Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Should This Woman Be Deported? (Philadelphia City Paper)

Angelina Eva Martinez's bad luck.

Published: May 28, 2008

Globalization at home

The first time Angelina Eva Martinez left home, she was an 18-year-old girl from Oaxaca, Mexico, with dreams of becoming an American nurse. It was a dangerous trip, but she successfully made it to Los Angeles, where she lived for the next 23 years.

She never went to nursing school, mostly because she began having children: three boys, Francisco, Jose and Edward. She supported them working as an aerobics instructor and a hair stylist. Not long ago, the two oldest set out on their own.

The second time Martinez left home was April 18, when she boarded an Amtrak train to Syracuse, N.Y., so she could live in a small town closer to Jose. This was not supposed to be a dangerous trip. She traveled with Edward, 14, and Tiffany, Francisco's 20-year-old wife.

After two days of travel, the train stopped in Erie, Pa., a Rust Belt town of 104,000. It was only about five hours to Syracuse. But the train was held up, because several U.S. Border Patrol agents boarded to question people — even waking those who were asleep.

Their tone was conversational: "Where were you born?" they asked. "Are you a United States citizen?" If the answer was yes, they'd move on. Martinez looked at Tiffany. "What do I do?" she asked. Tiffany told her to stay calm.

"Are you a United States citizen?" an agent asked Martinez. She nervously handed over a California identification card, but the agent wouldn't accept it. Martinez, speaking Spanish as Tiffany translated, told them about her sons. She took out her Bible, which held small photographs of them.

According to Tiffany, the agent dismissed this, saying, "I don't care about your sons." (The Border Patrol would not confirm this.) They said Martinez was resisting arrest, handcuffed her, and took her off the train. Tiffany and Edward tried to go with her. "They told us to sit back down," Tiffany says. "They didn't give us any contact information."

Martinez says she spent a week in an Erie jail, then was moved to a prison in Cambria County where she was held for another week. She eventually called the Mexican consulate in Philadelphia. The representative immediately called Meredith Rapkin, an attorney at the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society of Philadelphia.

"It sounds like something didn't go right here," Rapkin was told before Martinez was patched through.

Martinez had only about a minute to tell her story. She emphasized what the Border Patrol agents either didn't hear or didn't care about: that inside her Bible were pictures of her two sons. Both were photographed wearing Army uniforms.

One, Jose, is 18 years old and stationed at Fort Drum, near Syracuse.

The other is Tiffany's 19-year-old husband, Francisco. He's stationed in Iraq.

Martinez was released two days later, after Rapkin called U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and explained they were holding the mother of two soldiers. (ICE did not respond to requests for comment.) She was told to report to a deportation officer in Buffalo on June 3, after which she'll receive a court date.

Twenty-three years after Martinez left Oaxaca, the process of sending her back had begun.

It's not guaranteed she'll be deported — illegal immigrants with convincing cases often aren't. Rapkin says Martinez essentially has to pass a three-point test: First, prove that she has qualifying relatives in the country, which should be easy. Then, show she's been in the country continuously for the past 10 years. Perhaps most complicated, she'll have to prove that her children would experience hardship if she were deported.

The irony of Martinez's case is the role post-9/11 policies played in both her arrest and her sons' military service. She was caught because, since the attacks, Erie and other points along the country's northern boundaries have become regular Border Patrol checkpoints. The Amtrak train never left the country, but agents can search any vehicle that comes within 25 miles of Canada, says Lloyd Easterling, assistant chief of the Border Patrol.

It's unclear whether more people are being detained in board-and-question routines; Easterling says the Border Patrol doesn't break down such statistics. But the number of arrests in the area between Erie and Buffalo has been increasing: from 1,517 in 2006 to 2,191 in 2007. This year, so far, agents have arrested 1,994 people. (Agents are also being reassigned from the southwestern part of the country to the north as more join the ranks. Last year, there were 14,900 agents nationwide; this year, 16,200.)

According to Martinez's arrest report, which Easterling says had some portions redacted from his view, the arresting agent did understand that her sons were in the military. But that doesn't necessarily make a difference. "Agents have to be vigilant," he says. "As sworn law enforcement officers, we can be taken into custody for nonfeasance. ... People say you don't have a heart — we do, we do. But until those duties change we have to do them."

Rapkin says no one is asking the Border Patrol to ignore its job. She just thinks they detained someone they shouldn't have.

"This woman has two sons in the military. She's doing the country a service," she says. "They don't detain everyone they arrest, so why should they detain her?"

Jan Ting, a law professor at Temple University and former assistant commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, says the Border Patrol has "been on [its] toes for years since the attacks. No one wants to be the person who makes a mistake and lets the next 9/11 bombers through."

Martinez, obviously, is not a bomber. She's a mother — one who didn't argue when her children wanted to go to a place where bombings are common. "They say they're there so nothing happens here," Martinez says through Tiffany. "[Francisco] thinks he was born to be a soldier. When 9/11 happened, he thought that even more."

She's reminded of this almost every day, when she and her daughter-in-law talk to Francisco via video link. At the same time, though, she awaits a hearing that could remove her from the very country her sons are serving. Again, there are no guarantees.

"She's got a good case," Rapkin says, "but ultimately, it's all up to the judge."

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