Fractured Families

“Unblinking reality” dizzying for spouses, kids of detainees

Greeley – Isabel Ramirez wept as she clutched her 18- month-old
daughter, Brenda, in the ramshackle trailer park where she lives.

Her husband, Juan, had been detained in the Immigration and Customs
Enforcement raid on the Swift & Co. meatpacking plant where he
worked, and she didn’t know where he was.

“He was the only one working. He paid for everything, the bills,
rent. I have three kids,” 33-year- old Isabel Ramirez said.

As she spoke, her 7-year-old daughter, Laura, was at school, and
her 3-year-old son, Juanito, kicking muddy snow by the trailer, was
having a very bad day.

His father “is in jail,” Juanito said. He threw a stick angrily
down at the snow and turned and banged his head against the side of
a broken trampoline.

As authorities began deporting workers rounded up in raids at
meatpacking plants here and in five other states, this city, which
for decades has run on illegal labor from Mexico, confronted an
unexpected challenge: what to do about kids left behind.

The raids left more than 100 children with no parents present,
church officials and community organizers said. Hundreds more
struggled in newly broken families, asking questions such as
“Where is my daddy?” and “Why does immigration exist?”

A niece and cousin whose deported husbands had phoned from Mexico
tried to console Juanito Ramirez and his mother. One drove to a
regional immigration jail east of Denver and begged for
information, to no avail.

Isabel Ramirez acknowledged that her son and 18-month-old daughter
are the only ones in her immediate family legally entitled to be in
the U.S.

This was the hard side of the sudden pressure ICE agents brought to
bear on Swift here and in Texas, Utah, Minnesota, Nebraska and

The agents who conducted simultaneous raids Tuesday tried their
best when interviewing detainees to determine whether they had
children, said ICE spokesman Carl Rusnok. “We do everything in our
power to avoid having children left home alone or at school,” he

Still, “violating federal law can lead to tragic consequences,
sometimes affecting a great many people. That’s the unblinking
reality,” U.S. Attorney Troy Eid said in Denver.

Meanwhile, few if any relatives of detained workers turned to
government social- services agencies for help – mistrusting any

Under new state and federal laws, “we can only provide assistance
to citizens – citizens only – and qualified aliens who have been
here for five years,” said John Kruse, assistant payments
administrator for Weld County Social Services.

Instead, friends and relatives worked their cellphones busily
trying to bypass government, keeping children whose parents weren’t
present in hiding, fearing that social-services agents would snatch
them away.

Naturalized U.S. citizen David Silva, an oil-field worker who used
to work at the meatpacking plant, said he was able to retrieve his
wife, Marisela, from a federal immigration detention center in
Denver late Tuesday by driving to the center and presenting her
legal residency papers.

Now with wrists bruised from handcuffs, Marisela was taking the day
off “trying to build up her confidence.” She joined others from
Mexico volunteering to take care of children whose parents were

Inside the meatpacking plant, “there was a lady crying because she
didn’t have anybody else here,” Silva said. “She asked my wife if
she wanted to adopt her child. Then she was taken away.”

Anglo citizens came forward offering to do the same around noon at
Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church. “We are all affected deeply.
But our most immediate concerns are for families that are suddenly
separated and for children who have no understanding of what is
happening in their lives,” the Rev. Bernie Schmitz said.

Temporarily adopting children of detained or deported workers “is
why we came here,” said Kris Kessinger, 45, a city traffic worker
whose wife is from Mexico.

Weld County school officials who saw attendance drop to 75 percent
during Tuesday’s raids, when Greeley residents flocked to the
meatpacking factory, said classrooms were about 90 percent full
Wednesday. But they had no way of knowing which children might be
without their parents. “We’ve asked ICE to provide a list (of
people arrested),” principal Paul Urioste said at Billie Martinez
Elementary School. “ICE hasn’t provided us with anything.”

Separately, the United Way of Weld County set up a fund for
affected families. The agency is accepting donations at P.O. Box
1944, Greeley, CO 80632, or donors can call 970-353-4300.

For Isabel Ramirez at her trailer, crying regularly gave her relief
as she, with borrowed cellphone in hand, waited for word from her
husband. Heading back to the family farm in central Mexico looked
likely, she said.

She tried to persuade her troubled little boy to cry instead of
banging his head.

“It’s OK to cry,” she told him.

“No. I’m embarrassed,” the 3-year-old said.

“If you feel sad, you should cry.”

“It hurts my heart,” Juanito said, delicately pointing to his