Donations pour in for family facing deportation

Immigrant mother has plane tickets so children can leave country with her

A Palo Alto woman who faced losing her four children to foster care because she is being deported has received help from dozens of Palo Alto residents.

The children, all American citizens, faced separation from their mother, Isabel Aguirre, because she could not afford plane tickets to take them to Mexico when she is deported on Friday.

After readers learned of the family's plight in last Friday's edition of the Weekly, enough money was donated to enable Aguirre to buy plane tickets for the family to go to Morelia, in central Mexico.

Outraged over the impending deportation, a Barron Park Elementary School liaison, Marielena Gaona-Mendoza, entered a church sanctuary and began a hunger strike Monday.

"I don't like to see people suffering. I have to do what I can. I can't get her a lawyer. Doing this is something I felt like I could do. I felt like if I did this, I would have done everything I could, and she feels like somebody cares, not like people just want her to go away," Gaona-Mendoza said.

Gaona-Mendoza has been working closely with Aguirre and her children, two of whom attend Barron Park Elementary.

"We don't come here because we want to take things away. We come here because it is very bad in Mexico," said Aguirre, who was stopped along with her husband, Pedro Ramirez, by immigration-enforcement officials Feb. 28. He was immediately deported to Mexico, while she received a 30-day reprieve and has had to wear a tracking device on her ankle.

Her greatest concern is for the welfare of the children, she said. They will not be able to attend school and will have to work in the fields, as she did when she was a child.

It will be a hard life, she said.

Aguirre's case has ignited concern among civil rights and religious groups, who want the U.S. Congress to place a moratorium on the nationwide deportation campaign by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and to change the policy of separating families.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement "action ... has broken up families, left children abandoned and traumatized whole communities," faith leaders from the San Carlos-based Peninsula Interfaith Action said in a press release.

The American Muslim Voice, a faith-based group working with a coalition of civil rights and free-speech groups, said in a press release that hard-working families such as the Ramirez-Aguirre family are not the problem.

"They are symptoms of our broken immigration system. ... ICE presents this lose-lose scenario as a choice: Leave the country and take your children with you or leave the country and leave your children in foster care."

"By separating families, we are not just hurting them, we are further tarnishing America's image as a humane nation," American Muslim Voice National President Khalid Saeed stated in a news release.

A nervous Aguirre and Gaona-Mendoza, acting as her interpreter, rushed to San Francisco on Friday, anxious to show officials that she had obtained the plane tickets.

They made the sign of the cross before entering the offices of Behavioral Interventions, Inc., a private contractor with the Department of Homeland Security. The company oversees the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program, which tracks deportees.

Though the children do not have passports, Virginia Kice, spokeswoman for ICE, said that passports would not be necessary if they are flying. They would need their birth certificates, however.

Aguirre has cried nearly every day since her husband was deported on Feb. 28, she said. Ramirez and Aguirre do not read or write and relied on their attorney, Miguel Gadda of San Francisco, for correspondence regarding their attempt to get green cards.

Gadda didn't tell them about numerous immigration hearings they were supposed to attend or that they were to be deported because they didn't show up, Aguirre said. He was disbarred in 2002 for mishandling numerous immigration cases, some of which resulted in deportations, according to the California Bar Association.

Aguirre said she only learned of her attorney's disbarment when she called him for help after Ramirez's February deportation. Gadda could not be reached for comment.

Back on the street after her Friday appointment, a relieved Aguirre smiled for the first time. Last Wednesday, the family not only faced deportation but also eviction. The landlord, Francesco Carrubba, a Palo Alto restaurateur, served the family with a demand letter for $3,000 for back rent or they would have to vacate the house within three days, she said.

Reached by phone, Carrubba denied he was trying to evict the family. He missed an interview on Thursday that he had requested to give his side of the story.

The family's future is still unclear, but now it appears they will be together.

Ramirez is now making his way south to their home town of Cancita in central Mexico. He will travel the dirt road to their small mountain village, walking for a half-hour off-road over rocky terrain. When he gets there, he will seek out her father's dilapidated two-room house. No one lives there now; the walls have fallen in and the thick, corrugated cardboard roof is collapsing, but he will try to fix it, she said.

The family is facing another hearing this week and is making an appeal to Senator Dianne Feinstein's San Francisco office, which handles investigation of immigrant cases.

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