I.C.E. Took My Dad: 1st Day of Spring

*In order to protect my father’s identity, I won’t use images of his face or name.

The Call

I was awakened by my phone. I thought it was my alarm notifying me to get ready for work.

But when I picked it up, I was surprised to see that my little sister was calling from Florida. It was 5:00 AM here in California and 8:00 AM there.

I knew something was wrong.

I answered. I couldn’t understand anything she was saying. She was frantically screaming and crying. The only thing I could make out was, “I.C.E took dad, I.C.E took dad!”

My dad lives in Sarasota, Florida, a small residential community that is predominantly White. My dad is  6’0,’ dark, Brown man who definitely stands out like a sore thumb. People in Sarasota are very open about supporting Trump, showing off their Confederate flags, rocking White Power tattoos, and calling themselves Rednecks.

I loathe Sarasota and the fact that my father chooses to live there.

The Sarasota Police Department worked with I.C.E to arrest my father at his home.

He was walking to his car to drop off my sister at school when seven I.C.E officers jumped out of a car and arrested him – he didn’t resist. This all happened in front of my sister – she has to live with that trauma forever.

That morning, I took the day off at work and for the next two days I did what I could to find out where my father was being detained. I even went to the consulate of El Salvador; they too were searching for him.

It takes about 72 hours for an individual to be processed and placed at a “detention center”. Until that happens, their families have no clue about where or how their relative is doing.

I remember those grueling 72 hours thinking about my dad; wondering if he was given food, water, or a comfortable place to sleep. They were the worst 72 hours of my life! Nothing compares to the pain I felt while not knowing whether or not my dad was okay.

He was being caged at Krome Detention Center in Miami, Florida. It is four hours away from his home in Sarasota.

I was relieved to know that he was okay, but I was upset with the system and how insignificant it has made me and my family feel.

There is so much that is out of our control.

More importantly, I knew I had to get myself ready because the real fight was about to begin: keeping my father in the United States.

One month passed since that grim morning. My dad called me everyday! Each day, I would ask him if he’d been sleeping, eating, drinking water, getting sun and feeling mentally okay. He would always tell me that he was well.

In time, I finally built up the courage to visit him at the detention center. I wasn’t prepared – mentally or emotionally – for what I was about to see.

The Flight

I landed in Florida.

My Lyft driver, a Colombian immigrant, drove me to my AirBnb. Part of our conversation focused on employment in Miami.  Non-Spanish speaking people have a hard time finding jobs there because it is required at most places that you speak Spanish and English, he said. Otherwise, businesses won’t hire you. The Latinx community in Miami is strong and you feel it and see it as soon as you touch down.

However, I was not there to rejoice in the beautiful and rich Latinx community that is Miami, Florida.

The Visit

After breakfast, I found myself dreading the ride to the Krome Service Processing Center.

The drive there is long. The roadway is under construction. Interestingly enough I saw a billboard for a Native American reservation nearby. My first thought was how secluded and distant both the reservation and the detention center are from the rest of society. I felt disappointed about how the U.S. has isolated these two particular groups.

I got to the detention center very early – in fact I was there 1 ½ hours before my appointment.

As soon as I walked in, I was instructed to place my bag and jacket through the metal detectors. I looked around the room, which was very clean and decorated in tacky furniture. I still couldn’t believe I was there, I quickly had to check myself because I was privileged enough to leave that same day.

I filled out paperwork declaring that I wasn’t carrying weapons or narcotics. They are dead ass serious about this and they can even record you in the bathroom to prove that you’re not carrying contraband.

Large sign-in books sat on counter-tops filled with hundreds of names of people visiting their loved ones. I found myself reading the names of the people incarcerated there thinking about whether they’d been released or still caged at Krome.

The sign-in sheet even asked for my immigration status. I distinctly remember this making me mad because, what type of conniving question is that?

I sat down on one of the tacky chairs. I was visibly upset; so much so that that three different officers cracked jokes trying to break the ice. I wasn’t having it. So, I just ignored them.

Exactly at 6 PM they called me in. I walked through a heavy green door and down two hallways with gray brick walls, accented in blue tile  – the whole place was very depressing.

I arrived at the visitation area which is a room filled with a bunch of booths with thick glass windows and phones connected to the wall. It’s exactly like the shit you see in the movies.

I sat down at the booth assigned to me and watched the imprisoned individuals walk in, looking for their loved ones. Some looked hopeful, others atrophied.

