Las Vegas Sun

November 19, 2018

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Las Vegas mother relieved after first immigration check-in

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Steve Marcus

Cecilia Gomez, left, talks with Laura Barrera, an attorney with the UNLV Immigration Clinic, after a check-in appointment at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in downtown Las Vegas Wednesday, May 9, 2018. Gomez was nearly deported in March while applying for a green card.

Cecilia Gomez Checks In With Immigration

Richard Vogel holds a sign as Cecilia Gomez checks in with at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in downtown Las Vegas Wednesday, May 9, 2018. Gomez was nearly deported in March while applying for a green card. Launch slideshow »

The first time Cecilia Gomez walked into the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in downtown Las Vegas, she was arrested, allegedly roughed up and sent on a bus headed for the U.S. border with Mexico.

Her second trip to the office was, to her relief, significantly less eventful.

Gomez, a 20-year Las Vegas resident and mother of three sons, made her first check-in Wednesday at the ICE office, 501 S. Las Vegas Blvd., as part of a supervised release from federal authorities following her March 27 arrest on an outstanding deportation warrant.

Gomez that day appeared at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office for a scheduled appointment to apply and potentially receive a green card for permanent U.S. residency.

But instead of becoming a legal resident, she was arrested on a deportation warrant stemming from a 1998 notary scam that made her “deportable,” even as a victim of the scam, per federal authorities.

She spent 10 days in custody and was jailed in El Paso, Texas, Denver, Nogales, Ariz., and Eloy, Ariz., before activist groups helped secure her release in Las Vegas.

Walking through ICE security this morning, Gomez breathed deeply and held a stern face as her attorney, Laura Barrera of the UNLV Immigration Clinic, walked beside her.

After passing through security and taking an elevator to the second floor, Gomez and Barrera were asked to show their IDs and sat in a waiting room for 15 minutes before an ICE agent opened a door and called the two from the waiting room.

Instead of taking Gomez and Barrera back into his office, he asked for their IDs and some paperwork and told them to “have a good day.”

“I was very nervous but glad there was nothing more to that,” Gomez said afterward in her native Spanish.

Barrera said her office over the past two months has been inundated with calls from undocumented immigrants, jailed on offenses as simple as traffic violations or surprise arrests at immigration appointments, like in Gomez’s case.

The shift toward a more aggressive deportation policy has resulted in local deportation detention centers filling up faster than ever, Barrera said.

Barrera said authorities have always had discretion to jail undocumented immigrants after pulling them over or citing them but traditionally have chosen not to. That has changed under the administration of President Donald Trump, as more law enforcement officials are using their discretion to jail and deport people.

“A lot of immigrants detained by ICE don’t have a lot of good legal defenses,” she said. “It’s just scary now, because you never really know what’s going to happen.”

In Gomez’s case, Barrera said, the Las Vegas mother’s clean criminal record and high community standing as a mother of three children, the oldest of whom will graduate this month from college, made her “the perfect example of someone who doesn’t need to be deported.”

Gomez’s attorney hopes the alleged assault by ICE agents on Gomez — Barrera has petitioned through the Freedom of Information Act to obtain video of the encounter — will further build her case. Authorities have denied Gomez was assaulted.

Gomez walked out of the ICE building after her brief check-in this morning to the applause and cheers of more than a dozen people. Supporters patted Gomez on the back and congratulated her as she smiled and embraced some of them.

Today’s check-in is the first of what could eventually become twice-monthly visits to the Las Vegas ICE office for Gomez, as her legal status and petition to remain the United States is deliberated by a federal judge. Gomez is scheduled to make her first appearance in immigration court on May 22.

“I’m happy and relieved about today,” she said. “But there’s still a long way to go.”