On Tuesday, May 9, federal agents in an unmarked car and dressed in plain clothes detained a Las Cruces family who has lived in the community for nearly 20 years, establishing deep ties with Our Lady of Health Catholic Church of Las Cruces.
Francia Elena Benitez-Castaño, mother of two, was stopped just blocks from their home by unidentified agents in an unmarked vehicle. Without reason or warrant, they pressed her to tell them the whereabouts of her 23-year-old son, Jefferson, in exchange for her release.
Before being detained, Francia was able to warn her husband, Jorge, to not come home.
Jorge was at a doctor’s appointment with the couple’s 15-year-old son, who is a U.S. citizen. The agents, who remained unidentified, found Jorge and his son at the hospital. Claiming they would release his wife to care for his younger son if he came with them to El Paso, the agents followed Jorge to his son’s school. After dropping his son off at school, afraid and still being followed by an unmarked car driven by agents who still had not properly identified themselves, Jorge decided to go to a nearby Catholic church.
When the agents noticed he wasn’t heading to El Paso they began to chase him. They tried to cut him off and then tried to run him off the road by slamming into the back of the vehicle. They continued to do this until Jorge pulled into the Catholic church. The agents stayed in the vehicle and stopped pursuing him once he entered the church.
The egregious and traumatizing actions of persons who only identified themselves as “agents” are in clear violation of Department of Homeland Security policies. The “agents” were not wearing properly labeled clothing nor driving marked cars. They did not present a warrant despite multiple requests. Conducting actions in several sensitive locations – a hospital, near a school and a church – they used violent tactics to detain members of a family with no criminal records.
In 1998, Jorge and Francia brought their then four-year-old son Jefferson to the United States from Colombia on visas. They arrived in Miami and immediately traveled to El Paso to stay with a friend. Soon after, they relocated to Las Cruces, NM where they have resided since.
That same year, the family applied for asylum. They came to the United States seeking safety and feared for their lives if they returned to Colombia. In 2002, their application was formally denied and they were told they had been placed in deportation proceedings.
Jorge is a self-employed computer technician and an active Red Cross volunteer who has served on 13 different relief missions including hurricane Katrina, Wilma, Harry, Sandy and tornado disasters in Texas and Arkansas. Francia has worked for a local family as a housekeeper for the past decade. Jefferson is an alumnus of Las Cruces High School who graduated last year with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from New Mexico State University.
Jorge says: “We have nothing left in Colombia, minimal family and certainly no home to go to. If we were to return, I am not even sure how we would earn money, because of our age it would be very hard to find good work. Our kids also don’t know Colombia; the United States is their home.”
Francia was detained on May 9th. Her church and community hosted public action and multi-faith vigil on May 18th calling on Deputy Director Fierro to grant her a Stay of Removal. On May 31st, Deputy Director Fierro issued a decision denying Francia’s application for a Stay of Removal. Francia was deported on June 7th, 2017 to Colombia without giving her opportunity to say goodbye to her family and without telling her attorney.
Francia was picked up from the airport by an extended relative and is staying with them now in Colombia, a country she hasn’t been to in about 20 years.
TAKE ACTION: Call Congress today - tell Democratic leadership to stop the abusive practices of ICE and the separation of our immigrant families: http://www.piconetwork.org/taborda-action
(taken from testimony of family members)