My dad found me. Instinctively, I burst into tears. I could hear him mumbling through the thick glass, “No llores, no llores.”

He sat and picked up the phone on his end of the glass and I grabbed mine. His voice was clear now.

He shed a few tears along with me.

The first thing he told me was that when I was first born he saw me through a glass window and when the doctor came up to him and asked him who his daughter was, he pointed at me. He swore that day to never ever do anything to jeopardize his duties as a father so that I would never have to see him through another thick glass window again. Yet, here we were.

He was wearing an orange jumpsuit. Everyone there wears different colors to distinguish the amount of years they have served in prison/correctional facilities in their lifetime. My dad served time at a federal prison early in his youth – that was the same situation that got him behind bars again. He had a short haircut; he says the Cubanos are in charge of cutting hair at the facility. His haircut looked like something Daddy Yankee would rock. He had a thick denim sweater and had his reading glasses hanging from his orange jumpsuit. They weren’t going  to let him keep them but he managed to convince them that he needed them, “Y cuando tenga que firmar the letra de deportación no voy a poder ver.” He joked.

He mentioned that other prisoners lacked knowledge of the system or money to make phone calls to family and friends – they felt helpless.  My father has generously spent over 300 dollars to allow other prisoners to speak to their relatives, using his account.

He recalled told be about his first time entering a prison. He had no knowledge of the system or the severity of what he had done. He didn’t speak English and couldn’t defend himself. He mentioned that he had seen lots of people come into this detention center, but one young man in particular caught his attention because he reminded my father of his first time being locked up.

He said the young man spent his first day at Krome crying. My father tried to comfort him – he ended up shedding some tears with him as well. I had never seen my father cry before until now.

He had been helping people with whatever they needed. It made me happy to know that he was helping others with the resources he and my family were able to provide.

He said that he was being treated well and he got to eat, sleep, play cards, and watch movies, etc. I think he told me that to get me not to worry, though it didn’t help much. After all, he was still locked up and facing deportation. Latinos have high regard for authority and believe that this is being treated with respect.   

After the hour passed, an officer came in, screamed my last name and told me my time was up. I was able to exchange a few more words with my father. He placed his hand up against the thick window and and I placed mine up as well. I walked back out through the same gloomy halls with the same officer that brought me in. I started to cry. It made me upset that my father was in there. It made me upset that facilities like these existed. It made me upset that almost every officer was Latino or Black! All I could think was how the hell they could do this to their own communities?

Back In California

Seeing my father locked up was very traumatic. It also brought me so much relief to see him in person and know that he was okay.  

Since then, my father has been released temporarily. He has been granted a one year grace period in that time he is responsible for fixing his status if not he will be back in Krome. However, we are determined to make sure he never returns to Krome.

This situation inspired me to support other families facing similar situations. I especially want to highlight Friends of Miami-Dade Detainees (FOMDD), a non-profit organization that operates the first immigration detention visitation program in Florida at the Krome Service Processing Center in Miami.

While I visited my dad, I met Karina Livingston who works at FOMDD and she even offered to visit my dad! Since February 2014, volunteers from Friends of Miami-Dade Detainees (FOMDD) have made over 2,000 visits.

I am grateful to know that we have a multitude of organizations and activists working to address different points of immigration and let’s not forget that this is also an issue that is affecting the Caribbean/African/Black community. My niece’s mother is Jamaican. So, I fear that she’ll be taken away and my niece will lose her wonderful mother.

I know I am not the only one going through this. I find myself donating more and more to GoFundMe pages of families being separated and it’s heartbreaking. I hope that in reading this you find solace in knowing that you are not alone! Make sure you check-up on your parents, guardians, family members and friends from time to time.

I have hope that things will change for the better. Our communities are resilient.

I don’t have to sit here and tell you that immigration prisons should not exist and families should never be separated. It is important that we continue to support organizations and Activist that are working tirelessly for our undocumented communities. ALL OF THEM. However, I hope my dad’s story can bring some attention to what’s happening in the Salvadoran community in states like Florida.

Resources For You

Hood Digest also has a podcast episode and an article to help educate yourself more on the prison systems that exist.

If you or anyone you know has a family member at Krome who has been detained, please contact FOMDD and help end isolations. In addition, they are starting to share stories of people imprisoned at Krome. Support them by donating and spreading the word. The work they do is particularly important in a state that is mostly anti-immigrant.  

Lastly, if you’re reading this, Happy Father’s day, Papi. I love you. I’ll never stop fighting for you.

#HoodDigest

by: @katbaggins

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