December 14th, 2005 14:36 EST
Her Achilles' Ankle
“It’s a nightmare,” Lourdes Sandivar thought to herself when federal immigration officials detained her for evading a final deportation order. She was made to wear an ankle bracelet; of course it was not a piece of jewelry, but rather an electronic device.
“I’m not a criminal,” she said to one of the officials.
She told them that there was an error because her husband’s work permit had been renewed and had not expired yet. But the officials did not listen. Lourdes was one of about 30 potential “absconders” who last year became the target of a controversial immigration initiative called Intensive Supervision Appearance Program that uses electronic monitoring devices to track all of the movements of immigrants who can stay at home, and avoid jail time while waiting for court hearings or actual deportation.
According to Nina Pruneda, a spokesperson for the Homeland Security Department, the program, which has been a success in South Florida, will soon be expanded nation-wide. Successful or not, the ankle lock is degrading for anyone who does not pose a threat or danger to the community. Some people, in upper and whiter states, erroneously link the words “illegal” and “criminal,” and undermine the efforts of most immigrants with such a scorn, just as if immigrants were a human stain that authorities find hard to wipe out.
Lourdes and her husband Jose left their native country of Peru in 1993; they were escaping from the terror and political uncertainty that had caused the country’s economy to plummet. As many other immigrants, they came to the U.S. seeking political asylum, having the American dream in their minds – get a job, and a decent salary, buy a nice condo and a car; and above all, raise the children in a safe country that is full of opportunities to succeed in life.
Their common dream became true although it was short-lived. The Sandivars, who were deported last year in February, lived in Hollywood, Florida for about 12 years. They had two U.S. born children, Kevin and Shirley, who are now 6 and 7-years old. Jose worked as a driver for Sky Chef, an airline food company, while Lourdes was a full-time mommy. After being detained, officials ordered her to call her husband.
The group of Hispanic intimidating gangsters - as she described them - followed her to the house. With guns in hand, and without a search warrant, they turned the place upside down. Lourdes was so scared; she understood that they were doing their job, but did not understand their acting violently.
“I started crying hysterically, and all they said was that I should be quiet and cooperate,” she said.
When Jose arrived, he was handcuffed, and taken to Krome Detention Center in Miami. Meanwhile, Lourdes agreed to wear whatever the officials wanted; otherwise her children would have been taken to a foster care family.
“My kids had never been with a babysitter, how come they were going to live with a pair of strangers pretending to be their father or mother?” Lourdes said.
She wore that ankle bracelet, which consisted of a thick band with a box attached, in the shower or while sleeping, and it also made it difficult to put on her shoes. “It was uncomfortable” she said. “I couldn’t move easily, that thing was so tight that sometimes marked my skin.” A larger box, which sent a signal from the bracelet to deportation officials, was also set in her bedroom’s nightstand.
“I’m the type of person who always remains positive, but this really cracked me up; it was pretty humiliating, and inhumane,” said Lourdes in a telephone conversation from Lima, Peru. Besides, officials monitored her phone calls and gave her strict instructions about the phone. She could not pick up before it rang twice, they would call her at all kinds of odd hours, and she also had to remove calling features, such as her answering machine, call waiting and caller ID.
“Every time the phone rang, I felt that my heart was going to explode out of my chest; they tortured me telling me that if I talked to somebody I would get kicked out. She was restricted to her house until 6 a.m. and had to return by 5 p.m. Also, Lourdes was not allowed to leave the city without permission. She had to make regular visits to the immigration office and sign a report.
Lourdes remembers that during those days, she tried to make the lives of their children as normal as possible. They would go to school, and play with their friends. During the weekends, she would take them to the movie theater, or to the beach. But they said, “Mommy, nothing is fun without daddy. Why didn’t he wait for us to say good-bye?”
Lourdes told them that Jose had gone for a short vacation to Peru, and that he would bring them plenty of gifts. She also prohibited them to answer the phone. “Mommy is waiting for an important job offer,” Lourdes told her kids. But something that the kids did not understand was why their mommy did not let them get inside of her room. What was she hiding? And why was she wearing jeans and boots all the time? Why was that little box tied up around her ankle?
Every day Lourdes had to come up with different answers to her children’s questions. One of them was that she was having pain on her leg and that such box carried her medication. “I felt terrible. My kids knew that I was lying, but I had to carry it on,” she said. A couple of weeks passed by, and after their attorney engaged in a long deportation battle, Jose was released from jail, and officials removed the bracelet from Lourdes’ ankle.
The family only had 30 days to sell their properties before being sent back. Now in Peru, things have changed; Lourdes and her family are living at her parents' house. She is working as an obstetrician at a hospital in Lima, and Jose is working for an event-planning company that is run by his brothers. Lourdes’ mother is now watching the kids, who have finally learned to read and write in Spanish. Shirley and Kevin are seeing a psychologist who is helping them to cope up with the abrupt change of scenery.
The Sandivars’ American dream collapsed, and although they fought to have a chance to rebuild it, America said no, and showed them its evil face, one that locked one of their ankles, and made clear to the entire world that discrimination is always the same, whether here in this “wonderful” country or on the other side of the globe.
Photo obtained from Channel 10 Miami and posted by Angela Castillo.