Saturday, February 7, 2009

Felipe's story: When the redadas hit home

ICE struck the heart of our little community of Santa Ana this week. At 6:00 a.m., they knocked at the home of María, a member of our grupo de oración. She opened the door, thinking it was the landlady coming to collect the rent. But ICE agents burst in, looking for Felipe -- a quiet, divorced Peruvian man in his 50s who sublets a room from María.

The agents told María brusquely to sit down and be quiet as they searched the whole house, found Felipe, and led him away in handcuffs. After asking repeatedly in her minimal English, María was finally told that ICE was serving a deportation order on Felipe -- the second time he has been evicted from this country. With this second deportation, it will be virtually impossible for Felipe to return, if ever.

The news came as a shock because less than a week ago, I had seen Felipe on the bus. We chatted about my recent trip to San Antonio, he asked me to help him with his tax return again this year, we gave each other an abrazo and parted -- I to the Safeway, Felipe to Super Pollo to pick up his favorite pollo a la brasa, Peruvian roast chicken.

Let me tell you about Felipe. He is a quiet, private man of fragile build and health. He worked steadily at a low-wage job for a local valet services company. At night he came home to his rented room, ate his take-out chicken dinner, and watched a little Spanish-language TV before going to bed. On weekends, he liked nothing better than to get together with his teenage children (who live with his estranged wife) and go to the mall, and Sundays would usually find him praying quietly in a pew at our 1:30 Mass. He was a shy man, not a leader in our community, but a faithful parishioner.

Felipe worked hard, led an orderly life, and paid his taxes -- I know, because I prepared his tax returns and sometimes fronted him the money to pay the taxes. He paid back every penny -- bringing me twenty or forty dollars each Sunday until his debt was settled. He yearned to be in this country to be near his children. That was all.

ICE wants you to think the redadas and deportaciones are only about ridding our nation of criminals and terrorists, but Felipe is not a criminal or a terrorist -- just a quiet man whose only crime was overstaying his visa to be near his beloved children and working to support himself. He broke the law, but only because the law offered him no other way to be with his kids.

This is why we need comprehensive and compassionate immigration reform. We need to make better provisions for speedier family reunification and offer a path to legalization for the 12 million undocumented immigrants already in this country as long as they are willing to work, pay taxes, and learn English. We need to curtail the raids and deportations because ICE is not just picking up pandilleros, but decent, family-loving, church-going people like my friend Felipe.

María says Felipe has a lawyer and she will let me know when they find out where ICE has taken him. I want to know, because he never had a chance to give me his W-2 form this year. Meanwhile, please keep Felipe and his family and all victims of the redadas in your thoughts and prayers.

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