January 22, 2014
By Anoop Prasad, Immigrant Rights Staff Attorney
For ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), they are priority targets – criminal and fugitive aliens. For Aliti Viriviri, nine years old, they are nana and tata (grandma and grandpa). As calls grow louder for President Obama to reign in immigration enforcement, the Viriviri family’s experience shows what enforcement has cost us.
Samisoni and Bale Viriviri came to the United States with their two children in the early 1990s fleeing a coup in Fiji. After their visas expired, they became undocumented. Their story is not unique but happens daily. ICE has detained three of the four family members in separate incidents. ICE has sent armed tactical teams to raid their home twice. ICE has deported half of their family.
In 2002, Mr. Viriviri’s son was pulled over on a traffic stop while driving to work, detained for months, and then deported to Fiji. In 2011, Bale Viriviri was arrested in a raid on her home, while returning from her job as a caregiver. She was held in the Sacramento County Jail for two months before being deported to Fiji. In an interview last year, Bale reflected on her deportation — “My heart is in Sacramento because that’s where my family is…How can I live without my family and they without me?”
A few months later, ICE agents came to the house again, posing as Sacramento police officers looking for a stolen car. Taking them at their word, Mr. Viriviri answered their questions. After he admitted his immigration status, they arrested him and disclosed that they were ICE agents. He was flown to a detention center in New Mexico where he was held for over a month.
Unlike most immigrants facing deportation, Mr. Viriviri had legal representation. After ICE was forced to respond to its agents posing as police officers and after nearly 10,000 people sent messages to ICE in support of Mr. Viriviri, they backed down. On October 30, 2013, ICE reversed their decision to seek deportation and Mr. Virviri was able to remain with his grandchildren.
Most aren’t so lucky. For his wife, his son, and 400,000 people deported each year, ICE is never held responsible.
President Obama has deported more people than any other administration in U.S. history. The President, a former Constitutional law professor, claims that he has no authority to stop deportations. The claim — that he was Constitutionally required to send armed agents to raid the Viriviri’s house not once but twice — is legally and morally indefensible. The President can and must take control over deportations.