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‘They treat people like they’re animals’: Dreamer released after ICE detains him

Christian Gomez Garcia, 29, talks to reporters outside the Chicago Field Office after he was released from an ICE detention center Thursday morning, Feb. 1, 2018. Gomez Garcia, a DACA recipient, was taken into custody at Cook County Circuit Court in Skokie and detained for three nights. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

After spending three nights in a windowless cell at an immigration detention center, a DACA recipient from Skokie was released Thursday to his family and said he felt treated like an animal.

Christian Gomez Garcia, a 29-year-old Dreamer, said he was at the Skokie Courthouse for a misdemeanor traffic violation Monday when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers detained him. He said he was then transported to the Kenosha County Detention Center in Wisconsin, where he was held in a cell with 16 other men.

“They treat people like they’re animals, we’re not humans to them,” Gomez Garcia said Thursday morning after his release. He wasn’t told that he was being let go but was woken up at 4 a.m. and taken to Chicago “with no explanation,” he said.

Christian Gomez Garcia, 29, hugs his mother, Luz Maria Garcia, outside the Chicago Field Office after he was released from an ICE detention center Thursday morning. Gomez Garcia, a DACA recipient, was taken into custody at Cook County Circuit Court in Skokie and detained for three nights. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

He came to the United States with his mother from Hidalgo, Mexico, at the age of 6 in 1995, and first received deferred action from deportation under the DACA program — which lapses if not renewed every two years — in 2012. In March, Gomez Garcia applied to renew his DACA status at the Chicago office of U.S. Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, but his family says something went wrong and his application may not have been received at the Department of Homeland Security.  His lawyer filed a new renewal application on Tuesday.

Gomez Garcia said he wasn’t given “too much explanation” when he was released Thursday by ICE.

“They said I was a DACA recipient, but that’s all they said,” he said.

Gomez Garcia, who is studying business administration at Harper College in Palatine, said the experience of his detention was “horrible.”

“You’re in a cell, you can’t move, you don’t see light, and the only thing you can do is walk around in circles so you get some exercise,” he said. “You’re there with a couple people, with just a bed and a toilet, just walking around, chatting with people, trying to waste some time and trying to get in contact with your family.”

Gomez Garcia said the food was “so bad” that he chose not to eat on more than one occasion, and added that the cell was very quiet.

“Everybody was very nervous,” he said, adding that the other men were anywhere between the ages of 18 and 50. “Some people were not able to get in communication with their family . . . Everyone had a fear of not knowing what was going to happen the next day.”

He said he had only been to Wisconsin once before to go to Wisconsin Dells.

“You don’t know what to do, how to act, what to say . . . They’re basically letting us know that we have no rights as a human and that we’re not welcome here,” Gomez Garcia said.

Juan Soliz, Gomez Garcia’s lawyer, said his client has no criminal record and Cook County’s sanctuary ordinance was violated when he was detained.

“He should have never been arrested, unfortunately someone in the Skokie Police Department or the Skokie courts reported him to ICE,” he said. “This is happening every day, unfortunately.”

A Skokie Police spokesperson said in a statement that the department is “confident” its officers weren’t the ones who called ICE.

“He’s never had any criminal record, the only thing he’s ever dedicated himself is to study and work,” said Gomez Garcia’s mother, 52-year-old Luz Maria Garcia, during a Wednesday news conference outside the Skokie courthouse, adding that she left her family in Mexico to flee domestic violence. She and Gomez Garcia live in Skokie, where he helps support her.

The Cook County Board approved its sanctuary ordinance in 2011, restricting local law enforcement from collaborating with federal immigration agents to detain anyone unless the feds have a warrant.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is appealing a September order by a federal judge — in a case filed by the city of Chicago — blocking the Trump administration’s efforts to keep fiscal year 2017 grant money from sanctuary cities.

An ICE spokeswoman offered no comment this week, other than confirming Gomez Garcia’s detention and release.

A representative from Gutiérrez’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Luz Maria Garcia looks on as her son, 29-year-old Christian Gomez Garcia, and his attorney, Juan Soliz, talk to reporters outside the Chicago Field Office after Gomez Garcia was released from an ICE detention center Thursday morning. Gomez Garcia, a DACA recipient, was taken into custody at Cook County Circuit Court in Skokie and detained for three nights. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times