An undocumented Mexican landscaper with no criminal record is facing deportation after a dispute with his wife landed him in County Jail for a night. Immigration enforcement agents picked up the 42-year-old on May 19, the same day he was released from custody with no charges filed.
His case could illustrate what immigration activists have been worried about since the election of President Donald Trump. While ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) protocol has been to target serious felons, they seem to be arresting individuals without criminal convictions, said immigration attorney Marisol Alarcon. “In the most recent past, ICE was not picking people up simply because they were arrested.” Though she was speaking generally, ICE spokesperson Virginia Kice confirmed Trump’s executive orders on immigration has “opened the aperture wider” in cases where the arrestee has not been convicted.
Accounts vary of what happened. But according to the wife, Marissa, at midnight on May 18, she got into a heated dispute with her husband, Jose. (The Santa Barbara Independent has agreed not to publish the true names of the individuals involved.) The couple had been separated for 15 days, and Jose had shown up at their downtown Santa Barbara apartment to discuss the future of their relationship and three children — ages 5, 10, and 13, all born in Mexico. They got into an argument over money.
To avoid a confrontation, Marissa got into her car. He was “still talking and talking,” she explained through a translator, “but I didn’t want to talk to him.” Still, she stressed, it was an “argument” not a “fight.” According to Marissa, Jose never touched her. “No. Nothing,” she said. Others familiar with the case say Jose may have told the police he shoved Marissa.
In any case, she called 9-1-1. “I had a really, really bad day,” she said. When the dispatcher answered, she hung up. But the dispatcher called back, and a police car pulled up to their apartment shortly after. Jose thought it was a “game,” Marissa said. She said he yelled, “‘I’m here! I’m here!’ He couldn’t believe I called the police.”
Marissa, who is 33, told the police officers she didn’t want to press charges. Nevertheless, Jose was arrested. California law mandates that police arrest suspects in any case constituted as “domestic violence” even if the witness objects.
No charges were filed, and Jose was released the next day. ICE agents were waiting outside the jail to pick him up. “ICE requested notification when released, and we called them,” confirmed Santa Barbara Custody Chief Vincent Wasilewski. The ICE agents transported Jose to a detention facility in Adelanto, where he is currently being held. He has a hearing before an immigration judge on Thursday.
According to Kice, Jose does not have any prior criminal convictions. He was “repatriated” in 2012 after Border Control caught him illegally entering the country.
When asked, Marissa could not articulate why she decided to call the police that night. She has never done so before. Now, she said she is “terrified.” She said she has not told her kids where their father is, and if he were deported, she would fabricate a different story.
Originally from just outside of Mexico City, the family of five moved to Santa Barbara four years ago to be near Marissa’s parents, who have lived here for 10 years. She also has uncles in town. Jose works in landscaping and cleans office buildings; Marissa is a housekeeper. “They are really hard-working people — really responsible,” said a friend who has known the family for a long time. “I couldn’t believe it,” she said of Jose’s arrest.
To make matters worse, Marissa’s father is fighting for his life at a hospital in Los Angeles. Asked about her marriage of 17 years, Marissa said, “We were going to fix everything for the kids.” If Jose were to be deported, she added, she would stay in Santa Barbara to be near her father. She added, “I have to make a better life for my kids.”
Alarcon could not say with certainty whether or not Jose is eligible for relief from deportation. (He has a court-appointed attorney.) His best bet, she explained, would be to request a bond so he could be released and fight his case out of detention. “That doesn’t mean the person has won, but he will no longer be detained,” she explained, “[and] the process moves much more slowly.”
The fact that none of Jose’s relatives are U.S. citizens makes his case more difficult to win. Even if you have good character, Alarcon said, “It doesn’t necessarily mean you are eligible to become a permanent resident.” For cases in which immigration judges relieve an inmate from deportation, she added, Department of Homeland Security officials are appealing nearly every case.