U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Gibram Cruz arrived home in California from his posting in Arizona last week. The reason for the visit wasn’t the holidays; he would be back on base before then. The purpose was to see his mother, who is about to be deported from the country he serves to protect.
“I’m here essentially to say goodbye to my mom,” the 30-year-old army officer told The San Diego Union-Tribune on Sunday.
Rocio Rebollar Gomez, 50, is an undocumented immigrant who has lived in San Diego on and off for over 30 years. She owns a business and a house in the United States, and raised her three children here, and she has no criminal record. But on Dec. 4, she was ordered to self-deport to Mexico within the month—and the federal government refused to grant her discretionary protections provided for relatives of military service members that would allow her to stay longer.
“Honestly I am worn out. I feel like my life is gone and everything I have is here—my whole life,” Gomez told The Daily Beast on Monday.
“I cannot eat, I cannot sleep, my life is on hold. No one should be going through what I am going through.”
She is expected to return to her native Acapulco, Mexico—a once tourist-filled beachside city that has since become overrun by cartel violence—on Jan. 2.
“They are essentially saying her immigration history overrides all of the hard work and the life she created in the United States and thus doesn’t warrant discretion,” her attorney, Tessa Cabrera, told The Daily Beast on Monday. “Her son is worried that his military status and title will threaten her safety in Mexico, but there is nothing we can do.
“We’re hoping for a miracle.”
According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website, the “Patrol in Place” program makes parents, spouses, widows, or children of active-duty U.S. armed forces members eligible for discretionary deferred action for up to two years.
“We recognize the important sacrifices made by U.S. service members, veterans, enlistees, and their families,” the agency’s website says. “To support these individuals, we provide discretionary options such as parole in place or deferred action on a case-by-case basis.”
According to Cabrera, ICE has denied Gomez the protection because she had a prior order of removal. A USCIS spokesperson declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation.
Gomez’s deportation is especially heartbreaking for her military son since he cannot travel to visit his mother in Mexico. As an intelligence officer, the 30-year-old must adhere to military travel restrictions and a lengthy process to leave the country.
“He has no idea when and how he is going to see his mother after she is sent back to Mexico,” Cabrera said.
“My son is heartbroken,” Gomez added. “He doesn't understand why this is happening to me, a woman devoted to God and work.”
Cabrera said the December decision to deny her client’s petition to stay is the end of a years-long battle to keep the grandmother of three in the United States. The process—which included Gomez’s detention for over a month—also drew the interest of two members of Congress, who asked ICE for discretion.
Gomez first arrived in the United States in 1988. Seven years later, she was picked up during an immigration raid at a hotel where she worked while seven months pregnant with her youngest daughter.
That same day, she was deported to Mexico. With her two children still in the U.S., Gomez had no choice but to re-enter the country illegally, Cabrera said. She was removed from the United States two more times over the last two decades, re-entering to be with her family and starting her life over each time.
Cabrera said one of those removals involved several armed immigration officials coming to the family’s home early on Saturday morning—an image she says still haunts her client’s three children.
But Gomez continued to persevere, running her own natural products business and driving more than eight hours a day for Uber. “All my hard work has been to give my children the chance for a better future and to make them good citizens,” Gomez said.
In April 2018, however, Gomez was detained for a third time and immediately placed in a San Diego Detention center for over a month.
Cruz, who just finished his four years in the army, decided to take a commission and remain in the military. He said one of the main reasons he decided to stay was the immigration perk granted to relatives of active-duty service members.
“I joined to serve the country and keep my family safe,” Cruz told the Union-Tribune. “Now, I’m facing dangers here on my home front.”
Cabrera said her first attempt in 2018 to prevent Gomez’s deportation was trying to establish her reasonable fear of returning to Mexico.
Her brother was abducted by a cartel, and though the family paid almost $10,000 for his return, his body has never been found. That year, Acapulco had the third highest number of homicides in Mexico and the highest homicide rate of the country’s most violent cities, a University of San Diego report stated.
Gomez stated her fears during a reasonable threat interview with an ICE officer in the hopes of being granted asylum. She was denied.
“That unfortunately didn’t meet the threshold for reasonable fear. So at that point there was nothing really to do with her,” Cabrera said.
The attorney said she immediately applied for a deferred action, but her requests for appointment about the case, inquiries about the status of her application, and general questions about the timetable were ignored.
“Every-time they told me it’s pending, it’s pending,” she said.
In October, Cabrera said she got an ICE letter, ordering her and her client to appear the following month for Gomez’s “interview and removal, that’s what they called it.” The appointment was moved back to Dec. 4, but one day before the meeting, Cabrera officially learned her client’s petition was going to be denied.
“I got word she was denied at about 1 p.m. the day before her hearing—they didn’t say why. So immediately I put together another packet for a deferred action to reapply,” she said.
The next morning, a USCIS official who reviewed Gomez’s case said she wasn't protected by the “Patrol in Place” police. When Cabrera countered she had re-filed her stay of removal request with “about 200 pages” in documents supporting her case, the official verbally denied her within two hours.
“I am translating it to her as the officer is denying our last effort and she is freaking out because she thinks she has to leave right away,” Cabrera said, adding the officer informed her that her client had 30 days to self-surrender for deportation.
Equipped with an ankle bracelet and strict orders not to leave the San Diego area, Gomez now is trying to enjoy her family for the last few days before she is forced to return to Mexico, her attorney said. After saying goodbye to her only son on Sunday, her two daughters are planning to spend the holiday at her house.
“My one wish is a miracle to stay,” Gomez said.