Unfair Arrest Leads to Deportation
For 29-year-old “Alfonso B.” and his US-citizen wife, “Rebecca,” there’s a cruel irony to his deportation: the chain of events that led to it began with an argument over him needing to spend more time with the family.
Alfonso ran a cleaning company in Houston that employed 25 people. The contracts often required night work, and he was a hands-on employer. “I had to be boss, secretary, supervisor, and cleaner. With all that, it could come to 70 hours a week,” he told Human Rights Watch researchers in Nuevo Laredo on September 20, the day he was deported.
What set off his deportation troubles in 2016 was his own call to police, after Rebecca confronted him outside their apartment about the excessive hours he was working. She was speaking loudly. “I tried to pull her inside, because I knew a neighbor might get mad, and then I called the police myself, because I thought that would go better,” he said.
“It was the only thing we argued about,” Rebecca said in a telephone interview. “He would work till 3 a.m. sometimes, and then he’d need rest. But the kids wanted to go out. They wanted him to play. It got to me now and then.”
When police arrived, Rebecca said she insisted she was fine – he never hit her – and when that didn’t keep him from being arrested on a domestic violence misdemeanor charge, she wrote a letter to the court. By the time of his arrest, Alfonso had only one more step, they said, in the process of regularizing his immigration status on the grounds of his marriage to a citizen. He said his lawyer advised him there was no way to beat the charge and that the only way to put it behind him would be to plead guilty and serve the sentence – nine days – which is what he ended up doing.
Alfonso had come to the United States from Mexico City as soon as he turned 18, and quickly found work in a butcher shop. But it was his night job, cleaning several YMCAs, that he discovered he really liked. He met Rebecca when they were both cleaning at a Honda dealership, and after dating for two years, they married in 2012, and he became the sole provider. Rebecca’s daughter from a previous relationship, “Alison,” now 7, had never known a father, and Alfonso stepped into that role. “Jamie” was born in 2013, around the same time that Alfonso started his own cleaning business. His record was clean except for one drunk driving charge – and the charges that stemmed from the argument with Rebecca.
Rebecca was leaving to take Alison and Jamie to school on August 23 when immigration authorities arrived at their apartment to arrest Alfonso, initially claiming to be the police. (ICE’s practice of identifying themselves as ‘police’ has been controversial – some elected officials have objected, calling it misleading, especially where local law enforcement has been working to differentiate themselves from immigration enforcement to engender trust in immigrant communities.) Alfonso explained that the domestic violence charge was resolved, but he said the agents told him it wasn’t as far as they were concerned.
Hurricane Harvey bore down on Houston while Alfonso was in immigration detention there, and he called Rebecca constantly, she said, as she and the children made their way from their flood-prone neighborhood and rode out the storm in the relative safety of Rebecca’s mother’s home an hour from the city.
“The kids miss him,” Rebecca said, as she packed up the apartment to move with the children to Mexico City to be with Alfonso.
Rebecca is afraid of the gangs in Mexico City and believes the schools will be worse. The children, both US citizens, don’t want to leave their teachers and friends, she said. But Alfonso’s lawyer suggested that Alfonso would have a better chance at gaining legal residency in the US, Rebecca said, if he filed the papers from Mexico.
“They ask me where he is, and the little one asks why the police took him,” Rebecca says. “That’s all Jamie thinks about – that they came to the house and took him. That’s the image they have, and it breaks my heart.”