In 2009, Francisco’s family called the police in response to the robbery of a relative. When the police arrived, they impounded Francisco’s car due to an alleged parking violation. He was arrested by immigration enforcement officers some days later while attempting to recover the vehicle. Francisco spent a month in immigration detention, during which time his wife, Sarai, and small children were completely on their own. Sarai recalls feeling helpless and scared – Francisco was the sole provider for their family and managed all the bills. To make matters worse, Sarai had suffered a miscarriage three days before he was detained. She was forced to deal with the grief and pain of that loss without her partner.
Daniel, Francisco’s oldest son, recalls being shaken by the experience of seeing his father being taken away by immigration enforcement:
“At school, you’re taught that the police get the bad guys…so, why was my dad getting in their car if he was a good person? As a little kid, you don’t understand what’s going on. My dad gave us a house. He gave us love. He fed us. Why was he in there? I didn’t understand it.”
Noemi, Francisco’s oldest daughter, felt an acute sense of loss during her father’s month in detention:
“I remember hugging my father every day when he got home from work. We always had dinner together and we kissed him goodnight. One day, he just wasn’t there. I missed him.”
Upon being released, Francisco was notified that he had to appear in immigration court within a month. He obtained a lawyer, but their efforts were insufficient, at best. As a result, Francisco received a deportation order in 2013. That’s when he crossed paths with Margo Cowan, Pima County Public Defender. Sarai met Margo through Keep Tucson Together’s (KTT) weekly immigration clinic at Pueblo High School. When Francisco brought in the removal order to be translated, KTT volunteers told him that they could help, but he would need to seek sanctuary immediately to avoid deportation. Margo referred Francisco to Pastor Jim Wiltbank at St. Francis in the Foothills United Methodist Church – a progressive local church known for their involvement in the sanctuary movement – where he lived for three months before his case was resolved. Francisco’s family celebrated several birthdays and major life moments, like his youngest daughter’s first steps, during his time at St. Francis. He was finally able to leave on Christmas Eve of 2013.
When asked about the difference between his experience with Margo’s team and the previous attorney, Francisco said “They fought, and fought, and fought. Margo told me that losing was not an option.”
Francisco says that his proudest accomplishment today is that his family is still together. Despite the difficult circumstances surrounding their meeting, he is also grateful for the friendships that he made at St. Francis.
To those opposed to universal representation, he urges people to think twice: “We [immigrants] are here because we want something for our family. We want to work. We want to make progress. We don’t want to cause problems.”