A Grover Beach mother who was deported to Mexico this month is struggling to adjust to her new life in a crime-ridden section of downtown Acapulco — a community she left more than 25 years ago to escape poverty.
Neofita Valerio-Silva, 47, said she is now living with her sister and her family members in a cramped house in the heart of her hometown. She’s afraid to go out at night in a community that has seen Mexico’s highest murder rates in recent years.
Meanwhile, her three American-born children no longer have a parent in the U.S.; their father also lives in Mexico (he was deported in August). Valerio-Silva’s youngest is a college-bound cheerleader at Arroyo Grande High School. Her son is a 19-year-old student at Allan Hancock College, while her oldest daughter is being forced to move from her home in San Diego and find a job on the Central Coast.
Valerio-Silva also said her hyperactive thyroid, which she was treated for previously in the U.S., has been causing her problems. She’s worried about getting proper medical care without much money on hand.
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Valerio-Silva spoke with The Tribune this week by phone from Mexico. Her oldest daughter, 23-year-old Susan Bernal, also shared her experiences trying to adjust to a new life supporting her two younger siblings.
“I am worried for my children,” Valerio-Silva said in Spanish. “They just weren’t ready for this. But it’s good there are people helping them.”
Members of their local church have offered assistance. A GoFundMe page has been started for the family with the goal of raising $25,000 to help the children financially as they transition into a more independent living situation. As of Saturday evening, $6,830 had been raised.
Valerio-Silva, who owns her home in Grover Beach, previously was a salon owner before working as a hotel maid leading up to her deportation. She had previously sought asylum in the U.S. but was denied, she said. She had been granted a U.S. work permit.
Valerio-Silva’s case drew the interest of some local politicians and progressive groups that lobbied against her deportation, arguing she had committed no crimes other than lacking proper documentation.
“There are criminals who deserve and should be deported; Neofita is not one of them,” Rep. Salud Carbajal, a Democrat, wrote in a letter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Los Angeles office.
ICE spokeswoman Lori K. Haley told The Tribune that an immigration judge ruled she “did not have a lawful basis to live in the United States.” Valerio-Silva was ordered to be removed to Mexico in 2005 and received “six stays of removal while she appealed her immigration case to the nation’s courts” before her detainment, Haley said.
Valerio-Silva described a nerve-wracking, hostile deportation experience.
Her handcuffs were extremely tight and painful due to a previous surgery on her finger; even after asking ICE officers to loosen them, they remained tight around her wrists for several hours, she said.
An ICE official told her she was “coyote food” in Spanish, and Mexican identification papers were taken during her processing at ICE and never returned, she said. Bernal said she is attempting to get her mother’s Mexican ID back.
Valerio-Silva also said her hyperthyroid medication was temporarily withheld until she was released. Her clothes and purse containing the medication were returned when she was released in Tijuana.
It was like being in jail, like a fortress. It was very scary. My family didn’t know what was going on because I couldn’t talk to them.
Neofita Valerio-Silva, deportee
“It was like being in jail, like a fortress,” Valerio-Silva said of the Adelanto detention center in Victorville. “It was very scary. My family didn’t know what was going on because I couldn’t talk to them.”
In an email Friday in response to questions about Valerio-Silva’s treatment, Haley only said that “all protocols were correctly followed, and she was treated respectfully by ICE officers.”
Bernal, a medical assistant in San Diego, said her mother called her collect during her detention Jan. 3, but the call was disconnected before they could speak. ICE agents told Valerio-Silva the phones weren’t working, Bernal said she learned later.
Bernal met her mother after the deportation in Tijuana, where Valerio-Silva stayed overnight at a charitable center operated by nuns, and bought her a plane ticket to Acapulco to be with family.
One silver lining for Valerio-Silva has been a reunion with her mother, whom she hasn’t seen in more than two decades, Bernal said. Valerio-Silva’s father died last year, and she wasn’t able to be with him before his death.
Bernal is in the process of quitting her job in San Diego to move back home to Grover Beach to help take care of her younger siblings — who both work part-time jobs — both financially and as a de facto guardian.
“It has been very hard to see my mom really emotional,” Bernal said. “The whole thing very overwhelming and very stressful.”
Bernal also said she plans to file an I-130 form on behalf of her mother, which is the first step in helping a relative legally immigrate to the United States.
“I feel like people who came here and raised a family and became part of the community to live a better a life for themselves and kids should be allowed to stay,” Bernal said. “I understand sending criminals away. But for those who work hard to make a better life, I don’t see why that should be ruined or made really hard. I don’t think it’s fair.”
To donate: A GoFundMe account has been started to help the Valerio family. For more information, go to the website: https://www.gofundme.com/Valerios.