Immigration

ICE Chases Arizona Father of 5-Year-Old Boy with Cancer into Sanctuary

The Trump administration is tearing families apart.

Jayden is only five years old, but already a large portion of his life has been spent at Phoenix Children’s Hospital undergoing chemotherapy to treat the rare form of leukemia he was diagnosed with in 2016. Because his mom, Sonia, is pregnant with his new little brother or sister and can’t physically handle some of the toxic pills herself, his dad Jesus helps him take his medicine. Jayden still has two more years of treatment to complete and getting well should be the only thing this family needs to worry over, except the U.S. government is trying to tear Jayden’s dad from him and deport him to a country he hasn’t been to since he was a toddler:

Berrones, a furniture upholsterer and air conditioning maintenance worker, lives in Phoenix and has been in the United States since he was about 18 months old, [attorney Garrett] Wilkes told The Arizona Republic.

Federal immigration authorities want to reinstate a deportation order despite the stress his deportation would put the man's young family, including a 5-year-old boy receiving intensive chemotherapy for a rare form of leukemia, Wilkes said.

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Berrones has five children, all U.S. citizens including two from a previous relationship and three with his wife, Sonia Garcia, 24. She is a U.S. citizen, and pregnant, Wilkes said.

Berrones first fell onto Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s (ICE) radar in 2006 for driving with a fake driver’s license and deported to Mexico. Desperate to reunite with his family, Berrones twice reentered the U.S. without permission. When he again faced deportation in 2016, he was able to get a stay of deportation based on humanitarian factors—Jayden’s illness—and was granted a work permit. But following Donald Trump’s inauguration, Berrones was told during an ICE meeting in June that he would need to check in more frequently. By December, he was told to prepare for deportation.

“It would be catastrophic in every literal and emotional sense of the word” if Berrones was torn from his family, said Wilkes. “This is not just a man who is a husband and a father, he is an example to these kids.”

Facing imminent deportation, Berrones went into sanctuary at Shadow Rock United Church of Christ in Phoenix just days ago. Since 2014, the church has given sanctuary to seven immigrants facing deportation, including one immigrant who still lives there. For the church, protecting the dad of five kids—with another on the way—wasn’t even a question. "Our mission has been from the beginning, it's very simple, it's to keep families together and to keep people safe," said the church’s leader:

The Shadow Rock congregation offered to allow the dad to live inside the church to protect him from being arrested and deported until he can exhaust his legal options to stay in the U.S., said Rev. Ken Heintzleman, the pastor.

"Our society really looks down on fathers who are neglectful," Heintzleman said. "This man crossed the desert I think twice, put his life at risk in order to be a father and to take care of his family. He should really be praised and commended rather than judged, and punished and deported."

Berrones continues to wear the monitoring bracelet ICE placed on his ankle in December, Wilkes said.

Wilkes said he is hoping ICE will reconsider granting Berrones a stay of removal. That would allow Berrones to seek to have his deportation order canceled, which would open the door for him to remain in legally in the U.S. with his family.

"He has a U.S. citizen family member who will suffer extremely without him, he can show good morale character, and in addition, he is married to a U.S. citizen," Wilkes said.

With the family’s breadwinner now unable to provide for them because he cannot step outside the church at risk of being vulnerable to arrest—churches, schools, and hospitals are “sensitive locations” generally off-limits to immigration enforcement—Sonia and her children are now in crisis. According to CBS This Morning, “Jayden is so scared his father will get deported, he refuses to leave his side at the Shadow Rock United Church of Christ”:

Sonia Berrones, five months pregnant, now worries about finding a job to make ends meet.

"His kids need him; I need him," she said.

 [CBS News correspondent Manuel] Bojorquez asked, "Have you thought about what it would be like to have to say goodbye to him?"

She sobbed: "It's going to be hard."

ICE has long been a stain on our country, and under Trump’s racist mass deportation policies, it is tearing at American families at horrific speeds for no other reason than because it can. And rather than taking steps to finally fix our broken immigration system and try to find a way for immigrants like Berrones to get in line and adjust their status, Republicans are proposing ramping up ICE. Ask yourself, America: does any of this make you feel any safer? Does any of this make sense? Will you look back at this in five years and be proud of it, or ashamed?