Rose is a soft-spoken mother of three with a direct gaze and ready smile. The woman, whose name CityBeat has changed to protect her identity, has lived in the United States for 10 years after fleeing her native Guatemala, where harassment from gangs culminated in the brief kidnapping of her then 2-year-old son at a market.
Others at the market were able to chase down the gang members and rescue the child, but it was the final straw. Rose resolved to join her husband, who fled to the U.S. two years prior to make money for the family.
They eventually settled in Newport, where they found jobs and community.
But last week, authorities picked up Rose’s husband on his way to work. He was one of more than 50 people suspected of being in the U.S. without documentation apprehended by local law enforcement or Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers in Northern Kentucky since late November, immigration attorneys say.
The bulk of those immigration enforcement efforts, carried out over a two-day sweep, were ostensibly aimed at 22 individuals — 20 men and two women — with serious criminal records, according to ICE. Six are charged with re-entering the country after being deported previously.
"Most had prior criminal histories that included convictions for assaulting a police officer, child neglect, forgery, fraud and driving under the influence," a Dec. 8 press release from ICE’s Louisville office says.
But Rose says her husband isn’t one of those people. Despite that, he is currently locked up in a Kentucky justice center awaiting possible deportation. If he wants to spend the holiday with his family, they’ll have to find $15,000 to pay his bond. Without him making money, Rose says, she will struggle to pay bills and buy food for the couple’s children.
“I’m worried,” she says. “His bond is very high. He was working, but now I have to pay everything on my own. The kids keep asking for their dad.”
Activists, immigration advocates and legal aid groups met the evening of Dec. 14 in a cavernous Newport church to spread the word about the apprehensions and get community support for the families like Rose’s.
A number of groups held strategy sessions earlier in the week before convening the Dec. 14 meeting. They include Supporting Latino Families in Northern Kentucky, Black Lives Matter Cincinnati, Cincinnati Interfaith Workers Center, Democratic Socialists of America, the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center, the Immigrant and Refugee Law Center, Kentucky Women’s Network, Transformations CDC and others.
“When we heard about this, we knew we had to take action,” IJPC’s Samantha Searls said. “We’re here to organize and connect people with the help that they need.”
The groups are asking for donations to help families with rent, groceries, legal fees and other necessities while their apprehended loved ones are behind bars.
“As much as people may want to give specific items right now, the need is for (cash) donations so we can tie it in to exactly what each family needs,” says Linda Vila Passione, vice president of Supporting Latino Families in Northern Kentucky.
Advocates are also asking for volunteers who can provide rides and other non-monetary help, including finding ways to reach out to detainees’ families outside the U.S.
Passione says that, often, wage earners are sending money back to family in their countries of origin. When they’re apprehended, that money stops, but family members back home don’t necessarily know why.
That can be a huge blow to their impoverished families. In Rose’s home country of Guatemala, the share of the country’s population living in poverty grew from 51 percent in 2009 to almost 60 percent in 2014.
Other statistics shed light on why people like Rose leave. In 2014, Guatemala had the 10th-highest murder rate in the world. Applications for asylum from the country have spiked in recent years, according to data from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security CityBeat obtained last year.
As their families wait, those picked up by ICE face an uncertain legal road. Some will get bond, some won’t, based on a tangle of factors including family status, prior convictions and other considerations.
Alexandria Lubans-Otto is a Florence-based immigration attorney who often represents undocumented clients picked up by the agency in immigration courts in Chicago and Louisville.
“ICE conducted raids based on their current policy, which is to seek out individuals who have been convicted of felonies, significant misdemeanors or who have been deported previously and have re-entered the country without permission,” she says. “When they go to look for these individuals, they will also take into custody anyone they find who does not have proof that they are here with permission or legal status."
Lubans-Otto says that on one day last week, half of the 18 people ICE picked up fit that description as “collateral” apprehensions. By early this week, more than 50 people were in jail on immigration-related charges in Northern Kentucky, she says.
“ICE doesn’t know their criminal records at the time,” Lubans-Otto says of so-called collateral apprehensions. “They’ll start with, ‘You’re not speaking English. I’ve asked you for identification and you’ve handed me a passport from Guatemala.’ It’s on suspicion of being here unlawfully. Even though it’s a Class-B misdemeanor, that’s grounds enough for ICE to detain you and put you in removal because you’re deportable.”
There are many mitigating factors, however, to whether someone is indeed eligible for deportation. Those include whether or not a detainee is working with immigration courts and seeking asylum.
As one might expect, the raids have caused controversy among immigration advocates. Some have leveled charges that ICE officers have recently beaten detainees during arrests.
Attorney Charleston Wang Dec. 11 filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a man identified as Edgar Morales, an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala. Morales had been deported previously, and in the early morning hours of Dec. 7, ICE agents came looking for him at his home in Covington.
Wang says that ICE agents violated Morales' constitutional rights against unreasonable search and seizure by entering his house without his permission and that his arrest is invalid.
"It doesn't matter if he's undocumented or not," Wang says. "He's protected by the constitution."
According to an affidavit filed by Morales' wife, ICE stopped her as she was returning from work and held her outside the house she shared with Morales and their four children. Morales' wife says she asked officers for a search warrant, but the officers did not produce one. Morales opened the door to see what was going on, but his wife warned him in their native language, Mam, that ICE officers were with her. Morales then locked the door and hid in the house. According to his wife, ICE officers then searched her, took her house keys and unlocked the door to pursue Morales. His wife testifies in the affidavit that he was beaten by an ICE officer during his subsequent arrest.
Morales has been moved from a deportation processing center in Louisiana back to Kenton County ahead of court proceedings.
Others apprehended recently were picked up by local law enforcement and held on a detainer issued by ICE. Many detainees facing immigration charges in Northern Kentucky move from local jails to Boone County Detention Center and then on to the Oldham County Jail, which has a contract with ICE. At Oldham County, ICE officials decide whether or not a detainee will get bond.
“They have enormous discretion when it comes to that,” Lubans-Otto says. “Over the decade I’ve been practicing, there are times when they’re super-easy on people and other times when they’re like, ‘No bond for anyone.’ "
From there, it’s off to immigration court in Louisville, Memphis or Chicago, where it can take months to get in front of a judge. There are some 600,000 immigration cases in the United States and about 300 judges to hear them.
Rose says she would go back home herself, but that her children need the opportunities found in the U.S.
“I love my country,” she says of Guatemala. “But my oldest son wants to keep going to school here. He has goals and opportunities — all these different career paths he wants to explore — that couldn’t happen there.”