When a Day in Court Is a Trap for Immigrants

in March 29th, in Pontiac, Michigan, Sergio Perez appeared in a county courtroom to seek sole custody of his son and two daughters, who were between eleven and seventeen years old. The children lived with Sergio’s estranged wife, Rose, and, he told me recently, he was concerned about them. His wife had taken out a yearlong protective order against her boyfriend in 2015, but, as far as Sergio knew, they now lived together. (Rose and the boyfriend could not be reached.) Perez paid the rent on the house where his children and Rose lived, he told me, although he had fallen thousands of dollars behind on child support. (He said that he spent other money on the children directly—for example, for their clothes.) Perez ran a small contracting business near Pontiac, installing carpets. He said that he wanted “to see my daughters do well, with modern lives.” He was “never rich at all,” but he was “working fourteen, sixteen hours a day,” he told me. “I was working three customers a day.”

Rose and the three children are all United States citizens, but Perez was undocumented. He had grown up in Guadalajara, Mexico, and crossed into the United States, without authorization, when he was nineteen. During the next twenty-one years, he and his attorney, Bethany McAllister, told me, he had moved back and forth to Mexico, and he had been deported several times before. But otherwise he had never been arrested or convicted of a crime, and had received only one ticket, for driving on an expired license. Amid the anti-immigrant fever created by the Trump Administration, he feared that pressing the custody case might lead to someone informing on him to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, in order to have him arrested and deported to Mexico. Perez decided to go to family court anyway. He said that he wanted to show his children that “no matter how hard or difficult it might be, you have to do what you have to do, no matter what.”

By Steve Coll for THE NEW YORKER
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