When her 18-month-old daughter had a high fever earlier this month, Nora Quinonez rushed her to the hospital.
Quinonez had been taking care of her two daughters by herself ever since her partner, Cristian Avalos-Merino, was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in May.
So she also was alone when doctors at the hospital gave her the bad news: their daughter Kamilla Avalos had leukemia.
Quinonez hesitated at first to tell Avalos-Merino, who already was worried about being deported to El Salvador — a place he fled years ago, fearing for his life.
Avalos-Merino was deported before — in 2008 — but returned, which is a felony. He also recently applied for asylum; it was denied, but he plans to appeal that decision.
“I don’t have family here, I only have my kids,” Quinonez said. “I have no one to talk to, depend on and I am just alone in all of this right now.”
A rally is planned for noon Wednesday outside ICE’s Chicago headquarters, 101 W. Ida B. Wells Dr., to draw attention to his case and urge ICE to release him back to his family.
“I ask ICE have compassion for my daughters, to have a little heart,” Quinonez said. “I am going to need Cristian’s support 100 percent, now more than ever.”
Avalos-Merino was the sole provider in Quinonez’s family; the couple also has a 3-year-old daughter. He worked hard to buy the things they needed; now, Quinonez has felt overwhelmed.
“For the next three years she is going to need treatment,” Quinonez said. “She has been receiving chemotherapy twice a week and we are waiting to see how her body responds to it.”
A Cicero police officer found Avalos-Merino asleep in the front of his car on May 14 and saw an open alcoholic beverage inside, according to court records. He was arrested and fingerprinted at the station.
Shortly after fingerprinting Avalos-Merino, Cicero police were contacted by ICE asking for assistance, said Ray Hanania, a Cicero spokesman. They declined.
“We have nothing to do with ICE and we never ask or search a suspect’s citizenship status,” Hanania said in a statement. “Fingerprint checks go through the county, state and national database and as a consequence all federal agencies are alerted.”
Hanania believes two ICE agents waited outside the police station until Avalos-Merino was released, then arrested him.
Shawn Neudauer, a ICE spokesperson, said Avalos-Merino was arrested because he had previously been deported. Re-entering the U.S. after being deported is a felony, he said, which is why ICE was alerted.
He remains in the McHenry County Jail, waiting for his old deportation order to be reinstated.
Irene Romulo volunteers with Organized Communities Against Deportation and has been assisting the family. She said Avalos-Merino left El Salvador because of death threats. He had once been attacked with a machete. His friend was killed only because the attackers thought he was Avalos-Merino, Romulo said.
“He was deported in 2008 and the same day he landed back in El Salvador he embarked on his trip back to the U.S.,” Romulo said.
Quinonez said her eldest daughter, Mikaella, has taken the absence of her father the hardest. The 3-year-old constantly asks for her dad; Quinonez doesn’t know what to say.
A GoFundMe with a goal of $3,000 was created shortly after Avalos-Merino’s arrest; as of Tuesday afternoon, $725 had been raised.
“Cristian was the sole financial provider for Nora,” Romulo said. “We know ICE has the power to exercise discretion and we are hoping they use that following the news of his daughter’s diagnosis.”
Manny Ramos is a corps member of Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of Chicago’s South Side and West Side.