Will anybody at ICE be held accountable for what happened in Kansas City in June?
Kenia Bautista-Mayorga’s immigration story began just two years ago, as she carried her baby, Noah, across the U.S. border at Eagle Pass, Texas, ending an arduous trek from Honduras.
Bautista-Mayorga was escaping the abuse of a husband who was a police officer in the village where she lived. He had tried to take Noah from her as the two were separating. She felt she had no other choice but to run in fear for her and Noah’s safety.
At the border, she asked for asylum, a human right the United Nations spells out for those fleeing from persecution. She agreed to attend immigration court in Dallas to argue her case about why she had moved and the danger she faced if she returned to her home country.
As Kenia began piecing together a new life in Texas, she connected with Luis Alfredo Diaz Inestroza. They fell in love. They decided to start a family and have a baby. That baby is due in a few months.
In May, the family was driving back from Iowa. Luis, at the wheel, turned his head to say something toward the backseat. As he did, their white Nissan Altima swerved a bit. They were then pulled over along Interstate 35, northeast of Kansas City.
The police ran a check on Kenia. It revealed that she had missed her asylum hearing. Kenia claims her attorney did not show up for it, and she did not want to attend it alone. Regardless, the missed hearing meant that she now had an order of removal — deportation — on her record. She was taken to the Platte County Jail. They let Luis go.
Last year, or even five years ago, Kenia likely would not have been detained. But that was before this administration escalated its aggressive “zero tolerance” tactics. Earlier this year, the Justice Department and Immigration Customs and Enforcement, or ICE, changed its policy so that pregnant women may be detained. Another change is a policy that domestic abuse, like what Kenia faced, is not an argument for asylum.
Thus, Kenia and her growing belly remained in a jail for the next five weeks.
Inside the small cell, Kenia’s head spun. Dizzy bouts came and went. She vomited often. Her blood pressure climbed along with her stress levels. Luis had returned to Texas with Noah so he could keep his construction job. Kenia would use Skype to talk with Luis and Noah, trying to reassure the little boy that “Mama” was not gone forever.
A few days into her jail time, attorneys Andrea Martinez and Megan Galicia received an email on a listserve requesting pro bono work for a pregnant immigrant.
“We don’t do a ton of pro bono cases, so this is an anomaly,” Martinez tells The Pitch.
But this seemed like an important one. They wanted to get Kenia out of detention as quickly as possible.
Some headway was made. Senator Cory Booker, of New Jersey, learned about Kenia and visited her while in Kansas City. He and Sen. Claire McCaskill, along with the ACLU, pushed for getting her released while Martinez and Galicia appealed her deportation status. They were able to make sure a gynecologist checked Kenia’s health and growing baby. But she remained in jail.
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The Platte County Jail is one of more than 600 facilities nationwide that house ICE detainees. Under its contract with ICE, it is paid per bed — meaning the more ICE detainees who stay there, the more money it makes. Many immigrants stay for just a day or two before they are transferred. (The jail was the location of another high-profile immigration case earlier this year, when Syed Ahmed Jamal, a Kansas scientist whose visa had expired, was held there.)
ICE was founded in the heightened time following 9/11, as part of 2002’s Homeland Security Act. It was designated as one of the agencies that became part of the Department of Homeland Security. It serves as the federal law enforcement agency that carries out federal immigration policies. Private prisons and detention centers that hold immigrants boomed during the Bush and Obama administrations, but late in Obama’s administration the Justice Department scaled back this trend and pushed for reform.
Last year, though, the Trump administration began rolling back those efforts and widened its nets of picking up undocumented immigrants, including non-criminals. This evolved into the anti-human-rights practices of separating families and calling for eliminating due process in immigration and asylum cases.
As ICE started Kenia’s deportation process, Martinez and Galicia attempted to ask for time and another chance.
“We tried to reopen her removal with Dallas Immigration Court, and we tried to appeal the Dallas judge’s opinion,” Martinez says.
They were told they would be unable to win that appeal.
