Worry, stress and confusion are the feelings a Grover Beach mother of a fearful 16-year-old daughter is facing this holiday season as the threat of deportation looms in the new year.
Neofita Valerio-Silva, 47, has lived undocumented in the United States for 25 years after escaping a life in poverty in Mexico, and on Jan. 3, 2018, she may be forced to report to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Santa Maria for removal from the country.
Valerio-Silva works as a maid at a hotel and has three American-born children, the youngest a 16-year-old student at Arroyo Grande High School who would be left in the country without a parent if Valerio-Silva is expelled.
“I am very sad and worried,” Valerio-Silva told The Tribune in a phone interview in Spanish. “My daughter wakes up in the middle of the night, and I have to calm her down. She is scared about what could happen to me.”
She has received support for a stay from a handful of local politicians, including Congressman Salud Carbajal, San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon and Grover Beach Mayor Pro Tem Miriam Shah, according to Dawn Addis, a co-coordinator of the Women’s March San Luis Obispo who is advocating for Valerio-Silva.
“She has never committed a crime beyond entering the United States,” Carbajal wrote in a letter to David Marin, the director of Enforcement and Removal Operations for ICE in Los Angeles. “There are criminals who deserve and should be deported; Neofita is not one of them. ... I urgently request your fair and full consideration in providing an extension of stay or removal of deportation given the circumstances of this case.”
Women’s March is among several progressive organizations also advocating for a stay.
Addis said that all of Valerio-Silva’s potential legal remedies to remain in the U.S. have been exhausted. Valerio-Silva said that she has worked with attorneys in the past to obtain residency status, but her applications were not accepted.
“I feel terrible that this is happening to someone in my city,” Shah wrote on Facebook. “... This is real. I am not sure how deporting a mother and leaving (her minor daughter) here to lose their home makes any sense.”
Shah noted that Grover Beach adopted a Declaration of Human Rights in September, affirming the city’s emphasis on inclusion.
“Actions like this deportation, I feel, are in direct opposition to the type of community we are trying to foster in Grover Beach,” Shah wrote in an email to The Tribune.
An official from the local Immigration and Customs Enforcement office said it would take time to gather information about the case for a response to The Tribune’s request for comment. That information couldn’t be gathered by press time.
Carbajal’s letter describes Valerio-Silva as a homeowner who has kept up with a monthly mortgage and supports her children and herself. The letter notes the Grover Beach woman is a Sunday school teacher and sole guardian of a college-bound 16-year-old, a cheerleader who could be placed in the care of her 18-year-old brother, a student at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria.
Valerio-Silva’s son, who will be 19 in January, isn’t well equipped to care for her financially or emotionally, according to Valerio-Silva’s advocates.
Valerio-Silva said her son was a student at Cal State Fullerton but has returned home to attend Hancock and work to be close to his mother and sister. Another child, a 24-year-old daughter, recently completed her nursing degree and has started working in San Diego.
Asked what her plan for her children would be if she were deported, Valerio-Silva only said, “I don’t know. It’s very confusing.”
Valerio-Silva said she left her native Acapulco because she was struggling to make a living and to even be able to eat some days. She has no home or viable economic options in Mexico to go back to, she said.
Valerio-Silva’s husband and her sick, elderly mother both currently live in Mexico, and Valerio-Silva helps them financially.
Valerio-Silva said she had been checking in with the local ICE office for the past 18 years to let them know about her presence in the country, which alerted the office to her status (this couldn’t be confirmed with ICE by press time).
She had received a work permit to receive employment in the country, but not residency rights.
Addis said she believes shift in the a federal government’s policy has occurred in recent months to deport people who haven’t committed any crimes, whereas before ICE’s focus would be placed on those who had committed criminal violations.
“Women’s March SLO believes that it is a violation of human rights, American values and basic human dignity to pull this mother from her minor-aged child,” Addis said. “We urge the public to contact the local ICE office.”