Maria Perez wants people to bring teddy bears to her husband’s vigil on Friday.
In mid-December, Ruben Perez was detained by immigration agents in Astoria after a court appearance. In the month he has been held in a federal detention center in Tacoma, Washington, the two have missed Christmas together and their 21st wedding anniversary.
So she is resolved not to miss another holiday with him, and hopes through bringing attention to his situation that she’ll be able to get him back in time to receive the teddy bears as gifts for Valentine’s Day.
“I just want him home,” she said.
Local activists are helping Maria Perez host the vigil, scheduled for 5 p.m. on the Astoria Riverwalk near the Columbia River Maritime Museum.
Nonprofits and churches have started raising money to help the family pay the bond so her husband can leave the detention center. A GoFundMe page has been set up and circulated byIndivisible North Coast Oregon to help the family, who relied on Ruben Perez as the breadwinner, pay bills while he’s away.
“We want to get him out on bond so he can come back and work,” said Kit Ketcham, a pastor at Pacific Unitarian Universalist in Astoria, who is helping to organize the vigil.
Vigils have increasingly become a popular way to bring light to immigration issues across the country since President Donald Trump made immigration enforcement a national priority. But the goal for Friday's event is to also call attention to how Ruben Perez was detained.
‘They had him in the car’
On Dec. 14, Ruben Perez appeared in Circuit Court downtown to handle a probation matter. Last year, Perez had been arrested and charged with drunken driving.
As a condition of his release, he was directed to check in with a pretrial release officer at the county jail across the street from the courthouse. While driving over to the jail, Maria Perez said she and her husband were stopped by authorities in two unmarked vehicles.
While one agent asked for her driver’s license, another knocked on the window of the passenger side of her car and took her husband into custody, she said.
“I looked in the rearview mirror and saw already they had him in the car,” she said.
Because the authorities were in unmarked vehicles, Maria Perez is unsure of who exactly pulled her over and why.
“He didn’t ask for my registration. He didn’t tell me why I was being pulled over,” she said.
Both the Astoria Police Department and the Clatsop County Sheriff’s Office said no local officers were involved with the traffic stop or Ruben Perez’s detention. Other than receiving a heads-up from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents that they were planning to be in town, both agencies said no information concerning Ruben Perez was requested by or offered to ICE agents.
Under Oregon’s sanctuary law, state and local law enforcement are prohibited from using public resources to arrest people whose only known crime is being in the country illegally.
As a general policy, the Astoria Police Department doesn’t involve officers in immigration affairs, Deputy Police Chief Eric Halverson said.
The sheriff’s office has cooperated with ICE in the past within the confines of state law, Sheriff Tom Bergin said.
“We have helped them in the past, but not with this one,” Bergin said. “I honestly don’t know how they do it.”
A recorded message at ICE’s public affairs office in Portland said requests for comment won’t be addressed until furloughed workers in the government shutdown return.
The situation spotlights a larger controversy happening across the country over ICE enforcement at or near courthouses. Many judges and civil liberties advocates have condemned such arrests, warning it disrupts and undermines the criminal justice system. ICE has a policy of restricting arrests at sensitive locations, such as hospitals and churches, and some lawmakers have sought to add courthouses to the list.
Judge Paula Brownhill, the presiding judge of the Clatsop County Circuit Court, said the practice of detaining people near the courthouse can deter court appearances and has a serious impact on the administration of justice.
“Not only criminal defendants, but civil litigants, crime victims, and witnesses may be reluctant to come to court for fear of encountering ICE,” Brownhill said in a statement. “If the district attorney is unable to prove a criminal case because an essential witness fails to appear, or a domestic violence victim is unable to obtain a protective order because she is afraid to come to the courthouse, our community is less safe for everyone.”
‘It feels impossible’
Maria Perez is feeling the absence of her partner. With her family’s breadwinner away, she is struggling to support the two daughters and three grandchildren in her care. Emotionally, she can’t help but feel confused and devastated.
She knows her husband has made mistakes. But when she remembers the hardworking, reliable father and man she loves, she wonders why he has to be in a detention center instead of back home while his deportation case is considered.
“I’ve depended on him for these 21 years,” Maria Perez said. “It’s not fair. I’m trying to be strong for my daughters, but it feels impossible.”