Imagine waking up to a phone call and finding out that one of your parents has been detained by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, more commonly known as ICE. This recently became a reality to a Cabrini University graduate who is currently obtaining her master’s degree here when ICE picked up her father on Thursday, Jan. 17.
Rita Alcaraz is a 2018 graduate and a current masters student at Cabrini University. She obtained a bachelor of arts degree at Cabrini, where she majored in criminology and sociology. Alcaraz is also a graduate of Mother Cabrini High School located in Manhattan, New York, which is now closed.
While at Cabrini, Alcaraz was a resident assistant, an active member of Cavalier Radio, the sociology club, a part of three honor societies, and was on Cabrini’s first women’s rowing team. She currently works full time at Zoe’s Kitchen in Wayne to provide for herself while being away from home while she studies to get her master’s degree in criminology and criminal justice.
On the morning of Thursday, Jan. 17, Alcaraz and her family’s lives were changed. At approximately 6:30 a.m., when Alcaraz received a phone call from her mother who told her that her father had been detained by ICE.
“As of today, [Jan 22, 2019], I learned that the only charges he has are that of being here illegally. There are three or four counts of that such as not passing through customs, border patrol or obtaining a visa, etc,” Alcaraz said.
When ICE came, the only people who were awake were Alcaraz’s parents and her 20-year-old sister. Her other six siblings were asleep. From what Alcaraz’s mother had told her, everything was done quietly and swiftly. There was no violence, no hesitation, and no verbal or physical abuse of any kind. Instead, there was just simple cooperation from both ends.
“Barely having enough sleep the day prior I didn’t really understand the words consciously until my mom repeated the words again and that’s when I broke down and started asking questions,” Alcaraz said.
A few years before Alcaraz was born, her parents both came to the United States where they met each other in New York City. Together, her parents have eight children, with Alcaraz being the oldest and the rest of them ranging from 20-years-old to 6-years-old. Her 20-year-old sister is studying at New York University in New York City and her 16-year-older sibling is being homeschooled for high school. The rest of Alcaraz’s siblings are in middle and elementary school in New Jersey. Alcaraz’s family is actively a part of their church, and they have a very close relationship with one another.
“Now you can imagine there is never a dull or quiet moment in our apartment, but there is always something new going on with everyone,” Alcaraz said.
Cabrini professor Abel Rodriguez explained the process of detention and what might happen to someone detained. Rodriguez is the director of the Center on Immigration and an assistant professor of religion, law and social justice here.
Rodriguez has been an immigration attorney since 2011. He worked at Esperanza Immigration Legal Services in North Philadelphia on a fellowship for a year working with immigrant clients and then worked at Nationalities Service Center in Philadelphia. He also worked at the Public Defenders Office in Philadelphia and has continued to do some legal work after joining the faculty at Cabrini as well.
“Local police cooperate with ICE and if people are arrested their information is shared with ICE and so they identify people in that way for removal. That said, they have a number of other ways that they identify people and target people for removal,” Rodriguez said, “everything from home raids, raiding apartments, where they believe undocumented people may be living, workplace raids, targeting individuals specifically. They’ll sometimes act on tips that they get from people. People will call in and report on people that they believe to be undocumented. At times they follow up on those. And there is a whole range of ways that ICE identifies people for removal.”
Alcaraz’s mother had mentioned to her that the ICE had been looking for her father the day prior but he had already left to take her siblings to school. They returned earlier the next day and that is when they were able to find her father in his home.
“It’s something that we knew could happen but instead of living in fear of the incident, we chose to [live] our lives as is,” Alcaraz said. “We’ve had multiple talks about it between the older siblings and a separate one with the younger ones. You never expect it to hit home but pray it doesn’t.”
Due to his background on immigration law, Rodriguez explained the three different possible processes a detainee has after being detained. If a detainee has a prior removal order, they would go through a process referred to as expedited removal. In this case, it is possible that the detained person may not be able to go before an immigration judge.
For other people, after someone is detained, a first hearing may be scheduled where the detainee will go before an immigration judge. After that, it will be decided whether or not they will have some sort of relief, meaning a range of options from detention to deportation.
Then for people who do not have any defense available to them, they typically would either receive a removal order or they could be eligible for what is called a voluntary departure. This is where they would not be directly removed from the country but would depart themselves from the country voluntarily.
“In the recent past it’s generally been over 400,000 people per year that go through the ICE detention system in the United States,” Rodriguez said.
According to the National Immigration Forum, on average, 4,143 undocumented immigrants without a criminal record have been arrested each month since January 2017. This is more than double of the 1,703 per month average during November and December of 2016.
Alcaraz’s father was the sole provider for her family. He worked hard as a delivery man and is now being held in the Hudson County Correctional Facility.
The NIF also states that Congress requires ICE to fill a specified number of detention beds. For the Fiscal Year of 2018, Congress had set that number at 40,520 detention beds.
After her father was detained, Alcaraz’s friend had convinced her to post about the situation on Facebook. She did not want to at first, but her friend had told her that posting about it would be the best way to get help in the situation.
“We have no idea as to why he had been taken. Being people who are religious we cannot think this is done randomly and that there’s a far greater reason as to why [this has happened]. And the only thing we can do now is to find an attorney who can take his case, and pray,” Alcaraz said. “We believe and know that everything happens for a reason, and typically for the better. So we have to take it one day at a time.”
Since she has posted about her father, Alcaraz has had numerous Mother Cabrini High School alumni from years before her time reach out to her and provide her with recommendations of what to do and who to contact.
“The Cabrini University family has been very helpful in keeping me and my family in their thoughts and prayers and that means a lot to me,” Alcaraz said.
Alcaraz now has to decide if she is going to remain in graduate school this semester since her father was the sole provider for her family and her mom is now alone with her seven siblings. She is hoping to visit her dad at the correctional facility on Tuesday, Jan. 22 and attend his court date on Jan. 28. After that, Alcaraz can decide what will be in store for her for the rest of this semester.
“I think the support I’ve had from school, work, friends, family, Mother Cabrini High School alumni and my church, has really helped,” said Alcaraz. “I don’t know what my mental state or being would be like with any of them.”
*There is a GoFundMe up and running to help out Alcaraz and her family during this difficult time. If anyone is interested in donating they can do so by clicking on this link, Alcaraz Family.*