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A recent ICE arrest in Amenia

Part 1 of 3

 

The insistent ring of my cell phone startled me awake at 6:13 a.m. on Tuesday, April 3. It was Elizabeth Agustín. Elizabeth is 28, has lived in the United States since she was 4 years old, and has recently renewed her DACA status. On the other end of the line I could hear an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent knocking aggressively on the glass pane of her front door. A truly unnerving sound. Elizabeth was crying, imploring me to come over as quickly as possible. When she told the agent they needed a warrant signed by a judge in order to enter  her home, the agent responded threateningly, “Well, if that’s the game you want to play.”

Contrary to the President’s toxic anti-immigrant tweets, the overwhelming majority of immigrants who cross the U.S.-Mexican border are not murderers, rapists or dangerous criminals. In fact, recent studies show that first-generation immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than other Americans. Yet the random implementation of ICE’s cruel policies is tearing apart immigrant families, many of whom, like Elizabeth and José and their two American children, are of mixed-immigration status.  

Both José and Elizabeth work full-time, José as a cook and Elizabeth as a certified medical assistant and phlebotomist at a health clinic. She also works in a restaurant. José recently completed his GED certification. He has been intimately involved in the care of their two preschool children. 

It was foggy, with frost on the grass, as my wife, Deborah, and I drove as fast as possible, using our GPS to locate Elizabeth’s rural home. We texted back-and-forth with her, hoping to calm her with the assurance that we were almost there. 

A lawyer friend committed to human rights, whom I had called before leaving home, was pulling up to the curve as we arrived at Elizabeth’s green-roofed white house. She had also alerted the larger Vecinos Seguros network, and Evelyn Garzetta, Director of Immigrant Outreach at Grace Episcopal Church in Millbrook, pulled up. Since I didn’t know if I could open Elizabeth’s front door with ICE there, I continued to text with her from outside.

The rising sun cast long gray shadows across the frosted lawn. Half a dozen cars were parked near the house. Four belonged to ICE agents. Two were undercover and two were official ICE vehicles, a black Suburban with dogs inside that one could see through the tinted windows and a black sedan. Four ICE agents were standing outside. They seemed as uneasy as we were.

I must have said something provocative, because one of the agents responded, “Well, we could take her also if we wanted to.” Although I don’t think they would have taken a DACA recipient, in a recent nationally publicized arrest both parents were deported, leaving two children behind. 

Understanding that the tension needed to be defused, Evelyn, the lawyer, and Deborah struck up a conversation with the agents. They seemed to warm up a little. Then two local sheriffs arrived in separate vehicles, their presence suggesting collaboration with ICE. 

A little more time passed, and one of the ICE agents went to his car to show us a deportation order from Phoenix. Examining the document, Evelyn said there was nothing more we could do. 

José would have to surrender himself. I went into the house with her to help bring José outside so that the arrest could be conducted away from the children.  

Elizabeth greeted us with hugs. Tears were rolling down her cheeks as she talked to Evelyn and me, helped get José ready and tried to distract her two little children, who were confused and upset. 

Deborah and I have known Elizabeth for years. Recently, she and I worked together to alert other immigrants of possible danger in the area. She said, in a tone of resigned grief, “I always worried about this happening, and now it has happened.” 

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.