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Undocumented Grover Beach mother deported despite community rallying in her support

Neofita Valerio-Silva de Bernal, a former Grover Beach resident and mother of three American-born children, including a 16-year-old daughter, was detained by immigration officials after a Wednesday hearing and deported to Mexico on Thursday evening. She asked that her face not be shown in this photo shot before Christmas.
Neofita Valerio-Silva de Bernal, a former Grover Beach resident and mother of three American-born children, including a 16-year-old daughter, was detained by immigration officials after a Wednesday hearing and deported to Mexico on Thursday evening. She asked that her face not be shown in this photo shot before Christmas. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

An undocumented Grover Beach woman whose immigration case garnered local political attention and community intervention efforts was deported to Mexico.

Neofita Valerio-Silva, a 47-year-old mother of three who fled a life of poverty in Mexico 25 years ago, was transported by immigration officials to Tijuana on Thursday afternoon, according to her daughter, Susan Bernal, a 23-year-old medical assistant who lives in San Diego.

Valerio-Silva was denied a request for stay Wednesday at the Santa Maria office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said Joubin Nessari, her Los Angeles-based attorney.

She was then taken to Adelanto Processing Center in Victorville, where she remained in custody on Thursday morning. Urgent efforts appealing for her to remain in the U.S. were unsuccessful.

“She is just very distressed and couldn’t talk for long,” Bernal told The Tribune in a phone interview. “ICE didn’t allow her to make any calls or talk to anybody Thursday. They didn’t want to look at any letters in support of her.”

Valerio-Silva received support from Congressman Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara), Grover Beach Mayor Pro Tem Miriam Shah, San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon and several progressive community organizations, including Women’s March San Luis Obispo, which collected community letters on her behalf to submit to ICE.

Valerio-Silva’s advocates have argued for compassion, noting she is a homeowner who has committed no crimes other than residing in the U.S. without documentation.

She lived in the U.S. for more than two decades and had a U.S. work permit. She was working as a local hotel maid while caring for her youngest daughter, a 16-year-old cheerleader at Arroyo Grande High School.

“Our immigration officials should protect public safety by focusing their limited time and resources on deporting dangerous criminals, not on productive members of our community like Neofita,” Carbajal said in an email Thursday. “This is a sad case that leaves a minor without a proper guardian and I am disappointed that ICE did not give reconsider their decision given these special circumstances.”

ICE spokeswoman Lauren Mack confirmed Friday that Valerio-Silva was deported.

We’re trying to figure out things in a short amount of time. We’re just trying to keep the house. It will make everything a lot worse if we lose the house.

Susan Bernal, daughter

Another ICE official, Lori Haley, previously told The Tribune that “Ms. Valerio-Silva did not have a lawful basis to live in the United States” and her removal was ordered in 2005. Valerio-Silva has been denied subsequent appeals of that decision.

“It should be noted that officers with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) granted Ms. Valerio-Silva a total of six stays of removal while she appealed her immigration case to the nation’s courts,” Haley wrote.

Bernal said that she was planning to visit her mother in Tijuana on Thursday night and coordinate with her father, Valerio-Silva’s husband, who lives in the Acapulco area with his sister, on where she’d stay.

Cal Poly students Moises Bautista and Diana run "Dreamers Now," a website where undocumented young people can share their stories anonymously.

Bernal also is planning to move back to Grover Beach from San Diego to help out her 18-year-old brother and sister, who is now without a parent in the U.S. (their father is a Mexican citizen). Bernal is searching for jobs on the Central Coast. The three siblings are all American born.

“We’re trying to figure out things in a short amount of time,” Bernal said. “We’re just trying to keep our house. It will make everything a lot worse if we lose the house.”

Nasseri said Thursday that he’d “pretty much exhausted every legal option we have,” but was working to get an additional review of her case before the deportation.

Our immigration officials should protect public safety by focusing their limited time and resources on deporting dangerous criminals, not on productive members of our community like Neofita.

Salud Carbajal, Congressman

Nasseri said that a shift in immigration enforcement under President Donald Trump’s administration has taken away much of the discretion that ICE formerly had in cases where a crime hadn’t been committed and a child’s care was a consideration.

“Things are changing under the Trump administration,” Nasseri said. “I have practiced immigration law for 16 years. Clients granted stays in the past are now being removed.”

Valerio-Silva could have remained in the U.S. through a pardon from President Trump, a favorable U.S. Supreme Court ruling or the passage of immigration legislation, but those scenarios weren’t likely in the current climate, her advocates said.

“Under the current administration, ICE is not only focusing on immigrants that pose safety threats but broadening their deportation efforts,” Carbajal said. “This is a radical departure from a former focus on deporting felons and dangerous criminals. These actions create a greater fear of law enforcement in immigrant communities on the Central Coast and have unfortunately already led to a reduction in reported crimes.”

Valerio-Silva faces a 10-year ban from legally re-entering the United States now that she has been deported, though she can apply for a waiver with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, according to Carbajal’s office.

Dawn Addis, a Women’s March San Luis Obispo organizer who supported Valerio-Silva’s stay, said the case highlights the need for broad discussion and activism about a more effective immigration process.

“We need to align the legal process with who should be deported and who shouldn’t,” Addis said. “There’s a lot of work to be done. But I have faith in American ingenuity.”

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