Oakland Dad Reunites With Family After Lengthy ICE Detention
Wednesday, November 1, 2017
Credit: Tyche Hendricks/KQED
Yibi Heras stood on the sidewalk outside San Francisco’s immigration court. She had not seen her husband in the seven months since U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents had whisked him away to a jail in Richmond.
That was in February. By the time the undocumented immigrant got his August court hearing to consider his release, Heras was 8½ months pregnant and was caring for their three young children on her own. She had next to no income because she had to quit work to care for her older son, who has cerebral palsy.
That all weighed on Heras as she stood outside the courthouse, holding the hands of her two younger children, with 9-year-old Kevin in his wheelchair by her side. She hoped the judge would see how much she and the children need her husband, Maguiber, and release him. (We are using only his first name while his immigration case is pending.)
“I feel anxious and nervous,” Heras said, “but I have faith that everything will come out OK.”
She had come to court with backup.
On the sidewalk, about 40 people gathered around her and the children, chanting “Free Maguiber!”
Some were friends, many were advocates, and they would help Heras manage the children during the three-hour hearing. A number of them risked arrest by entering the courthouse because they lack legal immigration status, and the same building also houses the regional headquarters for ICE.
Maguiber wasn’t in the courtroom. His image appeared on a television screen connected by video feed to a cinderblock holding cell in a Richmond jail across the bay.
While he waited to learn his fate, Maguiber sighed deeply and shifted uncomfortably in his yellow jumpsuit.
The younger kids, Christopher, 3, and Gabriela, 4, waved and called out to their daddy. But he couldn’t hear or see them.
They didn’t understand why he wouldn’t answer.
About an hour into the hearing, Judge Valerie Burch asked her clerk to pan the courtroom camera over to the children. Then Maguiber’s face lit up, and he greeted them.
That was more than Kevin could take; he buried his face in his sweatshirt, crying.
Back in February, the children had been asleep when ICE agents came to the family’s Oakland home before dawn and took their father away. The kids talked to Maguiber by phone most days, but they had not laid eyes on him since his arrest.
The 27-year-old from Guatemala had been deported once before, after he was convicted for using cocaine at age 18. He later returned to the Bay Area, and he and Heras began raising a family. Last year he had a misdemeanor conviction for reckless driving, which may have brought him to ICE’s attention.
As recently as a year ago, someone like Maguiber, with no serious criminal record, would not have been a target for arrest and deportation.
But that changed in January when President Trump issued a pair of executive orders tightening immigration enforcement.
Arrests of people with no violent criminal history shot up this year — and, with few exceptions, ICE has followed orders to detain people until they can be deported.
In fact, the government tried to stop the hearing for Maguiber’s release.
“They say someone in his situation — who’s already been removed — doesn’t ever have a right to a bond hearing,” said attorney Lisa Knox.
But Knox said the judge knew that wasn’t true in the case of her client.
Under a decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers nine Western states and two territories, anyone ICE locks up for longer than six months has a constitutional right to a bond hearing and cannot be held longer unless the government can prove the person is a threat or flight risk.
Knox told immigration Judge Valerie Burch that her client was neither. She argued he should be allowed to return to his family until his immigration status is resolved in the courts.
Knox said Maguiber’s detention had caused undue hardship. While he was in jail, Heras struggled to pay rent. And Knox said Kevin’s cerebral palsy had worsened because he wasn’t able to get to as many physical therapy appointments without his father’s help.
And she said with a newborn on the way and a child in a wheelchair, Maguiber clearly wasn’t a flight risk.
“This is not a man who is going anywhere,” Knox told the judge. “His family needs him.”
Judge Burch hesitated, noting that Maguiber’s case to remain in the U.S. permanently seemed “weak.”
Even so, Burch found the government had “not met its burden of responsibility” to continue to detain him. She set Maguiber’s bail at $3,500.
After the hearing, Heras and her children and supporters found a nearby restaurant to get a bite to eat and celebrate. She was exhausted but relieved.
“We got what we wanted,” she said. “And now Maguiber is going to be able to meet the new baby.”
Advocates posted Maguiber’s bond the very next day, and he returned home just days before Heras gave birth to a baby girl.
They named her Yareli Esperanza. Her middle name means “hope.”
On a sunny Sunday morning a few weeks after the birth, Maguiber sat in the family’s small Oakland kitchen, cradling Yareli in her white cotton onesie and feeding her a bottle. He said when he was in jail he had feared he would miss her birth.
“I was scared,” Maguiber said. “Because I saw a lot of people deported from jail. I thought they could come and deport me at any moment, and I’d never see my family again.”
Maguiber said conditions in the West County Detention Center in Richmond were tough. He got sick with allergies and his throat was closing up and his eyes were red and watering. But it took three days to see medical staff, and then they refused to give him medicine.
He said the immigrant detainees had to take care of each other — and became like a family. They talked about their cases and how they had been arrested.
The day the jail released Maguiber, the others gathered around him.
“Everyone was sad, but at the same time, they were happy,” he remembered. “They came and hugged me. Some were crying, others were laughing.”
Watching her kids scamper in and out of the kitchen, Heras said hers isn’t the only family that has been separated by immigration enforcement. She said the father of a girl at Kevin’s school is also being detained in that same Richmond jail.
“It’s sad,” Heras said. “When you go through something like this, you don’t want other people to have to go through it.”
But taking care of the children got easier after Maguiber came home.
“He can watch two, and I can watch two,” she said.
Also, “Kevin’s getting out more now. That was a little hard for me when I was alone.”
Since Maguiber returned, Kevin’s legs have gotten stronger. Kevin was able to get to more physical therapy, and he used his walker more often.
“Sometimes he takes us to the park or to the store or to walk for a little bit,” Kevin said.
Maguiber passed the sleeping baby to his wife and accepted a large plastic piggy bank from Gabriela, who needed help to open it. Detention hurts children, he said, but that gets lost in the fight over immigration.
“There are a lot of children living without their dad or their mom, because they’re deporting a lot of people” he said. “It’s painful, because your child isn’t to blame for any of it. It’s not their fault that you don’t have papers.”
Maguiber still faces the threat of deportation, but his lawyer said immigration courts are so backed up that he probably won’t get a final hearing on his case for two to three years.
Judge Burch warned Maguiber that any criminal convictions would violate the conditions of his bail and could land him back in jail.
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