In light of the tragic yet hopeful events of last Friday–when immigration authorities entered the home of Arizona immigrant rights advocate Erika Andiola and arrested her mother and brother, but after public outcry released them the following day–we are re-posting a story from 2010, when Border Patrol agents increased raids in public areas around the lower Rio Grande Valley. Stories like Francisca’s below are being brought to the forefront of the fight for immigration reform. If you have experienced a situation like Erika or Francisca’s, you are encouraged to share it under the hashtag #WeAreAndiola.
“I was a victim. I believe that they violated my rights,” says Francisca of Edinburg. Her and her 6 children were detained by the Border Patrol early in the morning June 1, 2010 on their way to work in the tomato fields. Francisca and her four oldest children came to the US ten years earlier from a small town where women weren’t allowed to do the work men did. Looking for a better life for their children, and a place where Francisca could help her family financially, Francisca’s husband migrated to the US in 1996 and his family followed in 2000. In the US, after working daily for 10 years, they were able to buy a plot of land with a house. In 2001 and 2003 they had their 5th and 6th children. Francisca’s oldest daughter, 19, is in college and her second oldest, 17, was just accepted.
The morning of June 1, the family hoped to make some extra cash to help out Francisca’s husband, who worked all week on an area ranch and came home to be with his family on the weekends. On their way to the fields, a Border Patrol agent stopped the family. After two more agents arrived, one asked the first agent why he had detained them. His answer: “Because of the color of their skin.”
When the family was taken in, they were interrogated for hours. Francisca told the interrogating officer that she needed to have a hearing with a judge because of her 10 years in the country and two daughters that were US citizens. The agent responded that it wasn’t possible that she stay in the country, that it didn’t matter how many explanations she gave, she wouldn’t be able to stay in the country. She said she needed to see a judge, because her oldest daughter needed to be taking medicine that she didn’t have with her. The agent responded that he didn’t care and he’d seen worse cases than her daughter’s and that “what I do is bring an ambulance and we send them straight to their country. Let them get well there.” She responded that the medicine her daughter needed couldn’t be found in Mexico. He responded, “I already told you that I don’t care.” What would happen to her house that she just bought, she asked. “I don’t care about that either.”
When she insisted on seeing a judge, he responded that she did not understand him; that she could be detained for weeks or even years before seeing a judge and that she would be separated from her children the whole time. He advised her to sign the voluntary departure. Her youngest daughters began crying, saying they didn’t want to be separated from their mother and because the agent raised his voice while he insisted that she sign the voluntary departure.
After four hours of insisting on seeing a judge, the agent began addressing her oldest daughter, saying “don’t make things more difficult. Convince your mother to sign.” She responded that she respected her mother’s decision. They were finally able to get her to sign, after much pressure, and seeing her youngest daughters crying and not wanting to be separated from their mother.
When the agents left Francisca and her four non-citizen children in Reynosa, Francisca, without any money, didn’t know where to go or who to talk to. “But thanks to God there was a person with a good heart that took us to their home and gave us refuge for two days.” They decided to return to the US since they had a house there and in Mexico would have to start from scratch and used all of their savings to pay for passage.
Francisca’s story is not unique. A 2011 report titled A Culture of Cruelty is based on interviews with 12,895 individuals who were in Border Patrol custody and were subsequently deported. The report found that “…99.7% of people, plus or minus 0.5%, are experiencing some sort of violation by Border Patrol when they are in custody,” said Dr. Katerina Sinclair, a statistician, research consultant, and one of the co-authors of the study.
Francisca’s story shines light on our families’ need for humane and fair comprehensive immigration reform. CIR must include a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million Americans currently living and working without documents and provide a working system to keep families together while they apply to fix their status. Beyond a pathway to citizenship and family unity, CIR must not include further immigration enforcement that treats families like Francisca’s as criminals and must include public oversight and accountability to the current enforcement agencies so that no one has to face what Francisca and her family faced.
Francisca is worried now, because her children want to continue their studies. Now her smallest child is scared of immigration agents. When she sees that her mother has to go out to the store, she becomes very nervous and tells her mother not to leave because “immigration is going to stop you again.” Sometimes she stays crying. For those reasons she says they want with all of their hearts an immigration reform.
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Francisca and her family members have been active in the efforts of the union to promote immigration reform that provides a pathway to citizenship and keeps families together since their tragic arrest.