Deportation to Mexico for California woman could mean foster care for her American kids

Photo of Deportation to Mexico for California woman could mean foster care for her American kids
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Celia Torres made some eggs for breakfast Tuesday, then told her four kids that everything would be alright.

But even as the 41-year-old single mom said it, she knew her day – which included a key appointment with an immigration agent – could end with her being deported back to Mexico. For her kids, all American citizens, that could mean a cloudy future.

That wasn’t how it turned out, for now. After Torres, of Costa Mesa, met with an officer from ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Customs Enforcement), the question of her possible deportation was put off for a month.

For Torres and the 35 supporters who surprised her at the ICE office in Santa Ana, the result was a bittersweet reprieve. But if she’s deported when her case is heard again, on March 31, at least some of those four kids might wind up in foster care.

“This has caused so much trauma in my family,” said Torres, who has been battling her immigration case for nearly a decade.

“But I have to fight for my children.”

The immigrant-rights advocates who gathered outside the federal building said that Torres, who immigrated illegally to the U.S. in 1999, is an example of a common situation: a hard-working person who is contributing to society while facing the specter of deportation. And, they add, even though Torres hasn’t been convicted of a crime, a mere brush with the law, a decade ago, might be enough to prompt her eviction from the United States.

“Celia is not an accident,” said Jose Servin, a spokesman with the California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance. “She’s ICE’s day-to-day business.”

Officials with ICE, which enforces immigration law, did not reply to a request for comment on Torres’ case.

Members of several immigrant-friendly organizations, including Resilience OC and the Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice groups, on Tuesday asked that immigration officials exercise prosecutorial discretion and dismiss Torres’ case.

Rep. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, was among those who met Torres at the ICE office, escorting her into the interview. American children, he pointed out, are often the victims when unauthorized immigrant parents are sent to their home countries.

“These kids end up in major limbo,” Correa said.

“Family deportation separations do have societal effects on our community,” he added. “That’s why, in the case of this woman today, it was important to keep her here, where she can raise her kids.”

For Torres, her case – which started under the Obama administration and has continued since President Donald Trump beefed up immigration enforcement – raises potentially life changing stakes.

Outside the federal building, after hearing several speeches and chants and giving a few brief interviews with TV crews, Torres faced her toughest moment: saying goodbye to her oldest child, a 13-year-old-boy. He quietly cried as she walked to her appointment.

Torres also has 11-year old twin girls and a 2-year old. Torres’ supporters said it’s unclear if family could help, or if Torres would be allowed to take all her children to Mexico if she’s deported.

Torres’ trouble began in 2010, when she left her then-infant twins in a car as she ran into an office to pay her phone bill. She said it was only a few minutes, and the car door was open so she could see the girls the whole time, but when she came back to the car a bystander was yelling at her and calling the police. Torres said she stayed, and fed one of the girls, to wait for police.

The case – which included a week in jail for Torres and a not-guilty plea to child endangerment – ended when the charges were dismissed. But because she is an unauthorized immigrant, her case caught the attention of immigration officials and she was picked up for a one-week stint in immigration detention in Adelanto.

If the incident happened today, she likely would not have been contacted by ICE, her supporters said, as California now limits cooperation between law enforcement and federal immigration officials.

Over the past decade, Torres said, she’s often worked two jobs to pay for attorneys.

She’s also reported regularly to immigration officials when ordered to appear. Last year, however, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied her appeal to remain in the United States, raising the stakes for her ICE appointment on Tuesday.

“I know I’m taking a risk coming here today,” she said of meeting with an immigration official Tuesday. “But I’ve worked very hard in this country… And I know I’m not alone. The community is here.”

Some supporters say Torres was abused by someone who rented a room in her home and, as such, she might qualify for a visa available for immigrants who are victims of crimes. Meanwhile, Rep. Correa said his staff members will see if it’s possible to seek relief on humanitarian grounds.

Before the the last of Torres’ advocates left the federal building on Tuesday, they offered one last chant: “We’ll be back.”

Staff writer Alma Fausto contributed to this report.

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