Mother of Four's Deportation Story: "Don't Look Back or We'll Shoot"

An image from a promotional video for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the federal agency better known as ICE.
An image from a promotional video for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the federal agency better known as ICE. ICE via YouTube
Maria de Jesus Jimenez Sanchez, an undocumented woman with four children, one of whom is developmentally delayed, has been deported from the Denver area to Mexico, even though her only crime beyond unauthorized border crossings was driving without a license. Her attorney says she was forced to walk back into Mexico by border agents who told her she'd be shot if she dared to look back.

Jimenez Sanchez's story is becoming more common. In recent days, we've updated you on the status of Jeanette Vizguerra, who remains in sanctuary at a Denver-area church even after being named one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people, and the deportation of former sanctuary-seeker Arturo Hernandez Garcia.

Still, Jennifer Kain-Rios, who represents Jimenez Sanchez (who has also used the name Karen Araujo Jimenez), argues that the latest case "is important, because it marked a dramatic change in the enforcement behavior of the immigration agencies — and the way the agencies behaved in this case demonstrates a lack of judgment, a waste of resources and a failure of human compassion."

As of this writing, Kain-Rios is not providing any information about Jimenez Sanchez's location out of concern for her safety, and she hasn't received any communication from her since an e-mail sent last Friday, April 21, that took three days to arrive. At last report, Jimenez Sanchez's children were with their father in the Denver area, but Kain-Rios hasn't gotten an update about their circumstances for several days, either.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the federal agency better known as ICE, is hardly apologizing for Jimenez Sanchez's deportation. ICE's complete statement about the matter is below, but one line refers to her as "an egregious immigration violator."

This message stands in contrast to the tone of an online petition requesting that ICE and the Department of Homeland Security grant Jimenez Sanchez a deportation stay. At this writing, the petition has been signed by more than 1,800 people toward a goal of 2,000.

The current controversy has been nearly twenty years in the making.

click to enlarge Maria de Jesus Jimenez Sanchez as seen in a photo from a petition asking the Department of Homeland Security and ICE to grant her a stay from deportation. - GROUNDSWELL
Maria de Jesus Jimenez Sanchez as seen in a photo from a petition asking the Department of Homeland Security and ICE to grant her a stay from deportation.
In 1999, when she was nineteen years old, Jimenez Sanchez crossed the border into Arizona. "She was with her husband and her daughter there, and she began growing her family," Kain-Rios says. Jimenez Sanchez's children are currently nineteen, fifteen, eight and seven, with the youngest trio all born in the United States.

Then, in February 2001, Kain-Rios goes on, Jimenez Sanchez's "mother in Mexico got very sick, and she decided she had to leave and go visit her without really understanding the consequences of the law."

By exiting the United States after being in the country for more than a year without permission, Kain-Rios explains, Jimenez Sanchez activated what's known as the "ten-year bar" under the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 — "and that was further complicated by the fact that when she returned in May of 2001, she was apprehended by border patrol [after being caught trying to cross using another name], and they started a process called expedited removal."

As Kain-Rios points out, expedited removal, another part of the aforementioned 1996 law, allows "border patrol agents to issue a deportation for five years without seeing an immigration judge. It's a summary procedure that can be done at the border."

Following that deportation, Jimenez Sanchez again returned to the U.S., and this time, she made it past the border without discovery, little realizing that she'd unwittingly triggered yet another aspect of the 1996 immigration act — the permanent bar, designed to punish so-called repeat violators. This rule came into play in December 2012, when Jimenez Sanchez was pulled over by Arapahoe County law enforcers in Aurora for a non-working headlamp — and they soon learned that she was driving without a license. Jimenez Sanchez was quickly arrested and transferred to ICE custody, where the process of reinstating her removal order began.

