Family’s saga offers glimpse of how local policies separate parents from children

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Adriana Arellano Cruz and her daughter Kimberly watch news coverage of ICE raids in Mississippi last week. (Photo: Micheal Lyle)

Adriana Arellano Cruz longed to see her children after being detained at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center inside the Henderson jail. But it seemed like a never-ending list of obstacles kept Cruz from wrapping her arms around her three, U.S. born children — Omar, 21, Kimberly, 16, and AJ, 12. 

One hurdle was ICE refusing to release her even after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit granted a stay of removal. Another was the family having to scramble to raise $5,000 after a judge granted bond a month later. When she was finally released on a Tuesday evening, she had one more complication. Her family, who thought she would be released Wednesday, wasn’t told. Cruz said ICE didn’t offer to let her make a phone call or offer to contact her family for her, or give her a ride, or provide any other assistance.

Instead, she walked across the street to a 7/11 to ask a stranger to use their phone so she could call her daughter. Slowly, she reunited with her family. First Kimberly, who asked a friend to take her to pick her mother up. They then surprised her oldest son, Omar, at work. Then finally her youngest, AJ. “He didn’t know she was out so walked in (the house), saw her and just started crying,” Kimberly said.

They know not everyone at the detention center is as fortunate to be reunited with their family. “In the detention center, lots of people were taken away from their kids,” Adriana Cruz said via translation through her daughter Kimberly.

The Cruz family’s story is not uncommon, thanks in large part to systems, policies and practices in Southern Nevada, according to Michael Kagan, an attorney and director of the UNLV Immigration Clinic

“Undocumented immigrants are Las Vegas’ invisible neighbors,” Kagan explained during a recent meeting with the group Hispanics in Politics. “We don’t always see them. But the system that separates them is also invisible. It’s a system that takes people out of their families and out of their communities.” 

Local systems trumping Trump?

Immigration activists and civil rights leaders watched in shock as ICE conducted one of the largest raids in U.S. history last week, when more than 680 undocumented immigrants were arrested at a meat packing plant in Mississippi. The raid was carried out only days after a man, citing hatred for Hispanic people, drove hundreds of miles to the Latino-heavy El Paso and killed 22 people with an AK-style assault rifle.

Between amped up anti-immigrant rhetoric toward the Latino community and the threats of raids and mass deportations, both attributed to President Trump, fear has been palpable in the immigrant community.

The majority of deportation proceedings in Southern Nevada, Kagan notes, aren’t because of federal policy or the Trump Administration — though those certainly don’t help. Kagan points to more immediate decisions that play out in the local immigration court.

“There are more than 300 new deportation cases started in the state of Nevada at the Las Vegas Immigration Court every month now,” Kagan said. “That number has been climbing. It’s going to be higher in fiscal year ’19 than it was in 2018. And 2018 was higher than 2017. Whether headlines say ICE raids did happen or ICE raids didn’t happen, there are more people being put into deportation proceedings from our community.”

While ICE agents do apprehend people directly, the most common way for undocumented people to be detained is with the help of local law enforcement agencies. 

The two most common programs, Kagan said, that have opened up the door for people to be transferred to ICE custody includes the 287g agreement between Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and ICE and the City of Las Vegas’ Criminal Alien Program (CAP), a policy from the city’s Department of Public Safety that mandates any information about foreign-born person arrested and booked in the city jail must be handed over to ICE. 

“We have very incomplete data,” Kagan said. “It is very hard to get data from both the police department and from ICE about how these systems work. But here is what we know. For ICE arrests in Clark County in fiscal year 2018, 82 percent of the arrests were not ICE going out and arresting someone on their own.”

Of the 1,373 people arrested in 2018, he added, the majority come from the 287g program and the CAP program. 

While Cruz’s arrest in July was performed by ICE agents, her journey started in 2011 when she was picked up by local law enforcement for unpaid traffic tickets. 

She was jailed in an ICE detention facility, but eventually she was released on bond and began working with an immigration attorney to resolve her case. Cruz didn’t know a deportation order was authorized in 2017. 

Up until the moment she was arrested, she said she had been struggling to renew her work permit, which had expired in 2018.

Cruz remembered seeing black cars parked outside her home while she was watering flowers early in the morning, but didn’t give it much thought. As she pulled out of her neighborhood, multiple vehicles with ICE agents pulled her over and detained her. 

“I’m thankful my kids weren’t there to see this,” she said. “That would have broken me.”

For the first three nights at the detention center, Cruz cried and cried and cried thinking about her children and who was taking care of them. During her detention, they received an eviction notice and were eventually forced from the home

“After three days, I couldn’t cry any more and just held everything inside,” she said. “I prayed that an attorney would take my case.”

In addition to getting help from the Nevada Immigrant Coalition — a collaboration between Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, Make the Road, Mi Familia Vota and the Culinary Union — the family was able to connect with immigration attorney Dee Sull.

They challenged Cruz’s deportation proceeding and fought to get her released from detention. On July 15, the Ninth Circuit granted a stay of removal temporarily stalling her deportation. But Cruz remained in jail.

In early August, just a few days after Cruz’s birthday, Sull, Cruz’s children and activists from the immigrant community filed into the immigration court where Sull, yet again, challenged ICE’s decision to keep her client detained. 

