ICE detains Dodge City man for three days in case of mistaken identity
Yet, father of three thankful for opportunity to live in the United States
By Dave Myers
Southwest Kansas Catholic
Editor’s Note: “Alberto’s” documentation is in process and he has no fear of deportation. While he allowed the SKC to use his full name, due to his pending immigration hearing and any possible actions concerning his alleged false arrest, the SKC has decided only to use his first name.
It was a December morning. A deep blue sky made the biting cold a bit more tolerable. As he did every morning, a Dodge City resident waved goodbye to his three young children as they boarded the bus to school.
As the bus drove out of sight, two individuals, a man and a woman, both with letters — ICE — emblazoned on their jackets, approached the man. They questioned him briefly. He pleaded with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agents. He had committed no crime. He has no criminal record.
He was not the man they were looking for. If only they would accompany him to his home where he could get his passport to prove it.
“The ICE agents didn’t speak Spanish,” the man told the Southwest Kansas Catholic, and Alberto, the man questioned that morning, spoke very little English. They refused to allow him to go home, he said. His phone was taken from him. Unable to inform his wife, the father of three found himself being driven to Chase County, northeast of Wichita, on that cold December morning, his immediate future a frightening mystery.
Alberto’s documentation is in process. Up until that December morning a year ago, he had no fear of deportation.
Alberto was born in Guatemala, the son of farmers. His family owned a small patch of land on which Alberto, his siblings and parents, grew corn.
“We were poor,” Alberto said through interpreter, Sister Angela Erevia, MCDP. At his side sat his three children, ages 9, 5 and 3. The oldest, a boy, sat quietly while his sister, the middle child, tapped away on a cell phone. The youngest vied for the attention of his father (when not attempting to obtain the cell phone from his sister).
“We could not afford clothes, so our mother would buy sheets and cut them up for us to wear,” Alberto said. “Every morning we would work for one hour in the field before going to school.
“After school we would work until the sun began to set, then we’d play [soccer] using a ball we made from sackcloth,” he said, smiling at the memory.
Despite his hardships, he eventually graduated from high school, and even went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in “Primary Education in a Bicultural Setting.” It was while teaching Spanish and his native Quiché in Guatemala that he met the woman of his dreams. The two were soon married.
The paradox of love is that the weight of the world both decreases and increases when one adds love to the mix: a person’s heart is made light by love, yet loving another multiplies one’s concerns for health and safety. The political strife, the depressed economy, and worst of all, the violent gangs, compelled him (as it has countless others) to make the difficult decision to start a new life in the United States.
This was 12 years ago. In those 12 years, Alberto and his wife have built a family in Kansas — two boys and a girl — both parents have jobs, their children happily attend school, and they paid off a home. He is only 33, and he is realizing his true American dream.
As Alberto lay on a cement slab under a thin blanket at the Chase County Jail a year ago, he thought about his life in the United States.
“He is very active in his Church,” Sister Angela volunteered as she listened to Alberto tell his story. “He is a reader at Mass, and from 3-6 p.m. each Sunday he attends the Guatemalan prayer gathering for reflection, Rosary, song and fellowship.”
Once arriving at the Chase County Jail, Alberto was given his phone. He notified his wife, who sobbed in sadness and relief after finally hearing from her missing husband.
For three days Alberto was incarcerated, a victim of mistaken identity. It was someone else they were looking for, possibly the previous owner of the house in which he lived, Sister Angela said.
“I felt very sad,” Alberto said. “They didn’t listen to me. They only spoke English.
“I have a clean record,” Alberto added.
When the truth was finally realized, that he indeed was not the person they were looking for, he was unceremoniously released.
“They told me that when my family pays a fine, I can go.” His wife raced east with a friend, paid a $1,500 fine and retrieved her tired husband.
With his three children sitting quietly at his side during his interview with the SKC (his wife was at work and unable to attend), he explained that his attorney said that in four years, he would attend a court hearing in which he will, in all likelihood, obtain his legal residency (green card).
Despite all that has happened, he is ever thankful to live in the United States. “I’m so glad that I have the opportunity to live here,” he said. “I would never want to go back to Guatemala.”
His hope now is to one day be able to again step into a classroom and share the lessons he has learned with an eager audience.
“God is great,” he said. “God is love, and God is mercy. Our faith in God gives us hope.”
The immigrant story doesn’t end at the border
Alberto’s story (above) shows that the situations affecting immigrants are not just happening at the border,” Sister Angela Erevia, MCDP, told the Southwest Kansas Catholic, “they are happening right here.”
Sister Angela, the Director of Hispanic Ministry for the Catholic Diocese of Dodge City, offers a voice for the rapidly growing Hispanic population in the diocese.
She does so to build bridges of understanding and fellowship between all people.
In 2010, Sister Angela participated (as she has in years’ past) as a volunteer with the U.S. Census Bureau. Her job was to encourage people, documented and undocumented, to register with the census — to not be afraid.
“The census information is kept secret for 72 years,” she explained. “Once the information is analyzed, we all become statistics, and that is what is published for public record.
“Once the census is calculated, the city receives federal funding based on the population,” Sister said.
“That’s funding for education, health care, infrastructure.”
“Therefore,” she stressed, “immigrants are contributing to the economy, to the schools! Families are providing teaching jobs by sending their children to school. Some of these children are U.S. citizens.
“Just look at our schools. The Dodge City high school and middle schools had to expand to address the growing student population. Dodge City is benefitting from their presence.
“Just as in the case of Alberto,” Sister Angela concluded, “they don’t want a hand-out, they just want to work.”