“We got the decision from the board of immigration on Monday” — June 25 — “at 4 p.m,” she says.
Kenia was set to leave the country in less than 12 hours. Luis was driving up from Odessa, Texas, to bring Noah to join his mother. Noah would be leaving the country along with his mother. Along with them was a documentary film crew from Netflix that was highlighting his experience as part of an upcoming show about deportation.
It was nearly 10 p.m. when Luis and Noah arrived at Martinez’s house. Her family had helped prepare food. Everyone feasted on hamburger, cheese, eggs, rice, and beans. Noah fell asleep in Martinez’s son’s bed.
“He was so excited to play with my son again and so excited to see his mom,” Martinez says.
In the dark morning hours, around 2 a.m., they woke Noah up and took him to see his mother at the ICE parking lot near the Kansas City International Airport. A photo shows Luis holding a black umbrella with one arm and Noah with his other arm. You can see the child clutching the blue, toy dinosaur Luis gave him.
ICE officials that morning were not expecting a large audience. Social media and message boards had spread news of the deportation, and nearly 40 people arrived with signs to stage a peaceful protest. A widely circulated video captures a group standing and singing.
“We were always going to meet in the parking lot,” Martinez says. “We were going to hand off Noah in the parking lot — have Noah get in the van with Kenia to have the least traumatic experience as possible and make sure that he gets to his mom. And Luis wanted to give Kenia a hug. She is pregnant with his child, and he hasn’t seen her in a month. He wanted to say goodbye.”
Martinez then received a phone call from ICE asking that Luis come inside the facility because it was raining.
“It’s not what we agreed upon,” Martinez says. “This is not what we want to do, and they were insisting that we go in the lobby. So we told them we would go back and ask Luis what he wanted to do so he could make a decision.”
For about 15 minutes, Martinez and Galicia talked to Luis and then walked over the speak with the ICE agents at the door. They weren’t comfortable with Luis going inside.
ICE officer Everett Chase then followed them to the parking lot and grabbed Luis, who was holding Noah in his arms. Chase pulled him along as they walked toward the door.
The video circulating captures the following actions.
“As we walked, I was saying, ‘Take your hands off him, he’s not the client,’” Martinez recalls. “I kept asking Officer Chase to let him go and said we could walk in [Noah], but Luis didn’t have any choice in the matter. The officer forced him as he was holding Noah.”
Chase pushed Luis and Noah in the door first and then entered as another officer held the door. Martinez and Galicia were trying to follow Noah — their client — in the door. They still had not seen Kenia and wanted to make sure the boy would be with his mother.
At that point, the ICE agent forcibly pushed Martinez to the ground to bar her from entry. Having collected all three members of the family, an ICE officer then locked the door of the building.
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That didn’t last long.
“They realized they needed an attorney with the child,” Martinez says. “There was an issue with lack of access to counsel. There was a 3-year-old boy in there without an attorney.”
ICE only allowed Martinez inside.
“I go in,” she says, “and when I walk in there was a room where Kenia, Luis, and Noah are all hugging and crying. Noah was crying because he didn’t want to leave [Luis].”
The family had a minute to embrace before Chase told the other ICE agent to take Kenia and Noah to the airport.
Luis begged for a few more minutes. He bent down and kissed Kenia’s belly.
Noah screamed, realizing the person who had cared for him while his mom was detained would not be going with him.
“I want to stay” with Luis, the child sobbed.
Chase remained in the room with Luis and Martinez.
Luis, still crying, pointed out the wounds on Martinez’s leg and foot. She was bleeding.
“I didn’t even notice it at first,” Martinez says. “My blood was pumping so much. While [the family was] hugging, I asked Officer Chase, ‘Why did you push me?’ I was in shock. He said, ‘You were trying to forcibly enter a federal facility without permission.’ I was like, ‘What are you talking about? You just told us we had to come in, and we didn’t even want to come in, we wanted to meet in the parking lot.’ It was like a switch flipped in his brain. His story didn’t make any sense.”