They waited hours as immigration judge Ann McDermott heard case after case. Cruz was the only one with an attorney present. “Thank God I was able to find someone who cared about my case,” she said. “A lot of people there don’t have anyone. Some sign their deportation orders just so they can leave and see their kids.”

Defendants, most who required a translator, aren’t brought into the courtroom, but instead answer questions from the detention center via video chat. 

A Spanish translator is in the courtroom relaying what the judge is saying. If translators are needed for other languages, a third party is teleconferenced in — though in one case where French translation was needed, the judge waited five minutes on the phone and before ultimately giving up when no translator was available, delaying the case.

Even with a Spanish translator, Cruz was still confused.

“I speak some English,” she said. However, the back-and-forth between her attorney, the lawyer with U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the judge was hard to follow and not translated. “So I would just pray,” she said. 

McDermott granted a $5,000 bond, which was posted the next day by the Arriba Las Vegas Workers Center’s Immigrant Bond fund. 

However, Cruz’s case is still pending. “I have faith in Dee,” she said. “And when this is over, I will leave all of this in the past.”

‘You don’t need to change anything in Washington to change’

Who has the power to change how undocumented immigrants are introduced to ICE agents and put into deportation proceedings? “You don’t need to change anything in Washington to change this,” Kagan said. 

During the same Hispanic in Politics breakfast, Democratic Assemblyman Edgar Flores said the state Legislature has the power to make changes. 

“(Law enforcement) agencies on their own could take action, but it’s become so politicized that a state agency, without direction, will just do the status quo,” he said. “In this state, the status quo is simply going along with and doing what the feds are asking, which is problematic.”

Nevada lawmakers proposed legislation during the session to ensure police officers could not detain someone solely on the basis of a possible immigration violation in. However, legislators backed away from meaningful reforms when confronted with anti-immigrant rhetoric.

“The legislature is important, but for better or worse, it only meets every two years,” Kagan countered. “Across the country, dealing with these issues of police-ICE cooperation is started at the local level. The city council and the county commission can deal with this.” 

According to a statement from the City of Las Vegas, the city doesn’t have any plans to change its procedure. 

“The city’s Public Safety Department has always complied with this notification process and continues to do so after the new executive order was issued,” city spokesman Jace Radke said via email. “This does not mean that the deputy city marshals arrest people simply for being undocumented. City marshals enforce the law at city parks and facilities but do not make arrests or detain individuals based on their immigration status. If someone is arrested for a crime, and through the booking process it is determined that the individual is an undocumented immigrant, the Department of Public Safety notifies ICE as required by federal law.”

When asked what legal provision mandates how much information the city reports or to further elaborate on its CAP program, the city declined.

Kagan argued it’s not required for the City of Las Vegas to go to the lengths it does to provide ICE with as much information as it does on immigrants that have been arrested.

Metro also recently renewed its 287g program. During a July County Commission meeting, Clark County Commissioner Justin Jones questioned Metro about its role in the detention process.

Jones told Nevada Current he is still working with Metro to obtain data on ICE detentions. What action he, or the commission, could take, he noted, would depend on the information provided to him by Metro. 

It has been days since Cruz has been reunited with her children, but she is filled with anxiety every time she leaves the house, looking over her shoulder for ICE officials. Most nights have been sleepless thinking about the parents who are still inside the Henderson detention center.  “I keep them in my prayers every night,” she said. 

Cruz’s children are also worried too.“(AJ) can’t sleep through the night either because he is worried about what will happen,” Omar Cruz said. 

Whether it’s those who were picked up by ICE during the raid in Mississippi or the remainder of the parents inside Henderson’s jail, Cruz said it’s their children who bear the brunt of current policies.

“It’s the children who really suffer,” she said. 

Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years.  He started his career at View Neighborhood News, the community edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. During his seven years with the R-J, he won several first place awards from the Nevada Press Association and was named its 2011 Journalist of Merit. He left the paper in 2017 and spent a year as a freelance journalist accumulating bylines anywhere from The Washington Post to Desert Companion. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues. Born and mostly raised in Las Vegas, Lyle graduated from UNLV with a degree in Journalism and Media Studies. He is currently working on his master's in Communications through an online program at Syracuse University. In his spare time, Lyle cooks through Ina Garten recipes in hopes of one day becoming the successor to the Barefoot Contessa throne. When he isn’t cooking (or eating), he also enjoys reading, running and re-watching episodes of “Parks and Recreation.” He is also in the process of learning kickboxing.

3 COMMENTS

  1. guess we should outlaw divorce – what about military families? lots of kids are separated from parents – is this a big deal?

    • 10 million Filipinos work abroad, their separated and tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors, and other people who leave their families behind.

  2. She BROKE THE LAW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! If you want her, and thousands of others to be able to break this law, then what laws should be broken for me? For instance, it’s a big burden & impacts my life greatly to pay taxes. So, let ME not pay taxes and keep my house & car! Or, I can’t afford car registration or insurance. Let ME drive unlicensed & uninsured! This about how all this money taken from me by the government affects MY children!!!!!!!!!!!!! Years ago, my parents got divorced. My brother & I were put in foster care for a long time until their divorce was settled. IT WAS THE LAW!!!!!!!!!!
    If she, and those thousands of others didn’t want this to happen they SHOULDN’T HAVE BROKE THE LAW!!!!!!!!!

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