September 26, 2008
By Mariana Martínez
Originally from Jalisco, México, Rito Arellano had lived in East Los Angeles since 1968.
Married, father of three daughters, Arellano used to work as a superintendent for an apartment complex in Pomona and had recently been to night school to obtain his license as an air-conditioning repair technician. That was until just a week ago, immigration authorities went after him.
The agents knocked on his door late Wednsday evening, all dressed in black.
“They told me they where looking for a fugitive and asked me if they could come in. I just felt ashemaed the police was at my door and I told them they could come in”, remembered Arellano, “there where 4 or 6 armed men who came into my home and asked me to show them my identification, when they had my green card in their hands they told me “we came for you, we have an arrest warrant”, I never saw an arrest warrant or anything like that”.
They handcuffed him and assured his wife he was only going in for questioning, while in fact less than 24 hours latter he was on a bus to Tijuana, México.
Arellano is now in Tijuana, at the Elvira Refuge Shelter, the director is long time activist Micaela Saucedo, who doesn’t dismiss the fact this type of deportations are more common in the current election climate.
“They are intimidating people, taking them out of their homes, people like Rito with over 30 years of hard work for the US, someone who has payed taxes and raced good children”, she protests, “I think that because the elections are close, they use this tactic to make immigrants afraid to go ahead and file for citizenship, because they might loose it all for a minor incident that happened over 10 years ago”.
Arellano was in fact undocumented, but managed to get permanent resident status after the 1986 amnisty. He never went ahead and filed for citizenship, trusting he could do it when his greencard expired in 2012.
Gloria Saucedo, president of Hermandad Mexicana Transnacional, -a group looking into the case-, says this type of situations are common amongst immigrant communities, because people don’t know their rights, specially Hispanics, who are so slow at obtaining their citizenship.
“The moral of the story is, do not let minor incidents blow out of proportion, and don’t wait so long to become US citizens”, said Gloria Saucedo.
The L.A. Chapter for Hermandad Mexicana is now looking into the case to determine if Arellano´s rights where respected, because agents presented no warrant for his arrest and they didn’t take into account the fact that he is the sole breadwinner in his home, something that has stopped people from being deported in many other cases.
The problem that endend up in his arrest and deportation, started after a trip to Tijuana in 2001, right after the 9-11 attacks.
A long time friend invited Rito to go to Tijuana for the weekand, so they went down to Mexico along with his friends girlfriend.
“I didn’t ask their immigration status, I thought they where both legally in the US, otherwise, why would you leave?”, asks Arellano.
But on their way back, Arellano presented his paperwork but his friend lied about his citizenship and he found out the girl didn’t have a visa.
“They held me in jail for the weekend”, he remembers, “Monday morning they let me go, making me swear I was not going to press charges against them and to never do alien smuggling. They said “sign here, we are gonna send you home free” and an officer escorted me to San Ysidro”.
He remembers the officers told him to be aware if something was sent to him by mail, but he says it never did.
“I checked my mail every day for the next four years and nothing, nothing came. That’s the address I had for bills, checks, tax returns, coupons, bank accounts, how could I miss a letter from Immigration?” says Arellano with anger breaking his voice.
In 2004 he and his family moved from Woodier, California to Pomona and he considered the matter closed
He was so calm in fact he traveled to Guadalajara in 2007 for a niece´s wedding, when he came back he was held up in immigration but was allowed back into the country.
“If I was in fact a fugitive, why didn’t they stop me right there and then?” he asks, “I never hid or ran from the authorities, Im a decent man with over 30 years living in this country, trusting its laws, paying taxes and retirement fund, how could they do this to me?”.