I’m going to start this post by stating a couple of things. First off, I really don’t share much of my personal life online. I’m a private person. What you typically read from me on social media is trivial matter, usually centered around my dogs or work. Secondly, if you are a person who is anti-immigration or believes immigrants currently residing in the US should have no right to a pathway for citizenship, please stop reading at this point and move on, because you certainly won’t understand where this post is coming from. For those of you still reading, thank you. You are the tribe I want on my team, and I am now calling you all into battle.
Many of you know Chris. He and I have been together well over 12 years now. I met Chris in 2007 when he started working for the same company where I was employed. I remember coming into the office one morning after my boss had left copies of his ID on my desk saying he was someone he had hired. I took one look at the scruffy driver’s license photo and thought to myself “Great, this one looks like a real winner.” That still makes me laugh! We were both coming out of failed relationships, and a friendship bloomed. Obviously, something works, because we’re still together today. He is a good man. A hardworking man. A man that gives his time and energy to others in need without ever expecting anything in return. What many of you do not know is that he is also considered an illegal alien in this country. Yes, you read that right. Chris, who speaks fluent English and went through the public school system in Los Angeles, CA is an illegal alien.
He is an illegal alien that is currently in the custody of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the NW Detention Center in Tacoma, WA.
How does this happen, you ask? Well, it’s a long story, but I’ll try to give the abbreviated version here.
As a young child, when he was about 5 years old, Chris’s mom lived in fear for her young family in Nicaragua during the time of the Sandinista rule under Daniel Ortega. It was not a childhood anyone would wish for a kid. Some of his earliest memories are of digging trenches to hide in. Homes being raided. Community members being murdered. He has no memories of reading children’s books or singing silly songs – his entire life was about survival from an early age.
His father was killed during the war, and Chris’s mom wanted to protect her family, as any mother would. She fled to California to find a new life, where Chris and his aunt, cousin and siblings joined her seeking asylum. They were granted temporary residency, given social security numbers, and went on with their lives, struggling to survive in a country where they didn’t know the language, his mom doing menial work for little pay, all sharing a tiny apartment in a gang filled neighborhood in L.A. But it was better than being in a war-torn country waiting for a gunman to take over their home. The kids all went to school, graduated from high school, lived normal lives. But Chris’s mom longed for her home, her country, where she had been born and raised. A time came where there was an amnesty period allowing travel back to Nicaragua, and Chris’s mom decided to return to her home. Little did she know the impact it would later have on her children’s lives. His mom has since passed away.
Fast forward several years and a life full of normal events in between. Those closest to me know that Chris has struggled with alcoholism over the years. It’s a disease I can’t fully understand, and it has caused many issues in our life together. It’s hard to be supportive of someone with an addiction or disease when it directly impacts your life, but I try. Yes, I blame, I lecture, I yell, but I still love him, so I try to understand. It is Chris’s battle with alcohol that has brought us to where we are today. Where he is today. Locked up, in custody of a government agency in the only country that he considers home. A place where we own a home and have built a life together. His drinking, which unfortunately has led to multiple DUI’s, has landed him in one of the worst case scenarios we could imagine – being judged as an illegal alien that has been deemed an “immoral citizen” and “threat to society” under the eyes of our immigration laws.
Apparently, when his mom left the country, she also left immigration paperwork incomplete. Attempts to contact her at the previous Los Angeles mailing address with dates to appear went undelivered. Notice was never officially served.
Chris had been processed by immigration previously after his original DUI offense after sitting for 5 months (yes, 5 months in 2012/2013 – same song different verse now) in the NW Detention Center, eventually posting a $6000.00 bond for release. His case was never properly processed, and ICE officers have even told him something obviously was not handled correctly with his case at that time. He should have walked out with a new residency status. Instead, his file with immigration was terminated by a judge in Los Angeles in January of 2013. For those unfamiliar with immigration terms, when a file is terminated, it is permanently closed, never to be reviewed again. Chris was sent out on the street to live his life with nothing. No status, no paperwork. Just his original social security card that he has always had. When we went to the local immigration office here in Portland, no one could give him any answers.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am certainly not condoning Chris’s actions. He broke the law, multiple times. He is incredibly lucky he never hurt anyone, or worse. I have a very hard time getting past the disease or addiction as an excuse. It’s not an excuse. It’s a lifelong battle against a demon that he can’t control. When he has stress in his life, it has been his coping mechanism. I am so not that type of a person that it makes it very hard for me to understand. I can’t even tell you the last time I had a drink. All that said, he knew he needed help. He has tried various programs over the years, been to AA, etc. Finally, in February of this year, he started a program that really seemed to get through to him. He was attending group meetings and one-on-ones with a counselor several times a week to learn his triggers and how to not rely on alcohol to cope with the things most of us can easily deal with in day to day life. He has not had a drink since the night of his DUI in January and plans on keeping on that path to sobriety. He must; our future depends on it.
