Every morning Celia wakes up her kids, she feeds them a hearty breakfast, reminds her twin daughters to take their clarinets with them, and walks her three youngest children to school. It is a routine many parents are familiar with, yet for Celia in the midst of the hustle and bustle lurks an underlying fear and false sense of security. “When I look outside my house I don’t see anything, I don’t want to see anything, I don’t want to see immigration agents watching me from their car, I don’t want them to be outside my door.” Celia’s pervasive fear of apprehension by immigraiton enforcement agents began over a decade ago. One afternoon in 2010 Celia was running errands when she left her infant twin daughters in the car for a brief moment while she walked inside the phone company to pay a phone bill–just enough time for a passerby to see the children unattended and immediately call the police. When Celia returned to the car, a few minutes later, she was confronted by the individual who verbally assaulted her and informed her the police were on their way. Celia, convinced she had done no wrong, made no attempt to escape, and instead patiently waited in her vehicle and breastfed her daughters. When the police arrived Celia was arrested and ripped away from her three toddlers who were left wondering where their mother was and when she would return. Thus began Celia’s decade-long fight with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to remain in the U.S. and provide her children with the very thing she migrated here for—the right to a better life.
Celia was arrested and spent one week in county jail, under criminal charges, paid bail, and was released. However, immediately after she was released from county jail, ICE officials, who had already been informed of her apprehension by local police, arrested and detained her in an immigration detention facility for another week. Upon securing bond, Celia was released and her case found its way through the immigration courts, a trend that has become common here in Orange County. According to “The State of Orange County” report published in 2019 and written by the UC Irvine Law Immigrant Rights Clinic, Resilience OC, and the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, “of the arrests made by ICE in Orange County a significant percentage have been the result of transfers from local police custody. In 2017, transfer from local custody comprised 75% of all ICE arrests in Orange County.” Celia was granted a work permit and for 10 years has shuffled between domestic work–cleaning homes and hotel rooms–to working as a dishwasher, to other odd jobs, often holding down two jobs to cover lawyer costs, legal fees, and keep a roof over her family’s head. In January of 2019 Celia received notice that the 9th circuit court of appeals (the highest court of immigration) denied her appeal to remain in the U.S. and issued a final order of removal. Celia has an ICE check-in at the Santa Ana, CA. field office on February 25th at which she risks being deported. Because of her increasing need to meet with lawyers, attend ICE check-ins, and be present at court hearings about her case, Celia recently lost her job and has not been able to secure legal representation.
When judges and government officials don’t consider the full range of consequences for undocumented persons who are facing criminal charges, we get cases like Celias’s. Celia’s four children—ages thirteen, eleven, and two—are all U.S. citizens, and terrified of being separated from their mother. A psychologist has already documented the extent of trauma endured by Celia’s oldest son since finding out about his mother’s potential deportation, and school teachers have expressed concern about the academic underperformance of both her twin daughters. Compounding these effects, Celia is unable to obtain a passport for her daughters without their biological father’s permission and risks losing them to the foster care system in the event she is deported. Unfortunately, no family member can take in all of her four children if she is deported and they risk being separated from one another.
These deportation proceedings have undermined Celia’s humanity, her community, and her reproductive rights. She does not have agency over her body and her children, all of whose fates are dictated by policies that are xenophobic and unjust. They strip her and her children from their community where they are able to receive a proper education, healthcare, and housing. “Judges and state officials should not be using our children as pawns just to get their message across. I know there are many parents in my exact position. This is unjust. Ya basta!” Celia tells us. Members of the Orange County Rapid Response Network agree with Celia in saying, “Ya Basta!” with these deportation proceedings. Celia is here to stay in our community which is why we invite you all to attend a press conference and rally for Celia this coming Tuesday, February 25th, 2020 at 7:30 am at the USCIS Santa Ana Field Office, 34 Civic Center Plaza, Santa Ana, CA 92701. We hope to see you all there because #Celiaisheretostay!
Gabriela Gonzalez is a doctoral candidate in the department of Criminology, Law, and Society at the University of California, Irvine. Her research examines how laws, legal systems, and legal actors interact with one another to construct and reproduce the social exclusion of already marginalized groups in society.
Sandra De Anda is a community member who focuses her work and her writings on immigration, gentrification, and housing. Her writing has been featured in the late OC Weekly.
Opinions expressed in community opinion pieces belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.
Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue or others please email firstname.lastname@example.org.