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Palo Alto family caught in deportation strife

School officials have stepped in to help children, mother

Four Palo Alto school children, all United States citizens, are facing deportation or placement in foster care next Wednesday, following a Feb. 28 federal raid that netted their immigrant parents.

Pedro, Adrian, Yadira and Adriana Ramirez, ages 6 to 15, have had their lives turned upside down as a result of the raids conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a branch of the Department of Homeland Security.

Their parents, Pedro Ramirez and Isabel Aguirre, had entrusted renewal of their work papers and applications for green cards to a San Francisco attorney, Miguel Gadda. They have since learned, however, that Gadda was disbarred by the California State Bar Court. His disbarment has been upheld for multiple acts of misconduct, including five instances in which his clients were ordered deported.

According to the couple, Gadda took their money and did not file the necessary papers. "He kept telling us everything was going alright," Ramirez said by phone from Ensenada, Mexico on Wednesday evening.

Meanwhile, Gadda neglected to tell them they lost an appeal at a deportation hearing, Aguirre said.

Gadda could not be reached by press time.

The family's troubles began on Feb. 28, when the couple was arrested as they approached their car to go to work. Ramirez -- who has lived in the United States since 1985 and worked for Albertson's for nine years, first at Edgewood Plaza and most recently in San Jose -- was immediately deported with only the clothes on his back.

He was not allowed to cash his payroll check, making him instantly homeless, he said. He added that he has received a small amount of money from friends and is staying with another person who was deported.

Aguirre was placed under house arrest for 30 days. Her right ankle is shackled by a tracking device that monitors her every move.

"I feel ashamed. It makes me feel like a criminal," Aguirre said through an interpreter.

The family's plight has stirred school officials at Gunn High School, Terman Middle School and Barron Park Elementary to step in. Teachers, staff and some parents have purchased groceries, shuttled the students from home to class and paid for an attorney to look at reopening the parents' deportation case, according to Barron Park Principal Cathy Howard. Many took up a collection to help with bills, attorney's fees and other needs.

But it may not be enough to keep the family from breaking up.

Aguirre has been ordered to bring plane tickets for herself and her children to the ICE office in San Francisco next Wednesday, and the tickets must show they will board a plane for Mexico on Friday, April 6.

If she does not, she will be arrested and deported, and the children will be placed in foster care, according to Barron Park Elementary School parent-school liaison Maria Elena Gaona-Mendoza, who has been helping the family.

She said the school has been working to help the children obtain passports so that the children can fly to Mexico, but efforts hit a snag because their father could not get papers notarized authorizing their transport across international boundaries.

Aguirre has been in the United States since 1989 and was working as a housekeeper at the Stanford Terrace Inn. Since being placed under house arrest, she has been unable to return to work, she said.

Barron Park Principal Cathy Howard said the situation has had a large impact on the children. Yadira, who attends fifth grade at Barron Park, and Adriana, 6, who attends kindergarten, have had nightmares since their father was deported. The family believes they are eligible for the amnesty program established in the 1980s by former President George H.W. Bush.

Fifth-grade teacher Shari McDaniel said the school began helping the children several days after she noticed that Yadira, who is a student in her class, did not appear to be eating. McDaniel said the children had stopped eating regularly after their father was deported. They feared there would not be any more food since they had no money coming in.

"The children are very traumatized. They cry every night," Aguirre said.

Tuesday marked the end of Aguirre's 30-day reprieve. She still does not have enough money for plane tickets for her family. On Wednesday, she sat in a school meeting room at Barron Park, having just returned from her latest meeting with ICE officials in San Francisco. Ever since the day her husband was deported, Aguirre has made the trek to San Francisco three times each week.

Quietly weeping, Aguirre raised a hand to cover her face as she tried to regain composure. Immigration will take the children away if she cannot pay for tickets to take them to Mexico, she said.

Gaona-Mendoza reportedly has asked U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein's office for help. Feinstein has previously expressed opposition to ICE raids breaking up families.

ICE spokesperson Lori Haley declined to comment on the case.

Those interested in helping the Ramirez family can contact Cristina Ordenana at Barron Park Elementary School at 650-858-0508.

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