Inside an ICE Home Raid: Force and Deceit to Arrest a Mother

Guadalupe Castillero – along with his children Jeter, 6, Selena, 16, and Guadalupe, 9 – is hoping that his wife Concepción Torcaz is released soon. She was arrested at her Bushwick apartment on April 11. (Photo by Carmen Molina-Tamacas via El Diario)

In the blink of an eye, 16-year-old Selena Luna was forced to step in as the mother of her younger siblings, Guadalupe, 9, and Jeter, 6.

“I was sleeping, and woke up because someone was banging on the door very hard, so I went to my parents’ bedroom to tell them. My dad opened the front door a little, and they said that they were looking for a woman and showed us a picture of someone who was not my mother; it was a dark-skinned woman. We wanted to close the door, but they blocked the door with a foot and stormed in,” said Selena.

The agents arrived at the family’s apartment in Bushwick at 6:40 a.m. while everyone was still asleep. “They first said they were police, then that they were detectives. Once they were inside, they said they were from immigration and underneath the paper they had shown us first there was her picture,” said Guadalupe Castillero, 39, referring to his wife, Concepción Torcaz.

“When I think of my mom, I cry. She told them she couldn’t leave because of us. I still need her, and my siblings need her even more,” added Selena. Her voice breaks and she begins to cry. Her father and siblings follow, as well as four friends from the Tecuanes Orgullo Acateco organization and the activists who have supported them emotionally and legally through this difficult test, convinced that there is a way to prevent Torcaz’s deportation and the separation of this family.

During the raid, the youngest child got scared and started to cry, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents urged the mother to hurry up. Then, they took her away without another word. Since then, she has been kept in the Hudson County detention center in New Jersey.

Still in shock, Castillero had no other choice but to get his children ready for school. The administration of P.S. 81Q was understanding and showed solidarity, to the point of rescheduling the state exam that one of the girls was supposed to take that day and offering them to sleep in the school if they felt unsafe at home.

Because his legal status is irregular and he has no extended family, Castillero turned to the children’s godfather, José Novelo, whose presence has been crucial during this time. Thanks to him, Castillero has been able to visit Torcaz and expedite the necessary legal paperwork.

The father also shared his pain and desperation with his friends from the Tecuanes Orgullo Acateco cultural group, formed by immigrants from the area of Acatlán de Osorio in Puebla, Mexico. They requested the support of the Mexican-American Federation Without Borders, a group formed in March with the support of religious figures including Catholic priest Alejandro Solalinde, from Mexico, and Juan Carlos Ruiz, coordinator for the New Sanctuary Coalition of NYC.

“Not a sanctuary city”

The federation’s president and New Sanctuary volunteer Fabiola Mendieta directly oversees the case and is coordinating with the New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG) lawyers, who will represent Torcaz in her first appearance in front of an immigration judge in Manhattan, scheduled for Monday, June 4 (…)

A spokeswoman for ICE in New York confirmed to El Diario that deportation officers arrested Torcaz on April 11 “as part of a directed immigration operation.” On that day, 225 immigrants from 52 countries were detained by ICE agents in several New York counties, including the five boroughs of New York City.

The source added that Torcaz had been arrested in February 2017 by the New York City police under criminal charges, which led to ICE issuing a detention order.

“Still, she was released from local custody without ICE being contacted. After her arrest, deportation officers sent her a summons to appear in front of an immigration judge, and she is now under the custody of ICE,” added the spokeswoman, who withheld the details of said criminal charges.

According to Castillero, his wife’s arrest last year by police officers from the 83rd Precinct occurred after a quarrel with neighbors, adding that the case had been closed and the charges dismissed. Legal certification of this will be presented as part of Torcaz’s defense.

In addition to the agents’ use of deceitful statements and force to enter the home without a warrant, Mendieta criticized the blatant cooperation that appears to have existed between the NYPD and ICE in this and five other cases in the same raid.

“The mayor says that there is no collaboration, that this is a sanctuary city, but what we are seeing is exactly the opposite,” she said.

She mentioned that there are other common characteristics between the cases, such as the fact that the people arrested are parents and have appeared in court in the past for some reason (immigration, minor charges, traffic tickets). She also pointed out that agents deceive people by asking about someone else in order to earn their trust.

Her defense team’s strategy

Concepción Torcaz’s defense is based primarily on the dismissal of her previous charges related to the issue she had with her neighbors and on her moral character as a wife and mother of three. Her husband explained that the school where their two youngest study has provided them with confirmation of the special education programs they are enrolled in and with letters stating that Torcaz is in charge of taking them to their school and pediatrician appointments while Castillero is out all day looking for opportunities to work in construction, demolition and debris removal in Queens.

For the time being, the two youngest children are returning home from school by themselves. A neighbor sometimes brings them hot meals until their father comes back home from work.

The attorneys’ main focus, said Mendieta, is to get Torcaz released on bail, which will cost the family between $5,000 and $10,000. They want to avoid an electronic shackle at all costs, as the financial burden would be too heavy for the family.

Depending on the outcome of Monday’s hearing, and in light of the slim possibility that the couple will be able to regularize their immigration status in the current anti-immigrant climate, Castillero and Torcaz believe that the best thing will be to live in New York a while longer and then return to Mexico. “Even my children think it is best,” said Castillero.

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For the last eight years, Castillero has been part of the Tecuanes Orgullo Acateco organization, which groups some 15 families or 60 people from the area of Acatlán de Osorio, in Puebla.

Ever since his wife was arrested, he has received the unconditional support of his fellow group members and has continued attending rehearsals and performances. Far from a waste of his time, being part of the troupe strengthens his identity and roots and allows him to occupy his mind on something positive.

He and his three children belong to the organization, which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year with a performance at Old Stone House and Washington Park in Brooklyn.

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