RICHMOND, Calif. - An undocumented father of three with a criminal history and who is now seeking asylum, thanked his supporters on Saturday outside the former ICE detention center that once held him since last spring
Hugo Aguilar gave a short speech outside the West County Detention Facility, shuttered to undocumented immigrants in July, and hugged one of his daughters as people tied ribbons with messages of hope on the chain link fence surrounding the jail.
“Thank you all guys for supporting us and making this possible,” he told the crowd of about three dozen people. "Every moment, I was praying to God to let me out of this place."
His 12-year-old daughter, Hulissa Aguilar, said she was just "so grateful" that her father could come home with her. "I don't ever want him to leave again," she said. "Families should not be torn apart."
An alliance of community groups was able to raise $80,000 to pay what they called the “unreasonably high bond” which an immigration judge set for Aguilar, according to Lourdes Barraza, an organizer for the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity.
On Thursday, Aguilar was able to be released on bond from the facility thanks to the donations from his family, the Bay Area Based Immigrant Family Defense Fund, the West County Detention Facility Community Fund, and RAICES in San Antonio, Texas. On Saturday, he was welcomed back home at an interfaith vigil.
Since June, RAICES has bonded out over 175 people at a cost of over $1.4 million and has supported 1,174 with travel assistance, Barraza said.
According to the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, Aguilar arrived in the United States in 1994 with his parents and siblings. “Coming to a new country at such a young age, took a toll on Hugo and it forced him to make some decisions he now regrets,” the group wrote on Facebook.
As a result of those decisions, Aguilar was convicted of a drug offense in 2005, which then resulted in his deportation in 2007.
Aguilar was returned to the United States in 2008 and maintained a good job and had no further run-ins with law enforcement until March 2017, when he was wrongly accused of domestic violence, the group stated.
But the group said that no charges were filed against him and he was released from Santa Rita jail the same day. He was immediately detained by ICE as he was exiting the jail.
Within hours, Hugo was transferred to the West County Detention Facility and has been there since his release two days ago.
In February, Hugo's asylum case was denied. He now awaits the decision on his appeal from the 9th Circuit Court. But instead of being part of the mass transfer of undocumented immigrants from the Richmond ICe facility sent to Colorado and Washington, and to facilities in Yuba County and Mesa Verde, he will now await his asylum hearing with his family in the Bay Area.
Pangea Legal Services in San Francisco said that since the closure of the ICE facility, more than 100 undocumented immigrants were affected by these transfers.
Pangea, the San Francisco Public Defender's Office and other immigration attorneys have accused the federal agency of denying detainees access to legal representation and holding up their immigration cases.
But the transfers “should come as no surprise,” according to ICE.
“When we were notified of the decision, ICE made it abundantly clear in July that it would have to now rely on its national system of detention bed space to house detainees,” a spokesman said in a statement to the Bay Area News Group this week. “When ICE is not allowed to work with local jurisdictions to house detainees closer to their families, friends and attorneys, farther facilities must be utilized.”
For now Aguilar is thinking of those other families. "I wish everybody could be with their families, too," he said. "All of this..what they are doing with people, taking them into detention centers and separating them from their families....I wish all of this stops."