Fighting ICE: Network of legal warriors combat surprise deportations
It may have been an old fashioned word-of-mouth tip that kept a Glen Ellen woman off the one-way plane to Tijuana last month. The 60-year old grandmother, who has lived in Sonoma for about 20 years, found herself at the ICE field office of Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), at 630 Sansome St. in San Francisco – the sharp edge of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s activities.
But as far as she knew, no one knew she was there. Not her husband, her children, or her grandchild, or her many friends. The abuela (Spanish for grandmother) was picked up at the Glen Ellen Post Office on the morning of Thursday, Aug. 6, and the postmaster said the staff didn’t notice. She went there to pay her bills, leaving her 4-year-old grandson in the care of others. Several men in khaki uniforms picked her up, loaded her in an SUV and drove her to San Francisco.
She arrived at the detention center before noon, and in talking to other people rounded up in the morning raid – several of whom had legal representation lined up – the abuela said that she didn’t have a lawyer. Word spread quietly but effectively, and in another room Katie Kavanagh, the emergency legal responder for the California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice (CCIJ), heard that someone needed a lawyer.
Kavanagh was at the detention center to represent two other Sonoma County undocumented residents at risk of being deported, that same day, in the aggressive ICE campaign. One was another Sonoma resident, a family man who actually owns property in Sonoma and has lived here for 40 years. But though he was ordered removed in 2006, it took a single arrest two years ago to get him back on ICE’s radar. The other was a Healdsburg woman, likewise a long-time resident.
Both of them had been called into the the 24-hour hotline at the Rapid Response Network at (707) 800-4544, part of the North Bay Organizing Project’s ongoing efforts to combat the feared round-up of undocumented residents that accelerated in the Trump administration.
Kavanagh unfortunately was not able to help the other two, and feared that this case, the woman from Glen Ellen, might be another failed effort. But when they met and talked (on a phone with a plate of glass between them, as in the movie scenes of a prison visitation) and Kavanagh heard the abuela’s story, she realized there was a strong argument to appeal her detention – “extraordinary circumstances,” a valid legal reason to stop the detention and immediate deportation of the 60-year-old woman.
Kavanagh, 38, has lived in San Francisco since 2005, though she returned to her home state of New York to get a degree in immigration law. “I'm dealing with people who are in really precarious legal situations,” she said. And often, precarious emotional situations as well. In the abuela’s case, she had missed a 2018 hearing for renewal of her green card because she had lost two close family members in an auto accident, and was in no emotional condition to go to immigration court.
Kavanagh wrote up the legal appeal by hand and then “ran the motion to a different courthouse in downtown San Francisco” – the San Francisco Immigration Court at 100 Montgomery St. – “to file the motion on her behalf.”
It was a necessary and, as it turned out, essential step. “Fortunately, with the argument I was making, the law says that once you file that sort of motion to reopen a deportation order, under ‘extraordinary circumstances,’ that deportation is automatically stayed.”
With the motion filed, Kavanagh raced the two long blocks back to the ICE field office on Sansome to present the stay-of-deportation order to ICE. The abuela was released, and her son drove to San Francisco to pick her up.
“It was really the ideal outcome we could have had in this situation,” said Kavanagh. “She was slated for deportation the day she was picked up at the post office.”
Her abduction (or capture, or seizure, or removal) was part of a nation-wide ICE crackdown in July and early August. That campaign, according to a series of ICE press releases dated Sept. 1, sent more than 2,000 Mexican nationals back to Mexico, taking them from their homes, work and family in enforcement-and-removal operation.
ICE said that their officers arrested “more than 2,000 at-large individuals living illegally in the U.S., or who are removable from the U.S. due to their criminal histories. About 85 percent of those arrested by ICE on immigration charges also had criminal convictions or pending criminal charges.”
Henry Lucero, the executive associate director of ICE in charge of apprehensions, detention and deportations, said the rest of those arrested include immigrants who were ordered deported by an immigration judge but did not leave, those previously deported who had reentered the U.S., and so-called collateral arrests.
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