California Forum

Meet a local immigrant family. They’re legal, and Trump still split them up

Sacramento house painter Amado Gomez Renderos, 63, who fled to the U.S. from Salvadoran death squads in the 1980s, and his wife Maria Martinez Renderos, 69, reunited on Friday, June 22, 2018, after a 2-day DUI sentence turned into a 10-month imprisonment by ICE.
Sacramento house painter Amado Gomez Renderos, 63, who fled to the U.S. from Salvadoran death squads in the 1980s, and his wife Maria Martinez Renderos, 69, reunited on Friday, June 22, 2018, after a 2-day DUI sentence turned into a 10-month imprisonment by ICE.

So, now we know exactly where things stand.

The U.S. government takes thousands of children hostage in order to pursue a draconian anti-immigrant agenda. The president of this wondrous country, the most iconic symbol of which is the Statue of Liberty, emblazoned with the great words of Emma Lazarus, believes that those who come looking for a better life are invaders here to “infest” America.

His one-time campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, mocks a girl with Down’s Syndrome who was separated from her parents. The idea of defense department-run internment camps for families fleeing poverty, the lethal violence of gangs, and human trafficking is considered the “humane” alternative to “tender age centers.”

Maria is a U.S. citizen. Amado is not. He arrived from El Salvador in 1986, at the height of that country’s civil war, when the U.S.-backed military dictatorship was sending death squads rampaging through the country.

And the First Lady visits children taken by the government while wearing an “I don’t care” jacket. For anyone wondering, “I don’t care” was the slogan the Fascist Black Shirts used during their March on Rome to establish Mussolini in power.

The GOP as the family values party? I don’t think so.

But speaking of family values, let me introduce two Sacramento residents, Amado Gomez Renderos, 63, and his wife Maria Martinez Renderos, 69.

Maria is a U.S. citizen. Amado is not. He arrived from El Salvador in 1986, at the height of that country’s civil war, when the U.S.-backed military dictatorship was sending death squads rampaging through the country. He has been here ever since, working in construction and as a house painter.

In the 1980s, Amado applied for asylum status, and received a work authorization while he waited for his case to be processed. It took nearly two decades for his asylum case to move forward.

If Amado had not moved to a different house in the early 2000s, he would not have missed the three notices sent to his old address calling him for an interview. He says that he informed the government of his address change, but that they continued to send paperwork to his old address.

After the third time, in 2009, the government shut his case. He retained his work permit. In 2014, the government tracked him down to his new address and reopened his case. At that point, he began legal proceedings for an adjustment of status, seeking permanent residency, since by now he had long been married to Maria, a U.S. citizen. By 2016, thirty years after he had first arrived, he was still in limbo.

If Amado had not forgotten his cell phone at his grandson’s birthday party back in December 2016, he would have still been working for a local house-painting company when I began writing this article and would have been present this past year to nurse Maria after the surgery that she needs on her knees to keep her from losing function in both legs.

Wearily, needing the phone to find out about his next day’s work, he got back in his car and drove to retrieve his phone. On many levels, it was a bad decision.

Instead, Amado spent ten months in Rio Consumes jail, a prisoner of ICE. And Maria, lacking anyone to help her, and having spent down the family’s small savings on legal representation for Amado, has had to postpone, and postpone again, her vital surgery.

Amado has a drinking problem. In the 1990s, as a much younger man, he notched up three DUIs. A decade ago, he received a fourth.

Then, in December 2016 he had a few beers at his grandson’s party, went home, got into his pajamas and climbed into bed. Sometime around midnight, he realized he had left his cell phone at the party. Wearily, needing the phone to find out about his next day’s work, he got back in his car and drove to retrieve his phone. On many levels, it was a bad decision. Amado crashed his car, his blood alcohol level was tested by the police, and he was prosecuted for driving under the influence.

In May 2017, Amado was sentenced to either two days in jail or a fine. Lacking a financial cushion, he chose the jail sentence, which was deferred until August. In August, he showed up to serve his time, spent 48 hours in jail on the misdemeanor charge, and was then promptly arrested by ICE agents and transported to Rio Consumes – the sheriff’s department at the time had a financial agreement with ICE to hold detainees.

Amado, a diabetic, spent the next ten months in a local jail on a two-day sentence. Maria visited him once or twice a month – she found the hours-long wait to get in, and the long walk along jail hallways to the visiting room, too taxing to do more often – and noticed his worsening depression. He shared a dormitory space with dozens of other men, slept on a hard metal bed with only a thin mattress. His shoulder hurt, he could no longer bend one of his arms fully.

Several months back, his new attorney, Douglas Lehrman, convinced a local judge to use her discretion to grant Amado Renderos permanent residency despite his misdemeanor conviction. Normally, that would have been the end of that, and he would have been released.

But these days the feds pretty much never back off an opportunity to humiliate and inflict pain on impoverished immigrants. The administration appealed against the decision granting Amado permanent residency, seeking to deport him. The 63-year-old house painter, husband and breadwinner, remained a prisoner, one of countless thousands disappeared into the country’s vast and unaccountable immigration gulag.

Lehrman, with nearly 40 years immigration law experience, says he has never seen the government treating people the way his clients are now being treated.

Maria visited him once or twice a month – she found the hours-long wait to get in, and the long walk along jail hallways to the visiting room, too taxing to do more often – and noticed his worsening depression.

None of this makes any moral sense. Amado ought to be treated for his alcoholism, perhaps banned from driving. To deport him, however, is to destroy not only his own life but also that of his elderly, and sick, wife Maria.

“We used to eat together, as soon as he got home,” Maria, a short woman with long, gray hair, wearing an ankle-length skirt and a striped shirt, a pink and purple friendship bracelet knotted on her left wrist, said simply, when asked what she misses about her husband. “I prepared his meal. Now I have to deal with everything by myself.”

Last Friday, as I was finishing writing this column, Lehrman’s office finally received a note in the mail from the Board of Immigration Appeals. It denied the government’s appeal and affirmed the judge’s decision to grant Amado Renderos permanent residency.

Lehrman’s office phoned ICE to arrange for their client’s immediate release and Amado was transferred to the federal building on the Capitol Mall. Just before two o’clock that afternoon, he finally walked out, a free man, after spending an entirely needless ten months behind bars.

Even in these bleak times, some things eventually work out right. “I am happy, happy,” Amado said, as he hugged his crying wife. “I got a lot of people waiting for me.”

Sasha Abramsky is a Sacramento writer who teaches at UC Davis. His latest book is “Jumping at Shadows: The Triumph of Fear and the End of the American Dream.” He can be reached at sabramsky@sbcglobal.net.

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