A clothing store employee in Long Beach called the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department (LASD) on Kareli Barrera last Monday. They arrested the woman on suspicion of shoplifting. Nervously, she gave deputies a false name as she's an undocumented immigrant.
Later that night, they booked and jailed Barrera for the misdemeanor offenses. When she went before a judge, she pleaded no contest to petty theft, but instead of being released, the mother of an American citizen remained detained at Lakewood Sheriff's Station until being transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) early Monday morning.
The move angered activists, stating she should've been protected by California's TRUST Act, a law that is supposed to command local police agencies to tell la migra to fuck off when it comes to immigrants arrested for non-violent crimes.
The Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition first learned of Barrera's TRUST Act test case early on and reached out to RAIZ, a SanTana-based activist group that engages in direct action against deportations.
A petition immediately circulated on the National Day Laborer Organizing Network's (NDLON) #Not1More action page. By Friday, members of RAIZ arrived with Barrera's fiance at the Lakewood station during visitation hours, but were denied a visit without explanation. Early Monday morning, authorities transferred Barrera to the Los Angeles ICE field office. Hundreds of phone calls from supporters followed, flooding the line of Acting Deputy Field Office Director Robert Naranjo.
"Ms. Barrera was remanded to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody April 14 after a fingerprint screening revealed she had been previously deported in December 2008 following her conviction in Utah related to credit card fraud," says ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice. "Ms. Barrera remains in ICE custody pending further review of her case."
News about her re-entry into the country and a prior (non-violent) conviction is not relevant for the activists rallying around her cause. "The Obama administration and ICE at any point in any case regardless of the details can exercise prosecutorial discretion," says Alexis Nava Teodoro, RAIZ's deportation defense coordinator. "We do feel the positive factors outweigh the negative factors. For example, she is the sole caretaker of a 2-year-old U.S. citizen daughter."
"If she were to be deported back to Mexico, she'd have no one to go back to."
Teodoro states that due to activist efforts, an emergency stay of removal halts the threat of imminent deportation for now. ICE confirms that a petition for review has been filed by Barrera's representatives with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. "The removal will remain stayed until the court renders its decision on the petition," Kice says.
In addition to Barrera's daughter, she has four siblings that are U.S. citizens. Her fiance is a permanent legal resident. According to activists and supporters, the prospect of family separation is one that need not be. "Under California law, the Sheriff's Department shouldn't have held Kareli for pick up by ICE," says Sameer Ashar, Director of the Immigrant Rights Clinic at UC Irvine. "The things with which she was charged aren't enumerated exceptions to the TRUST Act."
Ashar learned of the case Sunday and called the Lakewood station early Monday morning. By that time, authorities already transferred Barrera into ICE's hands. "The officer I spoke with indicated that he hadn't heard of the TRUST Act," Ashar says, "and wasn't aware of any policies promulgated within the department to ensure compliance with the TRUST Act."
"The department has certainly opened itself up to potential legal liability," he opines. The Weekly's calls for comment from the Lakewood station haven't been returned.
In the meantime, authorities transferred Barrera again from Los Angeles to the James A. Musick detention facility in Irvine, where she remains separated from her family while awaiting her fate.
Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @dpalabraz