The number of illegal immigrants taken from the McLean County jail and sent to immigration detention centers has more than doubled in the past year, from 15 to 39.
Immigration attorneys say in the past undocumented immigrants arrested on minor charges likely would be released by an immigration judge on personal recognizance if they could show they had significant ties to the community, and no prior serious criminal record.
Increasingly, they are being sent to detention centers to await a deportation hearing. Franklin Sandoval is one of them. He was arrested in Bloomington for driving without a license. He is married to an American citizen and was in the process of trying to regulate his situation when he was taken into custody.
The Sandoval case reflects the complexities many illegal immigrants face in the Trump era of stepped up enforcement.
The Sandovals met at a Latin dance in Bloomington three years ago. She is a registered nurse and he was working at the time in a local restaurant. Before their marriage, Franklin told Laura he was undocumented, and they began looking into legalizing his status.
“He didn’t know how the process went. We both didn’t, so I started looking into how to get it done. It was pretty rough. I had to ask a lot of people how they did it,” Laura Sandoval recalled.
Sandoval said he had come to the U.S. from Honduras to escape street violence in his town, and to search for work.
“He lived in poverty. His family didn’t have anything. He wasn’t even able to go to school, so he came up here to get away from the lifestyle down in Honduras. It’s pretty violent down there,” his wife said.
Starting A Life
By the time he met his wife, Sandoval had been living in this country without documents for 10 years. But with his new wife, his life became like that of many other young couples.
Sandoval helped with the rearing of his wife’s three children from a previous marriage. Together, the couple started a small business, Sandoval’s Extra Hands. It did mowing, gardening work, painting and other odd jobs for mainly elderly customers.
One of those customers, Dan Hall, who is disabled, credits Sandoval with helping him and his wife to continue to live independently in their home.
“He was just a regular handy man. We kept getting more and more stuff for him to do. He would always come when we called,” Hall said.
But there was a sword hanging over Sandoval. In 2010, he was arrested in Chester, Illinois, on a misdemeanor battery charge. The police report says he brushed up against a woman inappropriately. Sandoval says it was an accident. His English was poor at the time, and he could not read or write Spanish either.
Because he had no prior record, he was released on a personal recognizance, pending a court hearing. He attended his first two court hearings, without representation. But he missed a third court hearing. A judge then issued a removal order.
Kevin Raica, who is now representing the Sandoval family, said Sandoval didn’t even know an order for his deportation had been issued.
“I don’t know that Franklin had explored, or would have known how to explore, what options were available to him. He is profoundly illiterate. He doesn’t now how to read or write in Spanish or English. He has some basic skills he’s picked up on his own. But he never had a formal education in Honduras. He basically never received any schooling in his entire life,” Raica said.
Under The Radar
After the removal order was issued, Sandoval was still able to live under the radar of law enforcement. That is, until last Sept 16. He was leaving Holy Trinity Church in Bloomington after attending a service for his stepdaughter’s quinciniera, or 15th birthday celebration. Driving his wife’s car, he was involved in a fender bender not far from the church.
When police arrived on the scene, they found Sandoval had no driver’s license or any other identification.
“The police came. They were going to let us go on a citation,” Laura Sandoval said. “And then they said since he didn’t have an ID, they didn’t know if he was who he said he was, and they wanted to take him downtown to be sure.”
Checking his record, police came across a warrant for his arrest for failing to show up at his previous immigration court hearing. They placed him in custody.
“I’m just wondering, what do I do now? … I kept calling to the jail, trying to figure out what they knew. It was just a lot of trying to figure out our resources and what was our next step,” Laura Sandoval recalled.
Her husband spent the weekend in the county jail. He was then sent to a federal facility in Chicago for another three days. Finally, he was transferred to an immigration detention center in Dodge County Wisconsin, north of Milwaukee.
“The first couple of weeks was really rough. I kept calling the lawyer three times a day. So what is going on? What are we doing? Who do I call?” Laura Sandoval said. “I think I cried for the first two weeks.”
Sandoval and her three children have not seen her husband since he was transferred to the Wisconsin facility more than six weeks ago. The visiting hours are strictly limited.
“There are two days a week you can go see him and it’s for a half hour and only between a certain time during those two days,” she said.
She says visiting is not possible with her work schedule and family duties. Without her husband’s help, Sandoval has had to cut back on her work in the couple’s business, and now works regular double shifts as a nurse to pay the family’s bills.
“My mom helps me and my sister steps in and helps. But it’s hard. I have to be mom, dad, husband, wife, yard keeper,” she said.
Sandoval calls his wife, collect, from the detention center twice a day.
On one call, he said he dreads being sent back to Honduras, where he has few family members left and no friends.
“My family is right here. My wife and kids,” he told GLT on a call from the Wisconsin detention center. “I got all the business here in America. All the people I know. I don’t know much people in my country, Honduras.”
He also said he fears for his life if he has to return.
“Too many criminals, gangsters, killers, stuff like that. If me go back to Honduras people think I have money and they kill me or try to kill one of my family for money,” he said.
Taking Its Toll
Laura Sandoval says, at the detention center, her husband’s mental state is deteriorating.
“When he got there they put him in a big room with bunk beds. Recently they moved him more into a cell block-type of place, but there’s no privacy. There’s a whole bunch of people in there,” she said.
“He said he hasn’t seen the sunlight since he went there. He doesn’t like the food. The food is not what he’s used to. It’s things he doesn’t really eat. He’s used to Spanish-type food and things I cook. Up there it’s boiled eggs, Ramen noodles,” she added.
Raica, the attorney, has filed a motion in the Chicago immigration court to reopen Sandoval’s case, in an effort to have the removal order against him rescinded.
Sandoval’s fate depends on the discretion of a judge. Raica said in the past, given Sandoval’s family and community ties, a judge might have been willing to release him on bond or place him under some sort of supervision where Immigration Customs and Enforcement could track him.
But Raica said the Trump administration has stepped up enforcement.
“Unfortunately, we’re not seeing as much consideration given to people’s lives and the effect detention has on people’s lives. The focus is very much on enforcement and trying to remove people, and not on the reality of their lives here and the harm that this does to their families and to U.S. citizens.”
Dan Hall, Sandoval’s customer, agreed.
“I think it’s horrible. He’s going through hell. It’s like being in prison. I see no reason for that,” Hall said.
Laura Sandoval posted a petition on Facebook for people to express their support for her husband’s case. More than 650 people have signed it.
Raica said he’s rarely seen such an outpouring of public support for one of his clients.
“It really says something about who he is that when the community heard about this so many people wanted to know how they could help in any way,” Raica said.
Local police and the McLean County sheriff’s department say they don’t seek out people who might be living here without documents. But if an individual is arrested, they will contact Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It is then up to immigration officials to decide whether to transfer the person to a detention center.
Laura Sandoval says she waits and prays. She’s taken out a loan to pay nearly $10,000 in legal fees she’s accumulated fighting her husband’s case.
She says in the worst case, her husband will be deported. She vows to continue trying to gain legal status for him as the spouse of an American citizen. That process could take years. Sandoval says she prefers not to think of that outcome right now.
WGLT depends on financial support from users to bring you stories and interviews like this one. As someone who values experienced, knowledgeable, and award-winning journalists covering meaningful stories in central Illinois, please consider making a contribution.