When the deputies of serial racist Sheriff Joe Arpaio raided Phoenix's Lindstrom Family Auto Wash in 2009, on the hunt for undocumented car-cleaners, they did so with the full authority of the federal government.
It was June of that year, and Arpaio still had his force of 160 officers trained (badly, it turns out) by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement under ICE's 287(g) program.
A few months later, ICE jerked Joe's 287(g) street authority, but Arpaio being Arpaio, he continued his immigration sweeps and worksite raids, vowing that nothing would change.
See Also: Barack Obama's Shame: Joe Arpaio Wrecks Families, Wounds a Business, Makes a Little Girl Cry, All with Federal Authority Joe Arpaio Confronted by Channel 5 Over Video of Crying Child Robbed of Her Parents by MCSO
ICE had empowered a media-obsessed egomaniac, and that Frankenstein monster would not bow so easily, even when the U.S. Department of Justice denounced the MCSO's biased policing and sued the sheriff to make the point.
Only federal Judge G. Murray Snow's recent ruling in Melendres that Arpaio's office engages in racial profiling, and his order that the MCSO must stop, has boxed in Arpaio, for the moment.
Joe could start up the worksite operations tomorrow, as these nominally enforce state law.
At least, that's the sham excuse that would allow the MCSO to continue hunting Hispanics, despite Joe's lawyer telling the court that, "The MCSO is out of the federal immigration enforcement business."
But the federal government created this situation, and it must act to ameliorate the deleterious effects of its policies on the human beings, the moms and dads, the sons and daughters, the grandmothers and grandfathers, who are separated from their families for no good reason.
The human rights group Puente is not waiting for an immigration-reform bill that seems unlikely to make it through the U.S. House of Representatives, one that, in any case, seems increasingly punitive with every twist and turn.
Nor are its members holding their breaths for President Obama to do what he should do: halt all deportations until immigration reform is on his desk, ready to be signed.
Rather, Puente is fighting a family-by-family battle to prevent the deportations of those victimized by Arpaio's raids and sweeps, and those who have fallen prey to Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery's apartheid policy of overcharging the undocumented, with forgeries that make it less likely they will be able to avoid removal.Katherine asks for you to sign the petition, seeking a reprieve for her parents
Puente's activists have been working closely with affected families, helping them score legal representation, advising them on their rights, and putting the spotlight on ICE through demonstrations and petitions aimed at applying pressure to the agency to use its discretion in these cases, where there is no real wrongdoing, and the undocumented essentially are "guilty" of working without authorization.
"The actual deportation orders get closed [by ICE]," explained Puente organizer Carlos Garcia of those his group has been able to help. "[These people] pretty much go back to being undocumented, like they never were caught."
The undocumented still have a criminal conviction, and the immigration case, which is handled by ICE and the immigration courts, can be used against them, if they're arrested in the future and end up back in ICE custody.
But at least the individual can remain with his or her family, which is Puente's goal.
Every case is different, and Puente is not always successful. One recent heartbreaker involved a father who returned after deportation to support his family in the United States. He had lived in the United States for 20 years and risked prison to be reunited with his three young daughters. Such is the power of family, which is not easily checked by man's law.
Puente lost on that one. But in other cases, the organization has been able to return parents to their children. Puente's YouTube account offers several examples of these triumphs, which usually conclude in tears of joy.
Now, Puente is setting its sights on helping Katherine Figueroa, who was 9 when her mom and dad were arrested in Arpaio's 2009 raid on the Lindstrom car wash.
Figueroa watched on TV as both her mother Sandra and her father Carlos were zip-tied and hauled away to Fourth Avenue Jail. Her tearful plea for President Obama's help was first captured by videographer Dennis Gilman and activist Lydia Guzman. The video went viral and received national attention.
This brave little girl went on to speak for her parents when they could not speak for themselves. A U.S. citizen by birth, she addressed a U.S. House committee in Washington, DC and participated in pro-immigration demonstrations in Phoenix.
She also became the star of Two Americans, the award-winning documentary by Dan DeVivo and Valeria Fernandez, which juxtaposes Arpaio's self-serving jihad on the undocumented against Katherine's earnest, heartfelt quest to free her parents.
If Lindstrom had been raided about a year and half later, County Attorney Montgomery's policy of overcharging the undocumented might have guaranteed their removal from the country. Instead, when the Figueroas were turned over to ICE after serving a few months in county jail, ICE released them with pending immigration court dates.
They are now facing their final immigration court date on July 17, and they could be deported.
As a result, Puente has mobilized for a fight, offering a petition as part of its campaign, Not One More Deportation. Activists will attend the court date to show support for the Figueroas.
Also, the filmmakers of Two Americans will be offering folks a chance to watch the documentary free of charge online from July 12-17, encouraging viewers to sign the petition.
Garcia acknowledges that Katherine's case is "one of thousands" just like it, but it came along at a time when many of the undocumented caught up in Arpaio's raids were faceless and nameless.
"Once we started getting more involved with the cases . . . you have all these amazing kids who could fill the same role as Katherine, but were never given the opportunity," he said.
"It's definitely different once you're able to get the kids and their stories out front. And its not just a number, and it's not just like, `Arpaio raids, here,' it's the people that are being deported."
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He added: "It tells our narrative instead of ICE's, which is we're deporting all the bad people, and we're showing that it's not, it's a bunch of Katherines that are being deported."
Thankfully, there is time in Katherine's case for the community to make its voice heard.
You can help stay ICE's hand and force it to atone for its past sins, by allowing the Figueroas to remain, to work and to thrive.
They are the family you would want living next door to you, and they have suffered enough.