Noemi becomes involved in a case to stop Arpaio’s workplace raids.
It’s no accident that Arizona Revised Codes 13-2008 and 13-2009 made identity theft a felony. “These… statutes were purposely created as felonies so that when people were convicted of them they would have essentially no opportunity to reenter the United States,” says Steve Kilar of the ACLU of Arizona.
When Noemi’s criminal lawyer – who wasn’t skilled in immigration law – said her only choice was to plead guilty to felony under these statutes, Noemi signed the plea. In doing so, she may have locked the final door of her options, because with a felony, she can’t qualify for DACA.
“I never thought I would see the day that we took Arpaio… to court instead of the other way around. We lost our fear and made this lawsuit happen, and now others in our community won’t have to suffer like we did.”
Soon after Noemi signed the plea, the prison guards called her name. “Fifty-four! Fifty-four!”
They took her to the ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) facility, where she was given a new number, an A number. “A” is for alien.
The ICE facility was more comfortable, and her mom and sister could visit. Still, Noemi says, “There’d be days when I’d get sad and cry and like, ‘I want to go home.’ When I talked to my mom, she’d always say, ‘I’ve talked to so many lawyers, and they all tell me there’s nothing they can do for you, that you’re being deported.’”
The vague plan was that when ICE dropped her off at the border, a family friend would drive her to her uncle’s home in Juárez – ground zero for drug-fueled homicide. She tried to resign herself to that.
Then her mother talked to a lawyer who gave Noemi the most optimistic prognosis yet: a 1% chance of staying in the country.
Her court date was a week later. The proceedings went quickly. The judge rattled off some legalese. “The only thing I understood,” Noemi recalls, “was he said, ‘Are you guys all OK with the case being dismissed?’”
Noemi froze in confusion. A guard said to her, ‘Do you understand?’
‘You’re going home.’
Good question. Where is a Dreamer’s home? Jail had been called her “home.” Mexico was her homeland but totally foreign to her. Noemi had only ever known one home.
‘Call your family and tell them to wait for you. You’re going home.’
Today, Noemi is marginally free. She can’t work or go to school. She can’t apply for DACA. “They always say it’s a free country,” she says. “Yet if you’re someone like me… you have a limit to everything.” She volunteers at Puente, a grassroots migrant justice organization, and waits for the outcome of Puente v. Arpaio.
In June 2014, Puente, represented by the ACLU, brought a lawsuit against Sheriff Joe Arpaio for using two state identity theft laws to conduct more than 80 workplace raids. In the last several years, the courts have snatched away Arpaio’s immigration enforcement weapons, one by one. These laws are the last remaining hatchets in the old battle-ax’s armory.
In January 2015, Judge David Campbell ordered a preliminary injunction barring Arpaio from conducting workplace raids under these laws.
After the ruling, Noemi announced, “I never thought I would see the day that we took Arpaio… to court instead of the other way around. We lost our fear and made this lawsuit happen, and now others in our community won’t have to suffer like we did.”
But the injunction doesn’t change her fate. Yet. The lawsuit’s next goal is to purge the felony convictions of immigrants who were found guilty under the laws – immigrants like Noemi.
Sometimes people with the nine-digit key criticize Noemi’s actions. But she looks around at the hallway of locked doors – the Dreamer’s virtual prison – and she asks, “What would you do if you were in our shoes?”