Published Thursday, April 5, 2018 | 12:58 p.m.
Updated Thursday, April 5, 2018 | 9:30 p.m.
Cecilia Gomez had come a long way to establish herself in Las Vegas, local activists and attorneys said.
A mother of three, Gomez left her hometown in the state of Michoacán, Mexico, in the early 1990s for her chance at the American dream.
She found her opportunity for a better life in the Las Vegas Valley and had three sons in the U.S., to whom she always preached the value of education. That value has propelled Yonathan Avelar-Gomez, 21, to be the first in his family to attend college — Wesleyan University in Connecticut — and Ricardo Avelar-Gomez, 18, to apply for universities across the country.
“She has always pushed us to be the best we can be,” her son Ricardo Avelar-Gomez said.
Last week, Gomez’s American dream may have been lost for good as she entered the local U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office hoping for permanent residency. Instead of getting her green card, she was handcuffed and put on a bus headed for El Paso, Texas, her children said.
Since she was detained on March 27, Gomez has been to Denver and Nogales, Ariz., in addition to El Paso and is now jailed in Eloy, Arizona.
“What she has told us and our family is that an agent pinned her to a table and she has bruises on her stomach,” said Bliss Requa-Trautz, director of the Las Vegas Worker Center. “She has been moved so repeatedly and it has been difficult to get legal counsel in to see her.”
Requa-Trautz added that Gomez has repeatedly asked to have the bruises photographed while in detention, but she's been mocked for it and nobody has assisted her.
Requa-Trautz and attorney Laura Barrera said they do not know of a timeline for a hearing for Gomez’s return to the valley, but they said Gomez will not be deported while a federal judge deliberates a stay of deportation filed by local attorneys last week.
A USCIS employee at the bureau’s southwest valley office, 5650 W. Badura Ave., declined comment and barred media from entering the facility.
Lori Haley, spokeswoman for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said Gomez's deportation was ordered by an immigration judge in August 1998, and last week's arrest was to serve that order. Haley reiterated activists' claim that Gomez could stay in the U.S. if a judge continues a motion to review her immigration status.
But Haley denied the claim that the Las Vegas mother was physically abused. She said all people in violation of U.S. immigration policy — even those who abide by the law — are subject to removal from the country.
Requa-Trautz said Gomez had no criminal history and was a victim of notario fraud, a practice where scammers posing as lawyers promise citizenship and immigration support to unsuspecting victims, 20 years ago. Gomez’s name does not appear on public court records in Las Vegas, North Las Vegas or Henderson, nor Clark County District Court.
That notario fraud scam resulted in a federal deportation order for Gomez. When Gomez entered the USCIS office last week, officers served that order by arresting her, Requa-Trautz said.
“We’ve never been through this, so it’s very difficult,” said Gomez’s youngest son Eric Avelar-Gomez, 13, as tears streamed down his face. “We just want her to come home.”
Ricardo Avelar-Gomez said the last week has been “without sleep.” The last thing he said to her before she entered the USCIS office last week was “good luck.”
Gomez previously worked doing laundry but was most recently a stay-at-home mom. Her boyfriend is currently taking care of Ricardo, 18 and a senior in high school, and Eric, 13, a seventh-grade student.
“We’re trying to be emotionally strong so we can stay sane and continue with the dreams we all have,” Ricardo Avelar-Gomez said. “It’s what she would want for us.”