SAN FRANCISCO–Supporters of a young Filipino mother who is married to an active duty U.S. Army soldier protested Wednesday in front of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices in an effort to stop her “voluntary” deportation.
Karla Gaerlan, an undocumented 28-year-old Filipino immigrant, faces deportation at 4:25 p.m. on Sunday, June 16, Father’s Day.
Friends, community supporters and her husband, Specialist Thad Schmierer, appealed to ICE to stop her expulsion. Lawyers from San Francisco-based Asian Law Caucus are representing Gaerlan.
“I can’t imagine leaving my family,” said a tearful Gaerlan. “Please Mr. President, you’re a father too. Please don’t put me on a plane.”
Schmierer, a Specialist in the U.S. Army stationed in Northern California, is due to leave for training in a week. He and Karla have a nine-month-old child, Christopher. The family lives in Stockton. “I’m away a lot and I’m afraid to come home and my family won’t be there,” he told the press.
The result of S-Comm
Gaerlan’s predicament began after Christopher was born, when she began struggling with severe post-partum depression. During a serious argument between her and Schmierer, she scratched him. Both said the scratches were light, but a concerned relative called the police, who arrested Gaerlan.
Then, the controversial ICE “Secure” Communities or S-Comm deportation program kicked in.
Even though Karla was not convicted of a crime, a voluntary immigration “hold” request trapped her in the San Joaquin county jail for eight days when she otherwise would have been quickly released.
Next, immigration authorities picked Karla up from the jail. Thad waited outside ICE’s office, unable to get information about what was happening to his wife. ICE agents allegedly proceeded to give her false information and threatening her.
“I was forced to waive my rights,” Gaerlan alleged. “They didn’t tell me I was qualified to get a green card. When I asked to see a judge an immigration officer yelled in my face, saying they will send me away and I won’t be able to come back if I don’t sign a paper agreeing to voluntary departure.”
Gaerlan said officers told her falsely that if she signed she would be back in the U.S. in two months. She signed the paper.
ICE and the Border Patrol offer voluntary departures to some immigrants without criminal records, sparing them the possibility of stiffer penalties under formal deportation orders. Voluntary departures prohibit immigrants from re-entering the U.S. for up to 10 years.
Civil rights advocates have criticized immigration officers for using voluntary departures as a way of coercing detainees into signing away their rights. The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a landmark lawsuit over the abuse the “voluntary” departure process just last week. Critics also said that ICE has a deportation quota of 400,000 expulsions a year, and that this pressure is a likely cause of the abuse of the process.
“We asked for a stay from the Stockton ICE, but we were denied,” said Anoop Prasad, immigrant rights staff attorney with Asian Law Caucus. “We filed with Sacramento and were also denied. We filed with San Francisco and can go on to Washington, but we’re running out of time. Karla’s departure is this Sunday.”
Married while in detention
Schmierer leaves for military police training in a week. Their son would leave with Karla for the Philippines. Schmierer and Gaerlan have been in a relationship for almost two years. He had been planning to propose to he this July, he said, and marry her before his deployment. Gaerlan’s detention forced the couple to speed up their plans, and they were married while she was detained.
Since its inception, S-Comm has deported some 96,800 Californians, nearly seven in ten of whom had either no convictions or minor ones. Many were witnesses or victims of crimes, according to a Caucus lawyer.
A bill by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (AB 4 – the TRUST Act), passed by the Assembly on May 16, would limit immigration holds only to people convicted of serious or violent felonies.
Supporters appealed to California Governor Jerry Brown to sign the bill. “Had the governor signed the bill before Karla was picked up, she wouldn’t be in this predicament today,” said one of them.