“This is what deportation looks like,” writes Aura Bogado, a journalist covering immigrant rights, as the headline to her recent blog post on the detention of Guatemalan immigrant Edi Arma in Phoenix this week. Taken into custody just one week ago, Arma and his family, are fast becoming symbols of the complicated implications of U.S. immigration policy on many real, if often ignored, residents of this country.
Last week, Edi Arma, a resident of this country for 13 years who originally arrived here from Guatemala, was taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in front of his three children, as he prepared them for school. A deportation order had been issued against Arma in 2009 after he was pulled over by police during a routine traffic stop. Not only has Arma lived in this country for over a decade, where he is a necessary contributor to his family’s well being, but he also fears for his life if he is returned to the country where his brother was killed several years ago. Therefore, he had no choice but to ignore the deportation order against him and stay in this country. This precipitated the events last week, where Arma was forcibly removed from his home and taken into ICE custody.
During President Obama’s first term, it was made clear that ICE officials are to use discretion in choosing which undocumented immigrants to detain and deport. The agency was tasked with focusing on finding and deporting primarily those convicted of criminal offenses. Under this directive, Arma presumably should have been deemed a low-priority for deportation. However, because of the nebulousness of the policy, Arma’s traffic violation could make him a criminal in the eyes of U.S. immigration law, validating his deportation.
In a moving speech earlier this week, Arma’s 11-year old son Jose tearfully begged President Obama to release his father from custody and return him to his family. In part due to pressure from his family and community as well as from immigrant rights activists, Jose’s appeal was heard, and his father was released Thursday from ICE custody and reunited with his family.
The speech given by Jose Arma shined a light on the human side of U.S. immigration law, which often results in families being forcibly torn apart and communities losing important contributing members. The Arma family has pledged to continue speaking out against deportations so that no other family will be forced to endure the ordeal they have experienced over the past two weeks.