OCEAN PARK — Five-year-old Sophia Williams didn’t know what to do after federal agents took her stepdad and aunt away.
Her mom, Kendra Williams-Reyes, was asking the other grown-ups a lot of questions, so she slipped out the door of the family’s yellow house in north Long Beach to see what she could find out.
“Mama was crying because Alfredito was gone,” Sophia said, after she checked the yard for “clues” about her stepfather’s sudden absence on Jan. 30.
Alfredo Reyes-Garcia, and his sister, Lidia Venegas-Garcia were picked up by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement early that morning, just after leaving home for work at Willapa Bay canneries.
ICE officers notified the Pacific County Sheriff’s Office at 5:02 a.m. that they were doing surveillance near the family’s home, dispatch records and call recordings show.
They called back at 6:09 a.m. to report that they’d arrested a woman. The two officers determined she was 30, based on her 1980 birth date, according to the public records obtained by the Observer under state law.
At 8:09 a.m., officers told dispatch they were leaving the area with a man, 32, in custody.
Reyes-Garcia, 32, and Venegas-Garcia, 37, both Mexican immigrants, were taken to the for-profit Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.
“I didn’t want it to be true,” Williams-Reyes, 36, said.
ICE blocks newlywed romance
Williams-Reyes woke up that Tuesday morning with one of those visceral, gut feelings. She tried to get her husband to stay home. He insisted on going to work, reminding her that he wanted to save money for their son Oscar’s first birthday in a few weeks.
But when Williams-Reyes started getting multiple voicemail, text and Facebook alerts while she was driving her girls to school, she knew what she’d learn as soon as she stopped to look at her phone.
She said Reyes-Garcia called and tried to tell her ICE had him. She heard some rustling on the other end of the line, then the call was disconnected.
“That’s the last I heard of my husband,” she said that evening. “I don’t know what to do. I feel lost. Alfredo was my world.”
Fighting for her family
With both of the family’s financial providers gone, the stay-at-home mom said, she was worried about how she was going to get by with Oscar, Sophia and her older daughter, Abbie Williams, 12. She also cares for another family member.
So she started coming up with ways to earn money that don’t require her to pay for childcare while she’s working. She made hundreds of tamales and sold all of them on Feb. 2 and 3. She also set up an account to take donations online at gofundme.com/support-alfredo-family.
Williams-Reyes met with immigration attorneys and advocates to learn how to help her husband and sister-in-law.
After their arrests, Williams-Reyes couldn’t find her sister-in-law’s black Acura and she hadn’t heard from her. Around noon the next day, Williams-Reyes called the sheriff’s office and reported the car stolen. Records show the sheriff’s office called ICE officer Lonnie Miller. He said it was on the 2200 block of Ocean Beach Boulevard.
Williams-Reyes said she wonders what would have happened to the car had she not been a U.S. citizen who’s comfortable calling law enforcement.
Making a home
Her husband came to the United States about 12 years ago, Williams-Reyes said. Venegas-Garcia lived in the country for a while, then moved back to Mexico before her recent return to Ocean Park.
Williams-Reyes grew up in Western Montana and across the river in Oregon. She was dating Reyes-Garcia’s friend when they first met.
Her other relationship eventually ended but she and Reyes-Garcia remained friends. After about three years, they started dating. They had been together as a couple for about two years when they married in June.
Everything seemed to be falling into place, Williams-Reyes said. It was a relief to have a partner she could count on after years of struggling as a single mother.
“He wanted a life and a family,” she said.
His job at a small Nahcotta cannery provided for them with some extra left over to send to his mother and relatives in Mexico.
When Venegas-Garcia returned about a year ago, she took a job at another cannery so she could help support the family and provide and education for her daughters.
Labyrinth to legal status
Williams-Reyes said she and her husband were planning to file paperwork to start the arduous process of getting legal status for him this month.
“I kept telling him, ‘We need to get this application in — I have a feeling,’” Williams-Reyes said.
She found that the first step in the complicated process would cost them more than $1,000 for application and attorney fees. There are then various hoops to jump through and waiting time before steps two and three, she said. Each part of the years-long process comes with more fees, paperwork and other costly requirements.
“It’s very frustrating that a lot of people think it’s easy,” Williams-Reyes said.
She’s been trying to improve her Spanish while Reyes-Garcia works on his English.
“He wants to make sure he can become a citizen,” Williams-Reyes said.
Fear of being forced apart
Stephanie Serrano, an advocate for Pacific County immigrants, has been working with the family. She was in the courtroom with Williams-Reyes during her husband’s first hearing at the Tacoma immigration prison on Friday.
When the judge set Reyes-Garcia’s bond at $20,000, his family and others who’d come to support him were shocked, Serrano, of South Bend, said.
“Kendra was in tears and Alfredo looked like he’d been pistol whipped,” she said.
Reyes-Garcia was released on Friday. Venegas-Garcia is still in the lockup, waiting for a hearing date.
Serrano said she and other volunteers from Pacific County would continue to fight for the family and immigration policy changes.
“ICE is taking good people,” she said. “These are not criminals.”