men who came for Ramos were not po­lice. They were of­fi­cers from Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment. It’s not clear why they tar­geted him.

His at­tor­ney thinks it’s be­cause Ramos had re­cently fin­ished a 10-day com­mu­nity ser­vice stint af­ter plead­ing guilty to a reck­less driv­ing charge stem­ming from a traf­fic stop in July 2016.

“We’ve no­ticed a lot more peo­ple get­ting picked up by ICE who have been re­leased from crim­i­nal cus­tody on pend­ing charges — some­thing mi­nor like DUI or petty theft,” said Lisa Knox, his lawyer. She works at Cen­tro Le­gal de la Raza, which pro­vides ser­vices to low-in­come im­mi­grants.

“They get re­leased from county jail, and im­mi­gra­tion will pick them up,” she said. “We sus­pect the Sher­iff ’s De­part­ment is shar­ing in­for­ma­tion with ICE about peo­ple — po­ten­tial nonci­t­i­zens — who are re­leased from their cus­tody.”

(In Fe­bru­ary, the East Bay Ex­press re­ported that the Alameda County Sher­iff ’s De­part­ment rou­tinely no­ti­fies ICE of re­lease times for cer­tain in­mates. Knox sus­pects that ICE was alerted about Ramos even though his com­mu­nity ser­vice was com­pleted.)

Ramos’ only other brush with the law was in 2008, shortly af­ter he had turned 18. He was ar­rested while sit­ting in a car with a friend in Santa Clara County, and pleaded guilty to be­ing un­der the in­flu­ence of co­caine. He was de­ported to Gu­atemala when Heras was preg­nant with Kevin, their el­dest child, who is 9, has cere­bral palsy and can­not walk.

Two years later, in 2010, Ramos made his way back to Oak­land. He re­united with Heras, and they had two more chil­dren, Gabriela, 5, and Christo­pher, 3.

For the last six months, Ramos, 27, who worked three jobs to sup­port the fam­ily, has been held at Con­tra Costa County Jail’s West De­ten­tion Cen­ter. Be­cause of his de­por­ta­tion, he can be held for up to six months with no hear­ing. Knox told me he is sched­uled to be in San Fran­cisco im­mi­gra­tion court Aug. 24.

At that point, he will ei­ther be re­leased (maybe un­con­di­tion­ally, maybe in ex­change for bond, maybe with in­struc­tions to check in with im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials pe­ri­od­i­cally, maybe with an an­kle bracelet), or be kept in jail and al­lowed to re­quest a bond hear­ing in an­other six months.

Even­tu­ally, he could be de­ported again to Gu­atemala, which he left, said Knox, to get away from vi­o­lent gangs.

Knox is going to re­quest that the gov­ern­ment drop the case.

“It is not a good use of gov­ern­ment re­sources to keep pros­e­cut­ing this fa­ther of three — soon to be four — with a min­i­mum crim­i­nal record who has done noth­ing but con­trib­ute to the com­mu­nity since he’s got­ten here. It does not serve the pub­lic in­ter­est to tear that fam­ily apart.”

No, it re­ally doesn’t. Scream all you like about il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, but hon­estly, re­mov­ing a man like this from his fam­ily only costs tax­pay­ers in the end. It’s short­sighted and counter-pro­duc­tive. ::

As Heras, 32, and I were talk­ing, with the help of a trans­la­tor, Kevin crawled into the kitchen. His mother lifted him into a lit­tle wheel­chair. He is a first-gen­er­a­tion child of im­pov­er­ished im­mi­grants, a U.S. ci­ti­zen just like his si­b­lings, and so far, the only bilin­gual mem­ber of his fam­ily. How many of you have par­ents or grand­par­ents who started out just like Kevin?

“You must feel ex­cep­tion­ally Amer­i­can,” I told him. I thought maybe that was too so­phis­ti­cated a con­cept for a kid going into fourth grade, but he con­sid­ered it for a moment.

“Ummm. I re­ally don’t think about that,” he said. “It doesn’t mat­ter which coun­try you are from. It mat­ters what kind of per­son you are.”

The prob­lem with our un­for­giv­ing im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem — par­tic­u­larly in the era of Pres­i­dent Trump, but un­der Pres­i­dent Obama as well — is that there is so lit­tle room for com­pas­sion, for the idea of pay­ing one’s debt, be­ing for­given and mov­ing on.

“In the im­mi­gra­tion con­text,” Knox said, “you are your worst mis­take, even a mi­nor mis­take or a youth­ful mis­take.”

Snort­ing co­caine at 18, plead­ing guilty to reck­less driv­ing nine years later. Should a hard­work­ing im­mi­grant fa­ther of four Amer­i­can cit­i­zens be de­ported for that?

This is not who we are, peo­ple. We are bet­ter than this.

Robin Abcarian Los An­ge­les Times

YIBI HERAS, right, has not seen her part­ner since his Fe­bru­ary ar­rest. Their fourth child is due Sept. 6.

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