Israel Barrios readied for another day of construction work on Tuesday morning while his daughter Gwen woke up for school. “I’m running late,” he told Gwen before leaving out the front door of their Santa Ana home. U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents stopped him soon after.
“I receive a call not even five minutes later,” Gwen says. Her father told her on the phone that he got arrested. She didn’t see who took him into custody, but his car was parked in the driveway.
The family hasn’t been able to learn much of anything since then. With Barrios being an active volunteer with El Centro Cultural de Mexico, an award-winning nonprofit in Santa Ana, a coalition of activists with the Orange County Rapid Response Network organized a press conference this morning outside the community center.
“He’s the main provider for his family,” said Faby Jacome, Orange County Immigrant Youth United’s program coordinator. “As a community, we’re here standing with his family and we’re demanding he be released back to his family.”
Barrios’ eldest children also took to the podium beneath El Centro’s newly unveiled mural on the side of its building that reads “Comunidad: here to stay” to echo the same call. “My sisters are crying because their dad isn’t here,” Gwen said in a tearful plea. “Please, let him come home. I ask you with all of my heart because I love him with all of my heart.”
Immigration and Customs Enforcement denied any involvement in arresting Barrios and said he’s in Border Patrol custody. Immigration authorities are granted to Border Patrol agents within a 100-mile “border zone” radius from any external boundary in the U.S., of which Santa Ana falls into. The American Civil Liberties Union notes that while the agency can conduct immigration checkpoints within the zone, they can’t pull anyone over without “reasonable suspicion” of an immigration violation or search cars without a warrant or probable cause.
“Mr. Barrios-Mendoza is a Mexican national who was previously removed from the U.S. in 2013,” supervisory border patrol agent Mark Endicott writes the Weekly. The agency confirmed he was arrested outside his home. “Prior to yesterday’s arrest, agents had established that Mr. Barrios-Mendoza was illegally residing in the U.S.and had no previously filed immigration petitions, or changes made to his immigration status.”
While the family awaits more answers, Israel is being recalled as a man who worked hard to provide not just for them, but the community as well. “He came to a lot of events and supported his family who are active in a bunch of our classes,” says Luis Sarmiento, a volunteer with El Centro. Barrios is the second El Centro volunteer apprehended and put in immigration detention this year. Back in April, ICE agents took Miguel Angel Rodriguez into custody, causing much community outcry.
“He was able to get out on bail and he’s still fighting his case,” Sarmiento says of Rodriguez. Activists are hoping the same organized pressure can pry Barrios from detention. Chispa started a petition that’s gained more than 500 signatures within a day supporting the call for his release. Barrios’ family, who’ll be looking to take longer work shifts to make ends meet, is depending on that happening.
“He’s not just a good dad, he’s a good man that doesn’t deserve to be deported,” says Israel Barrios Jr. “Laws are laws, but laws aren’t always justice. This isn’t right.”