The tears slipped softly down Gloria’s cheeks even as she ushered us into her home. Her smile of welcome ran counter to the pain in her eyes. “What can I tell you?” she asked. “Ahora son los abuelos,” she said — “Now it’s the grandfathers. Ricardo is the second grandfather the ICE have taken in the last few days.”
Ricardo: husband, father of five, grandfather to one; 54 years old; here for 19 years and during all of that time employed by one of the big oyster companies in Nahcotta. “They arrested him Wednesday morning right out there on 227th Street near the road to Sunset Sands,” Gloria says softly. “He was on his way to work.”
She took a breath and then seemed to retreat to safer territory. “I had just given him his blended drink and coffee at 5:30. Like every morning.” And she described what might be called a smoothie, with fresh fruit and healthful supplements. “He has that every morning…” and her voice trailed off as she remembered the events of a few days previously.
‘They got me’
“Just after that he was arrested — just a minute or so after he left the house. They gave him permission to call me. ‘They got me,’ he said. ‘Come get the car.’ It was Gabriel who went. He saw three ICE cars surrounding his father. Two people in each car.”
The tears began again when she described the package Gabriel found on the passenger seat of his father’s car. “It was his bread left over from breakfast, wrapped up in a paper towel with ‘DAD’ written by Ivan in dark letters…” Now 14-year-old Juanita was softly crying, too.
Gloria and Ricardo have been on the Peninsula since 1998. They came with their three oldest boys — Ricardo, Jr. (father of a baby daughter), Mateo, and Gabriel, who are now, 27, 23, and 19, respectively. All three are Ilwaco High School graduates. All three have jobs in the area. All three are enrollees in the program called DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). All three had already been to Tacoma to the Northwest Detention Center to see their dad… to take him his medicine and to tell him they are standing by, ready to help.
Still living at home are school-aged Juanita and Ivan, both of whom were born here and are U.S. citizens. Juanita is looking forward to her quinceañera next year, “If my father can be here for it,” she says quietly. Ivan, a fourth grader, didn’t put in an appearance during our visit. He was busy on the trampoline with a friend. But he’s had a hard time we were told — full of fear that his mother may also be taken. For him, coming home from school each day is an agony of not knowing — day in and day out.
An empty house
On the very first day after his father’s arrest, Ivan found the house empty when he got home. Panic! Did they have his mother, too? Where was she? Who could he ask? In the turmoil of the last 24 hours he had forgotten that his mother would be at work that day, as usual. She cleans houses. “And she is a wonderful cook,” offers Juanita. “Everyone comes to our back porch on Tamale Day! She is famous for her tamales!”
Of the family members still on the Peninsula, Gloria is the only one in direct jeopardy now. Their DACA status protects the three oldest “for now” and U.S. citizenship by birthright protects the two youngest. Though ‘protection’ for themselves does not prevent living in hourly uncertainty about their parents. Hardly the life of security that most families hope for. And, too, there is a matter of the bills…
We sit at the dining table — a focal point in this neat-as-a-pin home. At Gloria’s place is a fat. well-thumbed notebook. “It shows what we owe, month by month,” Gloria says. “And this part shows our income. Without Ricardo here, we will not be able to keep up…” Her voice trails off and the tears begin again. Juanita leans in and wraps her arms around her mother and we are all quiet for a bit.
“Gabriel is going to move home again to save money. So he can help.” Gloria says softly. She doesn’t add that it’s not what she would want for her youngest ‘man-child.’ She didn’t need to; her eyes said it all — pride, concern, dreams for his future. Every mother’s hope for her children. Plus, a good dollop of… what? Sorrow that her children are also impacted by this tragedy of arrest?
‘So much money…’
To our question of “What next?” Gloria’s expression turns determined. “He’s already had a preliminary evaluation. That cost $200. Now, he will need an attorney and that will cost $4,000 to begin with — a down payment on the full cost of $16,500. His employer says he will help us. But I don’t know… So much money… How we can ever get enough? How can we pay it back?”
After Ricardo’s unlawful entry in 1999, he was deported for five years. There is no record of his re-entry. According to the preliminary evaluation, that makes his case more complicated, but he’s been told that he has a 90 percent chance of being bonded back into the community. And, if not?
“He will stay at the detention center and fight his case,” says Gloria. “He has spoken to an attorney who has given us hope. The first hope. Even if they don’t bond him out, he will stay inside the prison and fight from there. He has a right to due process. Except for the deportation years ago, his record is absolutely clean. Not a DUI. Not a traffic ticket. Nada.” She takes a deep, shaky breath. “He has to be strong for our children. We both do.”
When asked about going back to Mexico, Gloria said that is not an option. “We are from Michoacán — the worst part. All our relatives there have died or they have moved to California. Only my brother is still there,” Gloria says. “When ‘they’ learned that my brother had relatives in the United States, the Commander of Police began extorting money from him. ‘They’ think we are rich because we live in the United States. They think we will send money to my brother if they threaten him. If we went there, they would kidnap one of our children for ransom…” Her voice trails off for a moment. “No,” she repeats. “We will not be going back, no matter what. We are the grandparents. We need to stay strong.”
A Dreamer Speaks
I am a ‘Dreamer.’ Yet, I live in a nightmare not of my own making. I came to this country when I was a child. Like 800,000 other children, I entered the United States with parents who were seeking safety and a better life for their families.
So far, there has been no legal pathway for us to become citizens. To try to solve this situation, a piece of legislation called the DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) was first introduced to congress in 2001. If the legislation ever passes, it would ensure a route to citizenship for those of us who were brought to United States as children without documentation. Meanwhile, we are known as ‘Dreamers’ and we wait for our nightmare to be over.
Like all Dreamers, I am American in every way. Except on paper. I grew up in this country. I went to school here. Everything I know is here. Yet, I am not a citizen; I cannot do all the things a native-born person can do. The privileges of full citizenship are withheld from me and, so far, there is no lawful path for resolving the problem.
Even though 70 percent of American citizens supported the DREAM act, Congress failed to pass the legislation. So, in 2012, a temporary program was put in place. The program is called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA for short. It has allowed us Dreamers to come forward, to pass a background check, and to apply for work permits that are good for two years at a time.
To be eligible for DACA, we had to arrive in the U.S. before we were 16 and we had to have lived here since June 15, 2007. We had to be 30 or younger when the Department of Homeland Security enacted the policy five years ago. The latest government figures show that 787,580 people have been approved for the DACA program.
Our average age on entering the United States was six. The oldest of us are now in our mid-30s; the youngest, in our mid-to-late late teens. We have come out of the shadows. We have built our lives here. We have careers, families, aspirations. We wait for a pathway to lawful status.
In recent weeks, our circumstances have become more uncertain. Right now, we are being told that we have nothing to worry about for six months. We are told that Congress will be working on the situation. We are told that, if our work permits will expire before the six-month-period is up, we can still apply for a renewal — if we apply by Oct. 5. We watch the news and we worry.
Unless things change, we will begin losing our protections on March 5, 2018. Our next steps are still unclear. We are the Dreamers… living in a nightmare not of our own making.