Family photo courtesy of Cynthia Nuno.
Story by Janette Villafana
LONG BEACH, Calif. — Jamie Martinez knew her father, Javier, known to intimates as “Choco,” had been deported several times when she was growing up. But nothing prepared the Martinez family for the day that he would no longer return.
It had seemed like another ordinary day until oddly, her father, who worked in Long Beach, didn’t come home. Jamie’s mother decided to call the police station only to have them confirm her suspicions: Choco had been detained.
“He was jaywalking to catch the bus to go home when the cops pulled him over, saw his record and they booked him,” Jamie said. His record included him being detained for selling cannabis and then deported, among several other deportations for other minor reasons.
It was 2006 when Choco was arrested and then ultimately deported to Tijuana, Mexico. Jamie was only 14 years old. Her mother, who was pregnant at the time, had to adjust to the new role as both the father and mother figure. The family worried for Choco, who, unlike them, was alone and far away.
“My dad had gotten very depressed and lonely,” Jamie explained. “When you’re alone in a country without your immediate family, your wife and your kids, it’s hard.”
With the 42 percent increase of arrests made by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in 2017, it was clear that President Donald Trump was following through on his pledge to deport undocumented immigrants, regardless of criminal history. Deportations and immigration-related arrests have occurred under many presidents, but that nation has noticed a stark change in enforcement.
In response, cities and states have begun to enact sanctuary policies. Most recently, Trump signed an executive order that will keep families coming into the U.S. together by detaining them together. Many mental health professionals also offer culturally sensitive counseling centered around undocumented immigrants that includes coping with fear, anxiety and depression involving family separation. But still, few resources are dedicated to help remaining families deal with the aftermath — the trauma faced by families like Jamie’s.
Los Angeles immigration lawyer Alex Holguin is one who has noticed a significant increase in arrests and changes in how these arrests are dealt with.
He has seen more detainees denied a bond completely or granted a high bond that most families are not able to pay, adding that ICE’s renewed approach has cast a wider net.
“Previously, it was primarily individuals who had committed crimes who were detained by ICE,” Holguin said. “I’ve seen individuals get detained without criminal records recently even though they had pending removal proceedings and had done nothing wrong.”
Such was the case for Cynthia Nuno, a 35-year-old mother of five who was arrested at an airport in El Paso, Texas. Nuno, raised in Santa Ana, Calif., had no previous encounters with police or ICE and was finalizing her legal status with her husband, Alex.
In July 2017, she was stopped by a border patrol officer while checking in to her flight to visit family in California. The officer saw her Mexican passport and asked if she was a U.S. citizen. Nuno, who was brought to the U.S. as a child said no, and the officer arrested her on the spot. She was with her five children at the time of her arrest.
“It was really hard because I have five kids,” Nuno said, describing it as a traumatic experience. “I think my 6-year-old was affected the most because he didn’t understand what was going on.”
After almost a month of being detained, Nuno was released on bond and her family struggled to adapt to life afterwards. Although she was released sooner than expected, Nuno lamented how others don’t share the same fate.
In some cases, detainees have to wait for a judge to set a bond amount, according to Holguin.
“There are certain crimes that may make one ineligible for bond,” Holguin said. “There are [also] some people who are not eligible for bond and could be held indefinitely while their case is heard.”
Choco, who suffered from depression, has been able to build friendships with a stable support system in his new home in Tijuana. Jamie, who is now 26 years old, recently visited her father and is continuing her education at Long Beach City College where she studies occupational therapy.
At times she calls her local congressional office to voice her opinion on immigration issues. To her, it is a way of doing her part in spreading awareness.
“I’m focused on my studies so that I can secure my future and my place in this world,” she said, “so in the future I could sponsor my dad and see what I could do to be able to provide some kind of solution for him.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article erroneously stated that Cynthia Nuno was arrested in Dallas, Texas. The arrest actually took place in El Paso, Texas.