by Leslie Layton and Kate Sheehy
Sandra Jimenez never expected that she’d have to visit her husband in 30-minute spells at an Elk Grove jailhouse. Or that only a few days after their one-year wedding anniversary, he would be fighting deportation and she would be wondering whether she’d have to leave her country — the United States — to be with him.
But that’s where it stands after the operation conducted last week by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in rural Northern California. Jimenez’s husband, Oscar Oseguera, 26, was detained by ICE officials March 21 as he left his Tehama County apartment in Red Bluff at daybreak to report to his job at a Driscoll strawberry plant.
In neighboring Glenn County, Sheriff Rich Warren said he had been advised there would be a three-county operation involving Tehama, Glenn and Shasta counties, but there would be no round-up of law-abiding immigrants. “I was assured that ICE agents would be targeting specific criminal aliens, any person that has been convicted of a crime who has been in the country illegally,” Warren told ChicoSol Thursday.
ICE responded by email to a ChicoSol inquiry asking about Oseguera’s arrest. “Mr. Oseguera had been encountered by [Department of Homeland Security] enforcement personnel and repatriated to Mexico in 2014,” said the email from San Francisco-based spokesman James Schwab.
Oseguera’s attorney, Anthony Palik of San Francisco, said his client is undocumented but has no criminal record. Palik acknowledged that Oseguera had been apprehended once before by immigration authorities, but said his client left the United States then as a “voluntary departure.”
“People are scared. A lot of people don’t want to go out” — Sandra Jimenez
The recent ICE raids turned lives upside down, and they rattled working-class neighborhoods, and they upset public schools. In Red Bluff, shoppers disappeared from the aisles of stores. “People are scared,” Sandra Jimenez said early this week. “A lot of people don’t want to go out.”
In Gerber, about 10 miles southeast of Red Bluff, attendance at the elementary school plunged the day after a parent was arrested after leaving his home, the Red Bluff Daily News reported. School officials told the paper that they took some children home at the end of the school day to ease fears and ensure their safety.
On the evening of March 28, officials from Red Bluff High School met with a small group of parents in a classroom to hear their concerns and review student rights. Attendance at the school – about 25 percent of the student body is Latino — wasn’t affected by the raids, but several students had approached school counselors about their concerns.
Red Bluff Joint Union High School District Superintendent Todd Brose said officials had been caught off guard.
“I’ve been in education in this county 19 years and this is the first immigration raid or sweep or whatever you want to call it that I remember,” Brose told ChicoSol the day after the meeting. “Because we are a rural, isolated area, the impact is greater on our families.”
Brose that day had been on the phone to other school-district officials in the area. “We need to gear up for this emotional stress for our students,” he said. “There are things we can be talking about as districts.”
Assistant Tehama County Sheriff Phil Johnston said his office had been notified March 18 that the ICE Mobile Criminal Alien Team had “targeted 41 criminal alien individuals” in the area.
Palik, the attorney representing Oseguera, said immigrants with no criminal record can easily get caught up in sweeps as the Trump Administration casts a wider net. He suspects that ICE officials stumbled upon Oseguera, perhaps while looking for his father-in-law, Heriberto Jimenez.
Heriberto Jimenez, the father of 22-year-old Sandra, is an undocumented immigrant who had twice been convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol. The ICE statement notes that Jimenez had been “repatriated to Mexico three times over the course of the last 10 years” and has “multiple prior criminal convictions.”
He was also arrested by ICE that morning.
Sandra Jimenez and her husband had begun a stay with her parents only a few weeks prior to the arrests and in order to facilitate their plan to move from Gerber to Red Bluff.
At about 6 a.m. on that Tuesday morning, Sandra Jimenez heard an insistent knocking on the front door. She didn’t open, though, until officers who identified themselves only as “police” showed identification belonging to her husband through a window and said they had detained him. Sandra Jimenez said she opened the door, her father, Heriberto, approached, and the officers then said they were from ICE.
“They asked for my dad’s ID, and right away they arrested him,” Sandra Jimenez said. “I got mad at the officers and said, ‘This is why you wanted me to open the door for you?’ I just wanted to go off on him, but I know I can’t, it’s just going to make things worse.”
Oscar Oseguera was taken to the Sacramento County Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center, but Palik says he’s going to be transferred to a facility in Texas, perhaps because California’s immigration courts have become “overloaded” by the crackdown underway.
Palik says he believes his client qualifies for a cancellation-of-removal based in part on the fact that his wife is a U.S. citizen, and his mother, a green-card resident of the Red Bluff area, depends on him for financial support. “He can claim adjustment of status because they deserve, if you will, to be supported by him,” Palik said.
“It has that feeling — people being yanked out of their houses willy-nilly…” — Anthony Palik
Sandra Jimenez was born and raised in this country, and her husband grew up mostly in the area, attending school in the nearby town of Anderson. But his family went back and forth between the United States and Mexico, trying to escape the violence of its Michoácan village. Twice, she said, Oscar asked her what she’d do if he was deported.
But Sandra Jimenez said she never really believed it would happen, and as a result, “we never got to a plan as to what we’d really do.”
Instead, the couple was focused on their life here: finding a house near their families in Red Bluff, starting a family.
Mariela Hernandez, a staffer at Northern Valley Catholic Social Service in Corning, said ICE officers were in Gerber the day after the Red Bluff arrests, apparently with a list that may have included immigrants with “prior deportation orders.”
“I kept getting calls that ICE was in the area,” Hernandez said. “People told me they were pulled over by ICE and questioned but not detained. They were afraid [officers] would come back for them.”
Illegal entry into the United States after a deportation has more severe consequences than an initial unauthorized crossing. And a recent executive order makes immigrants deportable regardless of whether a case or even an allegation is resolved.
Asked to comment on the North State raids, ICE released this statement: “Every day, as part of routine operations… Fugitive Operations teams target and arrest criminal aliens and other individuals who are in violation of our nation’s immigration laws for the safety and security of our communities.”
Palik said the new immigration policy is “inhumane” because it “tears families apart.” He compared it to a pogram – the term traditionally used to describe past persecution campaigns against Jews.
“It has that feeling anyway,” Palik said. “People being yanked out of their houses willy-nilly, placed in shackles, sent hundreds or thousands of miles away from their loved ones.”