So here we are today. His attorney handling the DUI charge here had his hearing date pushed back until April of this year to give us time to close on our house and get things settled. He was sentenced to 30 days in the county jail for his DUI and turned himself in on April 26, 2019. He was placed in a program that allowed him to attend his counseling sessions while he served his sentence in a community housing program. His release date was shortened for good behavior and I arrived to pick him up at 6AM on May 16th when he was released. You know that gut feeling, the one you get when something just doesn’t feel right? It was very present that morning. Maybe it was the minivan and dark sedan with blacked out windows parked out front. Maybe it was that I watched several other people walk out and had been waiting a bit too long. All I know is you should always trust your gut. Not long after, the doors to the building swung open, and out walked Chris, handcuffed, with two ICE agents on either side of him. I quickly got out of my car and ran across the street. His face said it all. His only words, “I’m sorry, babe.” The agents said they were taking him to the Portland office, and that he’d be transferred to Tacoma. They let me take his belongings and kiss him goodbye and I returned to my car where I sat in shock and cried after they drove away.
This is the real face of immigration, my friends. This is the far-reaching impact it has on people’s lives. I am impacted. My future is impacted. This is someone you know. Someone you may have talked to, spent time with at a dog show or lure trial. This is Chris, my partner in life, the person who I’m supposed to come home to every day, the guy who sleeps on the couch with our dogs piled on top of him.
You’re probably asking yourself, why am I sharing his story now after all these years? Because it is time. Time for everyone to realize that many of “those illegals” that the haters are spewing their venom at are people they may know in their lives. People that they work with. People that are their neighbors. People that live a quiet, unassuming life with an underlying fear. It is time that we as a democratic country that is in disrepair fix what is wrong. I am living proof of how our processes are tearing people’s lives apart. Don’t even get me started on the poor families currently crossing the border in search of a better future and having their children ripped away from them… yes, some of those fathers are also locked up with Chris, waiting with uncertain futures. It is all very real, my friends.
So, now what? I’m not looking for sympathy. If anything, what this world truly needs is empathy. I am in a battle for my life fighting for the man I love. We have a long road ahead navigating the immigration courts, and I need to get him home so we can build his case from outside of the detention center.
Our first step is filing an appeal to have him released on bond, which requires a panel to overturn the decision of the immigration judge to keep him detained as a threat to society. If you know Chris personally, this seems crazy, but I can understand with the repeat offenses there is no guarantee in their mind that he wouldn’t do it again. We have contacted NW Immigrant Rights Project based out of Seattle in hopes of receiving legal representation through their organization but have yet to hear back. I can only imagine how much their service is in demand as they offer free or low-cost legal assistance to those in need.
Meanwhile, I have reached the point where I feel we need to hire an immigration attorney on our own that can best represent Chris in his case. This is where I need your help. I am setting up this GoFundMe account to raise funds for an attorney we have been referred to in Seattle. I am a prideful person, but my resources are stretched thin having to support the household on just my income. I am asking that you please share the link in support of immigration rights with your extended network of like-minded people, and possibly consider helping us out along the way. If you know Chris and want to help, a letter of support on his behalf goes a long way when a judge sees he has a network of friends and family standing by his side. Have you personally dealt with an addiction? Maybe a letter explaining how it impacted your life and how you’re willing to be available as a resource for Chris to talk with knowing that he can succeed in his recovery if given the opportunity.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I will keep everyone posted if there is any news to report.