April 24, 2018

Faced with possible deportation, mother of two turns for support to the Church community she calls home

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson prays over Erika Fierro outside of the Department of Homeland Security office in Indianapolis on April 24 prior to her meeting asking for a ‘credible fear interview.’ Also pictured is Franciscan Father Larry Janezic. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson prays over Erika Fierro outside of the Department of Homeland Security office in Indianapolis on April 24 prior to her meeting asking for a ‘credible fear interview.’ Also pictured is Franciscan Father Larry Janezic. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

At 11 a.m. on April 24, Erika Fierro’s name was called. She stood and walked to the door being held open to lead her to see the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) field office director. Fierro wore the tracking device she has had strapped to her ankle since Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers came to arrest her and her husband Jesus at their Indianapolis home on March 21.

Fierro was there to plead for her family. With her husband detained and awaiting deportation, Erika’s deportation would leave their 3- and 8-year-old children without the support of their parents, alone in the only country they’ve ever known.

She didn’t know it yet, but her plea would go unanswered.

As she walked toward the door, she asked if either of the men with her could accompany her for comfort—either her pastor, Franciscan Father Larry Janezic of St. Patrick Parish in Indianapolis, or Archbishop Charles C. Thompson. Both were denied admission.

“They [said] that if she didn’t go back alone, they would call ICE to say she didn’t show up for her meeting,” said Providence Sister Tracey Horan, who works for Faith in Indiana (formerly IndyCAN).

So Fierro walked through the door alone.

Yet when asked that morning how she felt prior to the DHS meeting, Fierro answered, “Overwhelmed, but blessed. Very blessed by all this support.”

That support came from several clergy of various denominations and more than 30 people who came to pray with her— and for her family—outside of the DHS office in Indianapolis.

They prayed for the success of her request to be granted a “credible fear interview.”

“She has family members in Mexico who have been kidnapped and murdered,” says Sister Tracey. “She’s terrified to have to go back there.”

Fierro was brought to the United States 30 years ago at the age of 5 when her parents emigrated from Mexico. She graduated in 2001 from Beech Grove High School. Six years later, she married Jesus Fierro. Together, the Catholic couple serve the Church through a shared music ministry.

“We formed a music ministry for prayer groups ... here in Indianapolis,” Fierro said in an interview with The Criterion before departing for the DHS meeting. The two have started music ministries at three Indianapolis parishes.

“On the day we were arrested, we were supposed to play at four upcoming Masses—one on Holy Thursday, one on Good Friday, then on Saturday and Sunday,” she said.

Shortly after speaking with The Criterion, Fierro stood before the DHS office surrounded by cameras recording from several local television stations. With a voice choked with emotion and pausing often to wipe away tears, she described what happened on March 21.

“They came to the house in the dark. They arrested my husband as he was leaving for work [at his construction job]. Then they got me out of my house, telling me they had to give me his tools, expensive tools owned by [the construction company]. They gave me nothing. It was all a lie, and they said they were arresting me, too.

“I asked why they were there. They said, ‘We’re ICE, and we’re taking you.’ I asked why. They screamed back, ‘Because you’re not from here! You need to go back to the country you came from! Take your kids with you, pack up and go!’ ”

When she asked if they had a warrant, Fierro said, “They shouted back, ‘We’re ICE! We don’t need a warrant!’ And they don’t. They have the power to arrest without a warrant. And they do it in the dark, because that’s how evil works.”

Fierro protested that she needed to stay because her children were asleep inside.

“They said, ‘We can do this the easy way out here, or we can do it the hard way. We’ll arrest you inside and make sure your children see it.’ ”

In the end, Fierro was able to negotiate an in-home detention. Their 3-year-old daughter has a medical issue, and she had paperwork proving the child had a doctor appointment that same day. A tracking device was placed on her ankle. Since then, she has had to check in regularly with DHS.

While Fierro falls under the category of “Dreamer”—an undocumented immigrant brought to the United States as a child—she is ineligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status because she returned to Mexico in 2007. Crossing the border and coming back to the U.S. can render a Dreamer ineligible for DACA status, according to immigration law.

In her interview with The Criterion, Fierro said neither she nor her husband had a criminal record, and neither had ever been arrested until March 21.

Their arrests run counter to President Donald J. Trump’s statement on Jan. 25, 2017, when he signed an executive order to pursue undocumented immigrants.

“We are going to get the bad ones out —the criminals and the drug dealers and gangs and gang members,” he said.

On Feb. 11 of this year, The Washington Post reported that ICE arrested 37,734 undocumented “noncriminal” immigrants in the 2017 fiscal year, more than double the amount in 2016. This category of people includes those facing charges but not convicted, and those with no criminal records—people like the Fierros.

A friend of Fierro’s who did not share her name spoke in support of her in front of the DHS office.

“When I told my 4-year-old son that Erika had been arrested, he asked, ‘Why? What did she do? Did she kill someone? Did she steal something?’ My son doesn’t understand how a good person can be arrested. How do you explain to a 4-year‑old that she was arrested because she didn’t have a document?”

Before entering the DHS facility, Archbishop Thompson placed his hand upon Fierro’s head and prayed a blessing over her, asking God to grant her “his goodness, his peace, his mercy, his love. May he fill you with a spirit of courage, and give you strength to persevere always in faith, hope and charity. … May you know the power of God at work in you, and may you never feel abandoned.”

Minutes later in the DHS waiting room, Archbishop Thompson explained why he chose to accompany Fierro to the meeting.

“This is something the U.S. bishops have been very, very outspoken about, that we need to be attentive to the plight of the immigrant, the migrant, the refugee,” he said. “It’s at the heart of the Gospel of Matthew when Jesus says, ‘What you do for the least of my brothers you do for me’ (Mt 25:40).

“It’s a process of accompaniment, a word Pope Francis uses a lot … accompanying people, walking with people in whatever challenges are in their lives. This is just an opportunity to carry out that same spirit.”

Archbishop Thompson said he hoped through his presence to help Fierro know “that she is not alone, that she knows that she’s got the love and support of people who care for her. … And secondly, that hopefully we make an impression upon those who have the power to affect her life, that they know that there are people that care about her.”

His words broke off as tension rose at the door where Fierro was asking permission for the archbishop or Father Larry to join her. Neither would have that opportunity.

An hour later, Sister Tracey reported the outcome of Fierro’s request for a credible fear interview.

“The good news is, Erika is still with us,” she said. “The bad news is, the situation is still the same. They are still in the process of deportation.”

Fierro will return to the DHS office in two weeks. In the meantime, said Sister Tracey, “We will continue to work with her lawyer to pursue a credible fear interview. And we’ll continue to stand with her and fight for her.”

(For anyone wanting to comment on the Fierro family’s situation to Indiana’s U.S. senators, call Sen. Todd Young at 202‑224-5623 and Sen. Joe Donnelly at 202-224-4814.)

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