A month after he was arrested by immigration officials, Elmer Uriza?s case was heard by a judge in Davenport. Meanwhile, his 15-year-old son, Walfred, who has no other relatives in the United States, awaits word of his father?s fate from Mount Pleasant, where he stays with other families.
Community leaders and educators have written letters of support for Uriza and other arrested men, stressing the importance of familial bonds and education for their children.
Uriza is one of 32 men arrested by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement from MPC Enterprises in Mount Pleasant on May 9.
While 20 have been released on bond and are awaiting an immigration trial, he remains in the Linn County Jail with four others until a judge rules whether he can stay in the United States or be deported to Guatemala. Three of the men arrested have been deported.
Uriza cannot be released on bond because of the criminal charges he faces as a two-time offender. He was ordered from the U.S. in January 2014 by an immigration official in Texas, according to court records. A deportation officer with ICE found no application or permission from the attorney general or secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to lawfully re-enter the U.S., court documents stated.
Letters of support
Since Uriza was arrested, Walfred describes himself as an orphan; his father is his only relative in the United States. Families in Mount Pleasant continue to open their doors to house the teenager. Letters of support written to the judge hearing Uriza?s case give examples of Walfred?s strength in the midst of uncertainty as well as his palpable fear.
Trey Hegar, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Mount Pleasant, the focal point for families caught up in the raid to receive help, wrote in a letter dated June 5 that one family Walfred stayed with told Hegar how they could hear him crying at night.
?(Walfred) is a good, respectful young teenager. However, you can see in his eyes that he has seen too many awful things in this world already,? Hegar wrote.
At least four other letters, written by members of Iowa Welcomes Immigrant Neighbors, or Iowa WINS, and Walfred?s teachers and coaches from the Mount Pleasant Community School District advocate for Elmer and Walfred to remain together in the United States.
Hegar urged the judge to consider the importance of a child having a father figure in his life. ?Since I have known (Walfred) I noticed how helpful he is with the children who have been coming to the church for gatherings since the raid,? Hegar wrote in his letter.
?It?s almost like he wants to make sure the little kids stay happy and safe,? he continued. ?I imagine (Walfred) learned that from his dad who protected him from gangs and drug cartels by bringing him here and risking everything to get back to him a second time.?
Mount Pleasant Community High School teacher Ruth Sutherland wrote in a letter dated June 6 detailing that throughout Walfred?s ?emotional roller coaster,? he still was inquisitive about English and eager to learn a new word every day.
?Elmer had to make tough decisions to make sure his son (Walfred) had the opportunity to learn English, as well as ensure that (Walfred?s) immersion into the community was full and productive,? Sutherland wrote.
Before he was arrested, Elmer had applied for asylum for Walfred. Walfred?s hearing is scheduled for August. The father and son could afford to apply for only one asylum application.
Walfred isn?t the only student in Mount Pleasant who teachers are advocating for. Amanda Clark, an English Language Learner teacher at Van Allen Elementary, wrote advocating her 8-year-old student Estrella Reza-Macias? father Ricardo Sucedo-Marcias.
Ricardo also is being criminally charged for illegally re-entering the country a second time. Ricardo was ordered to be removed from the U.S. in January 2008 by an immigration judge in Bloomington, Minn., according to court documents. He is a Mexican citizen. ?To me, family is important, and I?m watching my student go through losing a parent,? Clark said.
In her letter dated May 23, Clark wrote that Estella was someone who always had a warm smile for everyone, but that has diminished since Ricardo was taken into custody.
?All she knows ? (is) he is not with her and her family anymore,? Clark wrote. ?Not having her dad with her has affected Estrella in so many ways. Not just in her personality, but in her academics as well ? she is having a hard time focusing on her schoolwork.?
State Rep. Dave Heaton, R-Mt. Pleasant, also wrote on Estella?s behalf as well as for one other student.
?I think our community has come together, and they?re receiving a lot of support,? Heaton said, adding that he is frustrated with the situation. ?The whole situation is at the winds of the federal government and ICE and that?s the way it is,? he said.
The human element
Mount Pleasant Middle School Language Learner teacher Dina Saunders has been assigned to a family that has been affected by the arrests at MPC Enterprises a month ago. Bilingual people such as her are working with the families through Iowa WINS to ensure they have access to legal representation, that they have enough money to pay rent and utilities, and purchase food and other necessities.
One of the men Saunders is working with was in the process of becoming a citizen when he was arrested.
?This has put an extra burden on the family because he?s not working now and they need to come up with $2,000 (for lawyer fees),? Saunders said. ?It?s a shame that they were doing what they were supposed to be doing and it set them back in time and caused emotional distress.?
While Saunders is proud of the people of Mount Pleasant for rallying around immigrant families, she hopes more people can see the faces behind the statistics of undocumented people.
?It?s one thing to see faceless people at the border, but once you work with them, these are humans,? Saunders said.
?What I?m finding is once people educate themselves on the immigration system and realize it?s not working, people are stepping up. Regardless of what people think of immigration, people are looking at the human element.?