Rodriguez overcomes traumatic experience

After being detained, shackled and thrown into a cell because of an expired visa, Rodriguez’s mother makes her way home. 


Caleb Goss

Senior Paloma Rodriguez was in second grade when her mother was detained and deported by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). “At first we didn’t really know what happened. My dad wasn’t telling us anything and I don’t think he knew that much either, but my mom just wasn’t there. As a kid, your mom is such an important [figure]. It’s hard waking up and her not being there,” Rodriquez said.

“The last thing I remember was that my mom wasn’t there.”

Senior Paloma Rodriguez was in second grade when her mother was detained and deported by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“At first we didn’t really know what happened. My dad wasn’t telling us anything and I don’t think he knew that much either, but my mom just wasn’t there. As a kid, your mom is such an important [figure]. It’s hard waking up and her not being there,” Rodriquez said.

Rodriguez’s mother, Paloma Saucedo, was detained and deported because her visa had expired. Some reasons of deportation are committing an aggravated felony, committing marriage fraud, helping smuggle other aliens into the U.S., or having committed document fraud, which includes the expiration of a visa.

“I started my immigration process (applying for permanent residence) in the early 2000’s, I believe 2003. I finally received a letter from immigration in 2009, stating that I had an upcoming appointment to review my case. At this point I did not have a lawyer since I was already a single mom raising two children without any child support (which I didn’t know my kids were entitled to) and making ends meet through odd jobs, including selling hot dogs on a corner on a hotdog cart, cleaning houses, cleaning a gym and babysitting among other things. I assumed that the letter meant that I was getting my green card since it also had an appointment for me to get a physical the day before the case appointment,” Saucedo said.

In the U.S., there are around 200 detention facilities, usually located far from major cities. These facilities can hold up to thousands at a time. The conditions of these facilities are portrayed to the public as well cared for, though that was not the experience for Saucedo.

“I repeated [to the officer] why I was there and even showed him the appointment card and the proof that I had just gotten my physical, at that point, that officer put me in handcuffs and shackles and said that I was trying to cross the border illegally. I was then processed, had a mugshot taken, etc and was put in a cell with other women. I was held for about 12 hours without food or water, most of the officers were rude and actually made fun of us for crying or wanting to go home. When I asked to make a phone call, I was told that it wasn’t a CSI episode and that I didn’t get a phone call. They also made racist jokes about Mexicans only eating burritos and other things of the sort,” Saucedo said.

“There was no privacy or respect for them at all. They were doing drug tests and stuff and they made her pee in front of all the male officers and male doctors. They basically stripped them of their humanity. I can’t imagine anyone going through that. It’s hard to imagine my mother in that situation. She’s very strong and never let it get to her though,”  Rodriguez said.

When Saucedo was released, she was dropped off in Juarez, Mexico, which has a reputation of being one of the most violent cities in the world.

“After about 12 hours I signed paperwork, which I assume was a “voluntary removal” and was put outside, on the border of one of the most dangerous places in Mexico and the U.S. at about one in the morning by myself. I was able to go to a hotel in Juarez and attended my appointment the next day. I was told then that the removal would not impact my case, but that they needed more time to review my case and that it could take anywhere from 12-18 months. At this point my kids were in Virginia with their dad. I felt like the world was ending. I had only packed for a few days, naively thinking I was going to go and have an interview and go home with a green card,” Saucedo said.

Her mother’s deportation led to Rodriguez and her younger brother having to move to Mexico.

“My dad stayed here in Virginia and me and my brother went over there for a few years while she worked on reapplying for a visa and getting a green card again,” Rodriguez said. “She recently just got her citizenship two years ago so it was after 16 years of trying.”

After the 2016 elections, a heavy push by the Trump administration on the family separation policy, which is an aspect of President Donald Trump’s immigration policy, led to the physical separation of families at the U.S. Mexico border. The policy was presented to the public as a “zero tolerance” approach intended to deter illegal immigration and to encourage tougher legislation. During his campaign, Trump also stressed the building of the wall on the U.S. Mexico border. 

“The wall is not a good idea. People will find a way, even if he does build it. I don’t think he’s handled the [immigration] situation at all. He’s just pushed an agenda of hate and racism towards immigrants and people of color for that matter. In general, presidents have never been pro immigrant or anything. Obama’s nickname was deporter-in-chief or something,” Rodriguez said. “I think the whole system needs to change. The way we treat our people, the way we see everyone, we need to change our viewpoints. People come here for a reason. Some people are escaping things [like] violence and poverty.”

Safety and security for an immigrant in America has been reduced with continued excessive ICE raids.

“For the most part, I would say [I feel safe] in the school environment. As white passing latinx, it’s a little easier, but there’s still this fear of speaking the language you grew up with in the store. It’s hard just being there when you know there’s just a lot of discrimination,” Rodriguez said. 

Racism and discrimination have been apart of America’s history since the beginning. To this day, encounters of harassment are still experienced by immigrants and people of color. 

“We’ve been harassed in a store before and it was terrifying. We thought he had a gun as well. Me and my mom were at Walmart with my little sister and we were just looking at baby clothes and she was talking to me in Spanish. She was telling me to move out of the way from this guy who was pressed up against me, behind me. I moved out of the way and he turned around and immediately yelled at us, ‘What the hell did you just say to me,’ and my mom was like, ‘I didn’t say anything to you, I was talking to my daughter,’ and he was like, ‘No you weren’t. You said something to me.’ It continued back and forth and he reached for his side which I first thought he was reaching for a gun, but it turned out to be something else and we called for help and the moment the managers got there, he was out of the store,” Rodriguez said.

Following in the footsteps of her mother’s advocacy, Rodriguez involves herself with organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which Rodriguez had taken the summer advocacy institute program with. At the institute, Rodriguez had focused on immigration and talking with representatives as well as rallying on Capitol Hill.

“I have worked with programs similar to the ACLU. A couple weeks ago, I went to a workshop with the Mennonite Central Committee called the Volunteer Advocacy Coordinators Network. They also focused on immigration and just what we can do in our communities, and we spoke with representatives again just getting our stories out there and what we want to see happening,” Rodriguez said. “In Harrisonburg, I work with a coalition called FUEGO, which [stands for] Friends United Engaging in Grassroots Organizations. It started recently this year after my mom’s city council campaign, which she also had some focus on immigration being an immigrant herself. It was an important part of her campaign.”

Recently, young people have started to take matters into their own hands. With the 2020 elections coming up, the opportunity for a change in policies such as the “zero tolerance” towards immigration act could arise. Rodriguez still has hope for change and for a better future. 

“I do have hope, especially seeing young people in our community who are working hard. I know with the climate strike it was all young people, college students and high school students. The ACLU was all young people. We all were young people and immigration mattered to us all and so did the rights of people. I do think there’s hope,” Rodriguez said. “I have a younger sister and I really see myself as influential to her and I really hope she has a good future and has our mother there the whole time and can see a positive future for herself where there is not as much hate and discrimination.”