Chase looked at her and, she says, told her the injury wasn’t severe. Her foot was swelling now, and she suspected it might be broken. She asked for ice. Chase wouldn’t bring her any. Then she heard him call Federal Protective Service and say, “Bring backup, bring handcuffs, Andrea Martinez was trying to forcibly enter our facility.”
After a while, EMS showed up. Galicia had called them following the altercation at the door. They carried Martinez out of the building on a stretcher. She went to the ER.
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As for Luis, he was trying to figure out where Kenia’s plane would land in Honduras, so he could alert her family there. He was eventually taken to the Morgan County Jail.
“They promised us they were going to let him go,” Martinez says. “It was super vindictive, because they told us they would not [detain him].”
Luis has no criminal history.
On Monday, July 9, Luis was being transported from Morgan County to the ICE office in Kansas City. His feet and hands were shackled, but he was not wearing a seat belt. When a Morgan County officer, who was driving the vehicle, slammed on the brakes, Luis fell on the floor and hit his head on a metal divider, according to Galicia, who’s serving as his attorney. Luis was injured but did not receive medical attention until after Martinez spoke with him the next day and noticed his speech was slurring. Luis then told her about the injury. He had a bump on his head but seemed to be doing better after receiving some medication later in the week.
Galicia says that, while it is no longer rare, in the age of Trump, for someone like Luis to be detained, “what is particularly distressing in Luis’ case is that ICE stated repeatedly that they would not detain him when Noah was being handed over to his mother.”
She adds: “We work with ICE officers on a daily basis, and when we cannot take them at their word, our working relationship with them is undermined, as is our ability to properly advise our clients and advocate on their behalf.”
As of late July, Luis was being detained in the Morgan County Jail and awaiting a bond hearing, where an immigration judge will decide whether to release him, Galicia says.
“It’s very unusual, even now, for ICE to refuse a bond for a person with zero criminal history,” Galicia says. “Luis not getting a bond is clearly tied to ICE’s displeasure at us shining a spotlight on them as they deport a woman and her child in the dark of night.”
Luis’ detainment and the confusion around it is just an example of how non-criminal undocumented immigrants have been caught up in policy changes since the Trump administration began in January 2017. Raids, regardless of cause, and other arrests have become more frequent and the immigration battles in the courts have created inconsistent arrests and deportations, as well as a rise in refusing asylum to those who seek it.
Shawn Neudauer of ICE e-mailed The Pitch when asked for a follow-up comment and explanation regarding the events of June 26.
“As was noted in our previous statement ICE can offer no further comment on the other matter,” the email stated, letting stand the agency’s earlier response that it was taking the allegation seriously and looking into the matter.
Messages sent to, and left with, Timothy (Todd) Nay, ICE assistant field director in Kansas City, requesting additional comment on what happened June 26, were not returned.
On the other side of the state, Meggie Biesenthal, an assistant public defender and former immigration attorney in the St. Louis area, says she has heard from multiple attorneys who say they are having a harder time negotiating meetings with ICE.
“Obviously, if those agreements are no longer honored, it will have a chilling effect on cooperation between the immigrant community, immigrant attorneys, and ICE,” Biesenthal says.
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A week after the incident Martinez was working at her office, her broken foot in a boot. She won’t need surgery, but it could take three months to heal. We spoke about the growing campaign to abolish ICE and the public outrage over family separations and the government’s slow and disorganized effort to reunite parents with their children.
“This case of Kenia, Noah, and Luis, and what happened to me, it’s just an example of how ICE — some ICE agents — are not representing our values as Americans and not enforcing the law with dignity,” Martinez said. “They are doing it with excess force and aggression, and I think people are tired of that. We are a nation of immigrants and people don’t want to see the most vulnerable people in society — asylum seekers, immigrants who are detained — mistreated any longer.
“If ICE officers are going to assault two lawyers in front of all these cameras,” she continued, “how do they treat immigrants when there are no cameras, particularly when they are detained?”