Evan Smith returned to his Stanton home last week after an overnight shift at the DoubleTree hotel. Rather than catch some sleep, the undocumented immigrant from Belize got taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) despite having a U.S. soldier stepson. Agents arrived earlier on the morning of April 30, startling sleeping family members with a rude awakening.
"They came knocking on the door," Francisca Smith, Evan's wife, says. "We were all asleep." Her daughter-in-law answered to agents asking for the man of the house--only he wasn't there.
A quick check of the bedroom showed that Evan still hadn't returned from work. Francisca eventually spoke with the agents claiming they requested a name other than that of her husband's.
The agents left the residency stating that they'd set up a time for a check-in call without giving much explanation why. Francisca readied her children for school. As she backed out of the driveway around 7:30 a.m., her husband returned home. "I pulled all the way out of the garage, so he could get in," she says. Agents remained on-scene. "I just saw them walking towards him."
The moment didn't leave her panicked. Francisca recalls seeing a vehicle marked as Sheriff's Department, not ICE, and to her knowledge, they were looking for someone other than her husband.
She left to take her children to school. Two hours later, Francisca found out la migra detained her husband at the Santa Ana ICE field office before being transferred to San Bernardino County's Adelanto Detention Center, a facility run by The Geo Group, a controversial and lawsuit-ridden private for-profit firm.
The separation of Evan Smith from his family might otherwise be cloaked in darkness, but a network of activists came together to challenge his deportation proceedings. The grassroots group RAIZ learned of the ordeal after OCCORD Citizen Program Coordinator Luis Vega put Francisca in touch with them.
Activists quickly posted a petition on the Immigrant Youth Coalition's website calling for Evan's immediate release.
They note that la migra previously deported Evan back to Belize after imprisonment for a theft conviction. He reentered the United States years later to reunite with his family, which includes three U.S.-born children. "Ever since, he's been working full-time," says Alexis Nava Teodoro, RAIZ's deportation defense coordinator. "He's the main provider." Activists also point to his stepson, Sgt. Henry Montalvo, is an active duty soldier stationed at the Guantanamo Bay army base. They argue that Smith qualifies for relief under the November 2013 U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) 'Parole in Place' policy memo.
"Mr. Smith was previously deported in 2004, based on his criminal record showing multiple felony convictions," spokeswoman Lori K. Haley countered. "He was arrested April 30 by ICE officers and his previous deportation order will be reinstated. He will remain in custody pending his removal from the United States." According to ICE, Smith's felony convictions include grand theft and forgery, but the agency passed on questions about 'Parole in Place' relief, punting it to USCIS instead.
Spokespersons from USCIS don't comment on case-specific questions, but the relief in question is outlined in the memo. "Absent a criminal conviction or other serious adverse factors, parole in place would generally be an appropriate exercise of discretion." The language doesn't signal an automatic disqualification for those with criminal records as the policy is implemented in a case-by-case manner.
In the meantime, Teodoro recently spoke with Sgt. Montalvo by phone. "He feels really sad and frustrated that he's in the armed forces of this country while his father faces deportation," the activist says. "Because he's in the military, not just Evan, but Francisca, could qualify for Parole in Place. It's more complicated with Evan because of the non-violent offense, but it doesn't make it impossible."
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Since immigration authorities transferred Evan to Adelanto, Francisca hasn't been allowed to see him. She describes her husband as a loving, devoted father who graduated from the International School of Ministry with a diploma of Biblical Studies after reentering and reuniting with his family.
Francisca will be joined by two other local women with loved ones detained at Adelanto for a press conference organized by RAIZ outside the Santa Ana ICE field office at 10 a.m. In addition to Smith, they will call for the release of Samuel Sixtos-Gomez and Jose Francisco Gonzalez Garcia in demanding family reunification. See you there!
Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @dpalabraz