As we parked our car, the three little girls stopped their game and approached us shyly. We exchanged greetings and first names, repeating theirs to make sure — Karen (“almost 12,” she told me), Jaquelyn (“almost nine”) and Leah (“four”).
Their father came striding out of the house next door. “Hola!” he welcomed. “Call me Rosas. That’s what they call me here,” he said as we introduced ourselves.
“Go in! Go in!” he said gesturing toward his place. He stopped to speak to the girls, and then said as we went up the steps, “It might be messy. It was Karen’s turn to clean.” There was a twinkle in his eye as he teased her with the easy affection of a proud father. A mop and bucket stood at the end of the couch, silent witness to the girl’s housekeeping duties. Clean and homey — just enough clutter to look well lived in.
“It’s not right that they took Gladys,” Rosas says. “Daughters need their mother. They don’t need their father. The ICE should have taken me.” A grim silence follows, all of us thinking what might happen next. What if both parents were taken? What then?
Gladys was the 22nd person from the Long Beach Peninsula to be arrested by ICE. The second woman taken. The first mother of young children. Her arrest rocked the local Mexican community. And, even though friends and relatives have rallied ’round to help out, the stress Rosas feels is obvious.
First he sits — squats, really, with his back against the wall. Then he stands for a while, then squats again. “No. No, I’m good,” he says to the offer of a chair. His conversation flits from subject to subject — easy enough to follow — some English, some Spanish — but, that he is distracted is obvious.
“Today at noon I was at Okie’s,” he tells us and the ICE guy was there. I thought he was coming for me and so I asked him, ‘Do you want me?’ ‘No,’ he said, ‘I just wanted to say hello.’ Like we were friends!” He shook his head in disbelief.
“They are here all the time. They are staying at a hotel in Long Beach. For a month or more they have been here every day. He is the one who arrested Gladys. In the parking lot at the bank. The 11-year old, she called me on her telephone. She was crying. She told me they had her Mama and she told me not to come. Over and over she told me not to come or they would get me, too. But I said, she is my wife. I have to come. The girls were very upset — seeing their Mama taken away like that!”
Gladys had driven to the bank in Ocean Park with her daughters and some piñatas that they had made. Together. A family project. A man had called and asked to meet there. A buyer. He said he was interested in the piñatas. But the minute Gladys was out of her car, the man approached. He spoke no Spanish so it was up to 11-year-old Karen to act as interpreter.
Rosas looked around distractedly. Perhaps thinking again about the responsibilities his young girls have to take on while he works out on the clam beds. “Mi madre — la abuela, the grandmother — is coming next week. On a visitor’s visa. For one month.” By then, the family should know whether Gladys will be sent home on bond or deported to Mexico. Her court date is soon. And, by then, there will be a plan in place for the girls.”
The two youngest, both U.S. citizens, can fly to Mexico once they have their passports — if Gladys is deported. And, if Gladys is deported, Karen will have to go by bus which disappoints her. She was not born here and the traveling rules are strict. She is a bit annoyed that her little sisters might get to fly and she won’t.
Where in Mexico, we ask. “Near Puerto Vallarta,” Rosas says. “An hour and a half away. About as far as Longview is from here. It is beautiful!” and his eyes light up. “Really beautiful! Have you been there? I love Mexico!”
“Would you be safe there?” we ask. He grows solemn. “There are many killings. Thirty-five last week the Mexican paper said. But my mother said it was actually 75. It is the cartels. But sometimes regular citizens get killed too.”
Suddenly, he changes the subject. “When I grew up in Mexico, I was called ‘Balta.’ I didn’t like that name. It was short for Baltazar. I don’t like that name either. Rosas is a girls’ name,” he laughs. “I don’t know why they call me that here.”
About then his sister-in-law comes in. She talks with him about what Gladys will be needing for her court appearance — “Letters of reference from U.S. citizens. And the lawyer will need papers. A…” and she looks to Erin for help with the word. “A dossier — all kinds of paperwork. Does Gladys have an attorney? He will tell you what you need to get for her.”
“Yes, her sister in Seattle got someone. She paid him $500.”
“You need to talk to him. Soon. Her court date is less than three weeks away.”
Rosas’ troubled face cleared as a little dog approached. “She is a chihuahua, but see how quiet she is? Chihuahuas always yip-yip-yip-yip,” he laughs. “But not this one. She is so quiet.”
His cell phone rings. “It’s Gladys,” he says with a big smile. “She calls three or four times a day…”
We left soon afterwards, feeling unsettled. And, as it turned out, for good reason. Two days later the news came. Gladys had signed the voluntary deportation papers. Already she was in Arizona. On her way back ‘home.’ Leaving her daughters — her “queens” she calls them — still here and preparing to go. And Rosas still here. Hoping to stay. For the work. Hoping to go. For his family.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Increasing immigration enforcement since the inauguration of President Donald Trump is an important story in Pacific County and elsewhere in the nation. But it’s a difficult story to tell, because the people most affected — undocumented immigrants — are often afraid to speak to authorities, including the news media. Chinook Observer columnist and retired teacher Sydney Stevens is writing this series, “Stories from the heart,” in an unconventional way that will mostly avoid specifically identifying the people she is reporting about. Their quotes are real, their stories are real. We hope it will help illuminate this issue that is having profound impacts on Pacific County’s families, culture and economy.
If Gladys’s three children leave for Mexico it will be a big blow to our schools. Ocean Park School already lost two Mexican kids last year. I think the Middle School and the High School also lost two. There are always ups and downs in enrollment but right now it feels like our Hispanic community is being targeted for deportation and it is clearly impacting our school district.
I wonder how many of the people in our area know anything about the kids we serve. The district as a whole, according to Public School Review, had 1,007 students in 2016/2017. Our minority enrollment was 25 percent (mostly Hispanic). We’re proud of our diversity, even though it is low by statewide standards. The average enrollment throughout Washington for minority students is 43 percent of the population.
I have a friend who teaches in South Bend and they haven’t lost a single Mexican student due to ICE issues — even though their minority enrollment is 61 percent of their student population! That’s more than twice ours. From what I understand, there has not been a single ICE arrest on that side of the bay, even though their Hispanic population is greater than ours. That seems very peculiar to me, especially since we’ve had at least 23 people taken, so far, on the Peninsula.
If it continues, it will eventually impact employment in the school district. It’s the domino effect. As the school population decreases, so does the need for teachers and other adult personnel. It’s the same with funding. There was a time when we were getting enough money from the federal government to support a full-time ESL [English as a Second Language] teacher, plus teacher training and extensive summer programming… Now it is all bare bones and we do the best we can.
I will be so sorry to see these little girls move. So capable! So interested and with such potential. Their loss is our loss, as well. They have been an important part of our school community. I hope they will be happy in their new school.