During the months that followed, Jimenez Sanchez formally told authorities that she feared returning to Mexico. (Her concerns were related to a violent domestic relationship involving a niece and her former partner that resulted in threats against her family by the man, who felt he could act with impunity because his brother was a member of the federal police.) This statement led to a hearing before a judge, who rejected her request — one she'd made without the assistance of a lawyer. But she subsequently secured an attorney, recent Westword cover-story subject Hans Meyer, and he filed for what's known as a stay of removal, which was granted in early 2013 and renewed annually through 2016 despite one intervening legal matter: Jimenez Sanchez was arrested in 2014 after a domestic dispute, but all charges against her were dropped in April of that year.

Kain-Rios took over the representation of Jimenez Sanchez in time to file for her 2017 stay; the previous one was set to expire on March 28. But the filing, which was submitted on March 3, was rejected on March 13. Immediately thereafter, Kain-Rios reached out for assistance from Representative Mike Coffman, in whose district Jimenez Sanchez lives, and Senator Michael Bennet, and asked for the decision to be reviewed. After all, she says, "we weren't given any reason for the denial, and there have been no new negative issues in her case."

But on April 12, Jimenez Sanchez was taken into custody during a scheduled check-in with ICE, after which she was transferred to Texas — a move that made it difficult for Kain-Rios to request a deportation stay. On April 18, while the lawyer was still struggling with the logistics of the Texas court system, Jimenez Sanchez was transported from a facility outside El Paso to the border community of Del Rio — a drive of more than six hours.

click to enlarge A Del Rio, Texas, border-crossing checkpoint. - YOUTUBE
A Del Rio, Texas, border-crossing checkpoint.
"It's kind of in the middle of nowhere," Kain-Rios notes of Del Rio. "Maria was taken to the border and told to walk across it — and they said, 'Don't look back or we'll shoot.' It was nasty, nasty, nasty."

This last piece of information was conveyed during a brief telephone conversation Kain-Rios had with Jimenez Sanchez on April 20, two days after her deportation. Upon the call's conclusion, the attorney e-mailed questions for Jimenez Sanchez about how she'd like to proceed in the fight to reunite her with her family. But the only reply she'd received as of late morning yesterday, April 26, was a note saying that the message wasn't readable.

In the meantime, Jimenez Sanchez has already missed a school meeting about an IEP (Individualized Education Program) in relation to her fifteen-year-old daughter, a developmentally delayed student in the Cherry Creek system.

It's unfathomable to Kain-Rios that Jimenez Sanchez has been made a deportation priority.

"The argument with ICE was for them to provide a meaningful review of their decision and a meaningful reason for choosing to detain her," Kain-Rios maintains. "'Is she a threat to the community?' is supposed to be their first consideration, and there's nothing at all that says she's a threat to the community. There's also nothing to show that she's a flight risk, meaning that she wouldn't cooperate with ICE officials. She's been cooperating with them since her stay was approved in 2013, and she complied with her obligation to cooperate by presenting herself for her check-in on April 12. And the other big legal consideration is that the law provides for people who are afraid to be returned to their home country" — and Kain-Rios would like an opportunity to present those facts again at a new hearing.

Whether she'll get that wish is very much in doubt at present — and so, too, is the matter of Jimenez Sanchez's personal safety. Here's the ICE statement.

ICE Statement

Karen Araujo Jimenez, aka Maria de Jesus Jimenez Sanchez, first illegally entered the United States in October 1999. She was encountered by federal officers and voluntarily returned to Mexico the same day. She again illegally entered the United States on May 23, 2001, at the Douglas, Arizona, port of entry posing as another person; she was immediately deported.

Araujo Jimenez was transferred to ICE custody on Dec. 6, 2012, following her arrest on local misdemeanor criminal charges. On March 28, 2013, Araujo-Jimenez requested a review by a federal immigration judge. On May 28, 2013, the immigration judge upheld the previous removal order and referred the case back to DHS to execute the removal order.

Araujo Jimenez has been granted by ICE four one-year stays of deportation: April 2013, May 2014, March 2015 and March 2016 Her latest request for a stay of deportation was denied March 14, 2017.

After having illegally entered the United States four times, Araujo Jimenez is considered to be an egregious immigration violator. She has exhausted her petitions through the immigration courts and through ICE.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts