Things That Matter

An Army Veteran’s Mom Was Deported Back To Mexico After Showing Up For A Meeting With ICE

Imagine living in the United States for 31 years, raising your kids there, have a son enrol in the Army to defend your adopted country and then suddenly being deported to a country you no longer recognize as your own. Well, that is what the mother of an Army Officer experienced a few weeks ago in a case that has caught the media’s attention. Her son argues that her case was mishandled and that she should not have been sent to Tijuana, where she knows almost no one.

Military families make huge sacrifices to serve their country and even though special deferrals are sometimes granted, they hold their breath expecting the worst. And the worst is exactly what ends up happening sometimes. 

The beginning of 2020 spelled doom for Rocio Rebollar Gomez y su familia as she was sent to Mexico after building a life in the United States.

Rebollar Gomez, now 51-years-old, had three children in the United States, including 30-year-old Second Lt. Gibram Cruz, who has served in the army for half a decade. She has a life in the United States and had hired a lawyer to deal with her migratory status in the best possible way. She even was scheduled to self-deport and had agreed on that with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). 

She attended a meeting with ICE, not knowing that the authorities would deport her then and there! 

Gibram Cruz has called ICE’s actions inhumane. As The New York Times reports, ICE acted on the first opportunity they got to deport Rocio Rebollar Gomez to Mexico: “Ms. Gomez, 51, was previously scheduled to self deport and that plan was known to ICE, the family’s lawyer, Tessa Cabrera, said on Friday. Instead, as the family went to an ICE office to discuss her case, Ms. Gomez was taken across the border to Tijuana without a chance to say goodbye, Ms. Cabrera said”. This is just appalling. Actions like this spark psychological trauma in a situation that is already dire to begin with. It feels like a premeditated effort to add insult to injury. 

Rocio Rebollar Gomez tried to do things right and explore every avenue to stay in the United States, including benefits given to military families.

Lt. Gibram Cruz claims that his mother was “snuck her out through the back” and that she was in Mexico in less than half an hour. Rebollar Gomez ran a small business selling health products and also drove for Uber. According to NYT she also explored an exemption provided to military families for service to country, as she “had attempted to stay in the United States legally, including deferred action under the discretionary option for military families through Citizen and Immigration Services, Ms. Cabrera said”. She had previously been removed from the country in 1995, 2005 and 2009 but found her way back to her family. 

ICE has responded and says that her removal was deserved, but Lt Gibran Cruz claims his mom did what any woman in her situation would have done.

As NYT reports, Mary G. Houtmann, a spokeswoman for ICE, said that “Ms. Gomez’s 2009 removal was the result of a 2008 order by an immigration judge and that she illegally re-entered the country after that.”

Gibran does not deny the fact that his mother re-entered the country illegally, but claims that her removal was unnecessary: “Her as a responsible mother did what any mother in her situation would do and came back to care for her children by any means. A country that was founded on immigrants should be welcoming to my mother, who her whole life has been an outstanding citizen.”

He continued while at a press conference: “We have always provided and succeeded by ourselves. We simply asked ICE to exercise some discretion and let her continue being a contributing member of her society”. Gibran also stressed the fact that military families make a lot of sacrifices and special considerations should be explored. 

In the meantime, Rocio’s family is worried about her safety while in Mexico.

Rocio’s family is concerned about her safety back in Mexico. According to one of her daughters, Karla McKissick, one of Rocio’s brothers was abducted in Acapulco and is now presumed dead. His body has never been found. Rocio will stay with a half-sister she had not seen in a decade. The family lawyer has indicated that they have run out of options. In the meantime, the family will go south of the border to bring her supplies, but the family has been torn apart and left traumatized and scarred for life.  

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Fort Hood Honors Vanessa Guillén By Naming Gate After Her One Year After Death

Things That Matter

Fort Hood Honors Vanessa Guillén By Naming Gate After Her One Year After Death

Sergio Flores / Getty Images

It’s been one year since Spc. Vanessa Guillén was murdered at Fort Hood. The death shocked the nation and revealed an environment of sexual harassment and unexplained deaths at the military base. One year later, Fort Hood is honoring Vanessa Guillén by naming a gate after her.

It’s been one year since Spc. Vanessa Guillén was killed.

Guillén’s death devastated her family and angered the nation. Her disappearance, which went under the radar for months, sparked a campaign for answers from Fort Hood officials.

Guillén’s death sparked a movement to address sexual assault and violence against women in the military. Guillén’s attacker killed her because she threatened to report him for sexual harassment. #IAmVanessaGuillen was a trending topic as people shared their stories of sexual harassment in the military. Her family proposed legislation to make it safer for people to report this kind of harassment while in the military.

Fort Hood renamed one of their gates to honor Guillén.

Officials from the military base worked with the family to figure out a way to honor Guillén’s memory and legacy at the base. The gate leads to the 3rd Regiment, where Guillén spent her days and served her country.

“So in coordination with the family, who agreed to allow us to do this, we are going to dedicate a gate that has her name on it — that has her picture — and you can come learn just a little about Vanessa. But mostly it’s so [in] two, three, four years we haven’t forgotten what this is all about, what this moment is all about in our history,” Lt. Gen. Pat White, commanding general of III Corps and Fort Hood, said at the ceremony unveiling the gate, according to NBC News.

The family hopes that the gate serves as a reminder and inspiration.

Lupe, Guillén’s younger sister, spoke at the family’s news conference. They did not attend the ceremony because of the anniversary and the emotional toll being in that soot would take on the family. Yet, she is hopeful that the gate being named after her sister will keep her memory alive and encourage people to seek help when sexually harassed.

READ: Military Members Are Sharing Stories Of Sexual Assault In The Military Using #IAmVanessaGuillen

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This Inmate Firefighter Was Nearly Killed Battling California Blazes But Now He’s Facing Deportation

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This Inmate Firefighter Was Nearly Killed Battling California Blazes But Now He’s Facing Deportation

David McNew / Getty Images

Across the United States there are hundreds of thousands of undocumented Americans doing their part to protect and better the country. But far too often, our communities and our leaders don’t return the favor.

One man, a former inmate who was injured while battling California’s historic wildfires, was turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after he was released from prison. Instead of being given a second chance, he faces likely deportation back to his native country of Laos – a place he hasn’t known since he was 4 years old.

A California man is facing deportation after nearly dying on the frontlines of the state’s wildfires.

A formerly incarcerated firefighter who helped battle California’s historic wildfires is now in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody, after the state notified the agency he was being released.

Bounchan Keola, 39, left his native Laos at the age of 4. His home is here in the United States – in San Leandro, CA to be exact. But he’s facing the ultimate punishment of being sent back to a place he knows nothing about.

“He made a mistake as a child. He came here impoverished and he was resettled as a refugee when he was 6,” said his San Francisco Asian Law Caucus attorney, Anoop Prasad. “And he literally risked his life. California didn’t have to call ICE to deport him…This case is extremely sad and unfortunate. Society has failed him again and again.” 

Even more shocking is that Keola only had 14 days left on his prison term when he was crushed by a tree while battling the Zogg Fire in early October. He was soon released from prison but then taken into immigration custody by ICE.

While fighting a wildfire, Keyla was severely injured.

Credit: David McNew / Getty Images

Although Keola was convicted of attempted second degree murder, not only has he served his term but he also gave back to the community as one of the thousands of inmate firefighters battling the state’s blazes. In fact, he received a shorter prison sentence because of the extra credit he earned for fighting fires. 

Incarcerated firefighters get two days credit off their sentence for every day they’re working and are paid up to $5 a day. It’s estimated they save the state tens of millions of dollars a year. 

But then Keola got injured.

While he was stationed in Redding, CA., a tree fell on him while he was clearing brush to stop the fire from spreading. He is still in excruciating pain, his lawyer said, and he has not received the proper medical attention.

Since his release from prison, Keola has been in ICE detention.

Just seven days after being injured and with seven days left in his prison term, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation notified ICE that his release would be coming up. On Oct. 16, the day Keola finished serving his prison sentence in Sacramento, ICE came to pick him up. On Oct. 29, an immigration judge ordered his removal to Laos, records show.

Since being picked up by ICE, Keola has been held at a detention facility in Kern County. Although he faces a deportation order, Laos doesn’t have a repatriation agreement with the U.S., which means he could end up staying in California. But his fate is still unclear. And only a pardon from Newsom, his attorneys said, would expunge his record and allow him to go home freely to his parents and sister. 

I just want to go home and give my mom and dad a hug,” Keola told The Guardian, the first news organization to report the story. “All I know is I’m American. I’ve never thought of myself not being a citizen. I’m just asking for that one, second chance.”

Keola’s fate is in the hands of Gov. Newsom as he awaits a potential pardon for his crime.

Gov. Newsom has painted himself as a champion of those who have been incarcerated and fought on the front lines to save California during the wildfire season. That’s why Keola and his attorney say that his fate is in the hands of the governor. He has asked for a pardon from his prison sentence, showing that he has changed for the better and that his service to the state battling wildfires should count for something.

On Sept. 11,  Newsom signed AB 2147, a bill that will allow formerly incarcerated people to be able to try to expunge their records and become professional firefighters. Inmates who have stood on the frontlines, battling historic fires should not be denied the right to later become a professional firefighter,” Newsom later said in a tweet after signing the bill. 

Yet Keola, an inmate fighting fire on the frontlines, hasn’t been given that chance. And although California is a sanctuary state, which forbids most cooperation with ICE, Keola was still handed over to the agency.

Newsom’s spokesperson, Jesse Melgar, said in a statement: “We are unable to discuss individual clemency applications, but can assure that each application receives careful and individualized consideration.”

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