By Faby Jacome
Orange County activists are rallying around two fathers currently caught in the web of immigration enforcement. Alvaro Benitez is a father of four citizen children. He first came to the United States when he was 15 years-old and has resided here ever since. Benitez has a clean criminal record. Israel Barrios is a father of six citizen children. He's lived in the U.S. for many years and also has a clean record. U.S. Customs and Border Protection detained Barrios in front of his Santa Ana home earlier this month and he's currently being held at Adelanto Detention Center. Both men face deportation unless concerned communities fight back.
Despite Benitez never having any prior contacts with police, the same can't be said for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Last year, at one of his check-ins with ICE, the agency ordered Benitez's deportation and put him in a van to Tijuana. His community made frantic calls to ICE and congressional leaders to intervene until the van turned around just outside San Ysidro. Immigration authorities released Benitez and told to come back a year later for his next check-in.
That year has passed and Benitez checked-in with ICE in September. We rallied around him and asked elected officials for support letters. We even got former congresswoman Loretta Sanchez to walk into his appointment with him. With all these efforts, we were able to keep Benitez in the U.S. one more time but only for another month.
Both Benitez and Barrios are the main providers for their families. They work hard every day to help their children follow their goals. Both dads have kids in preschool through college. Benitez’s daughter, Joselin, wants to become a law enforcement officer and is attending college pursuing her goal. Israel Barrios Jr., Israel’s eldest son is also in college and hopes to become a writer.
As I sit here writing this piece, I keep remembering both of these families. It’s hard to forget Joselin’s worried face when her father had to walk into his check-in, the tears that rolled down her cheeks as she waved at her dad before losing sight of him and then Benitez hugging his children as we walked back out. It’s hard to forget the tears of Gwen Barrios, Israel’s daughter, as she asked ICE to release her father and allow him to come home from the bottom of her heart because she loves her dad with all her heart. All of Israel's children held signs together at El Centro Cultural de Mexico in Santa Ana where they held a press conference asking that immigration give them their dad back.
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Under the Trump administration, these men are the faces of deportation. This is when we need the support of our community the most! A call, signature and share is never too small. In a time like this, all we have is each other. All we have is community love and support. I ask you take a minute of your time and help us keep these fathers reunite with their children.
Organizations like Orange County Immigrant Youth United are putting together a week of action to help highlight these cases. We began on Tuesday with a phone banking day to demand that ICE release Barrios and approve Benitez's stay of removal. On Wednesday, we will deliver signed petitions to the ICE office in Los Angeles in support of these cases. Thursday morning we will be dropping banners throughout Orange County. Friday is a social media blast!
We will continue to tweet at ICE (Let's make it trend!), share the phone banking graphics and keep making calls so ICE knows we are here. Benitez's next check-in is on October 23 at 8 a.m. Find OCIYU on Facebook for more information. And If you are available that morning, join us!
OCIYU is on Facebook at facebook.com/OCIYU