After standing in sweltering heat for 40 minutes, dozens of supporters cheered as Erika Fierro emerged from the building on May 31. That she exited through the front doors was a good sign. It meant that she was not being deported to Mexico—that day.
“They gave me a date to leave next month, [on] June 26,”
Fierro told those present. “They” are the officials of the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program (ISAP) with whom she had just met in Indianapolis.
But she made the statement with a strained smile.
“It’s still not enough time for me to get my kids’ passports to take them with [me],” said Fierro, the 35-year-old mother of two children, ages 3 and 8.
Their father—Fierro’s husband, Jesus Peña Rodriguez—was already deported to Mexico several weeks ago. For Fierro to leave on June 26 would mean the children would be separated from both parents until their passports are issued—an unknown amount of time, said Fierro.
“It’s hard because they wish their dad was with them,” she told the supporters, clergy and local news reporters present.
“…That’s my fear, that more trauma will be done to them, and that’s irreversible.”
Both Fierro and Rodriguez were born in Mexico. Fierro was brought to the United States at the age of 5 when her parents emigrated, and Rodriguez entered the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant in 1988.
Their current trouble started in early April when the couple, members of St. Patrick Parish in Indianapolis, was confronted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers outside of their Indianapolis home as Rodriguez was leaving for work. The incident was the result of an occurrence 11 years ago.
In 2007, the couple had returned briefly to Mexico. They were captured by border patrol agents as they re-entered the United States, and were consequently officially deported to Mexico. They then re-entered the U.S. again—a felony for those previously deported, according to Title 8, section 1326 of the U.S. Code of Law.
During the April incident, ICE officials immediately arrested Rodriguez. Fierro was allowed to stay with their children, but has been monitored through ISAP while awaiting a ruling on her status.
The week prior to the May 31 meeting, she was given the final decision: She was to be deported, with the date still undetermined. She believed her removal would occur during her May 31 meeting.
In an interview with The Criterion the night before the meeting, Fierro explained the holdup on her children’s passports—a holdup that she believes could have been avoided.
“My husband has to sign some documents” for the issuing of the passports, she said. “I took the documents to the prison [where Rodriguez was being held]. I told the ICE agents to give them to him so he could sign them and give them back to me.”
But he never received the documents, she stated, and said Rodriguez now needs to sign the passport-related papers in front of a notary in Mexico.
To do so, she continued, he must show his Mexican identification papers. Fierro said he will not receive those papers until July 2, making it impossible for the children to have their passports by her June 26 deportation date.
While the children do have legal guardians to care for them should the need arise, “the number one thing should be that government officials keep families united,” Fierro said after pausing to choke back tears. “My daughter can’t sleep at night. She wakes up crying. She cries all the time, and so does my son.”
She said her hope is for officials “to have compassion and to wait for my children’s passports so we could leave as a family and not be any more broken apart in heart and spirit than we already are. … Waiting on my kids’ passports [before her removal], it’s something doable.”
Fierro’s comments in a press conference immediately before her May 31 meeting echoed the same theme.
“I have not asked for much, but to keep my kids, my two U.S. citizens, together with me,” she told members of the several news outlets present. “I pray that my children do not go through being separated from both of us.
“We ask God for the time period that is necessary to take them with [me], and for there to be compassion and mercy not only for my family but for all families who go through this.”
Archbishop Charles C. Thompson spoke briefly before praying over Fierro at the end of the press conference.
“Pope Francis has reminded us that immigrants, migrants and refugees are not to be treated as second-class human beings,” he said. “He reminds us that immigrants, migrants and refugees—just like the unborn, the poor, the elderly, the sick—are not problems to be solved, but are human beings to be loved and respected.”
During the press conference, police cars lined the lane in front of the facility where the meeting was to take place, and police officers bordered the walkway into the building.
Despite earlier agreeing to allow clergy to accompany her into the building for her May 31 meeting, ISAP officials “have since told the police officers that no one is allowed to go in with her, but gave no reason why,” said Faith in Indiana communication director Francine Dash as the meeting was set to begin. Faith in Indiana is an ecumenical organization that has accompanied and provided assistance to Fierro since early April.
Nevertheless, several clergy attempted to enter the building with Fierro, including Archbishop Thompson and Father Christopher Wadelton, pastor of St. Philip Neri Parish in Indianapolis. Once inside, the clergy were told they “needed to leave or be arrested,” Archbishop Thompson said.
While awaiting news of the outcome of the meeting, the archbishop spoke with The Criterion about the tragedy of a child being torn from a parent.
“As the Church has always taught, the family is the fabric of society,” he said. “As the family goes, so does society. Each time the family is being divided or disintegrated or harmed in any way in our society—whether it’s through deportation, or drugs, or alcohol, or abuse, or violence—each time that happens, society loses and humanity loses.”
For now, Fierro is most concerned about her children losing both parents, even if only temporarily.
“We know we have more time,” she said after her ISAP meeting. “And it’s a blessing to have more time” so her lawyers can research possible means to postpone her removal until after the children have their passports.
“I go wherever [God] takes me,” Fierro said, “But I do pray to God to keep my family together.”
June 8, 2018 | The Criterion Online Edition | Link to Story