Jose Robles, center, has lived in the Tacoma area for nearly two decades.
Jose Robles, center, has lived in the Tacoma area for nearly two decades. SB

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For 17 years, Jose Robles has been working in the United States as a construction worker and painter. His daughters—aged 23, 17, and 7—have studied at the Clover Park school district, and the eldest two are beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) under Obama. The youngest, Natalie, is a US citizen.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has known about Robles's undocumented immigration status since 2010, when he was picked up by police for a fight with his neighbor. Charges were never filed, according to Robles's lawyer Sandy Restrepo, but he was nevertheless held in jail for an additional 48 hours to allow ICE to pick him up. This policy, known as a detainer request, has become a flashpoint for the Trump administration, which has published a list of localities that don't acquiesce to ICE's detainer demands. Now, those 48 hours have become the difference between Robles staying with his family in the U.S. and being deported back to Mexico.

Until the beginning of 2017, ICE considered Robles's case "low priority," Restrepo told me at a rally for Robles at ICE headquarters in Tukwila. After all, the only item on Robles's criminal record was driving with a suspended license. But three weeks ago, that changed. Under Trump, Restrepo was told, everyone has become a priority.

From left: Brenda, Yuritzy, and Natalie Robles.
From left: Brenda, Yuritzy, and Natalie Robles. SB

Brenda Robles, 23, doesn't remember much about her arrival in the US. She was 11 years old. "All I remember was just being excited to get here to be with my dad, because we hadn't seen him for a couple years," she said. "I just remember getting here and being a whole family again."

Now she's worried what will happen if ICE decides not to put a stay on her father's removal. Brenda is studying psychology at Tacoma Community College, but without her father, she might have to drop out to support the rest of her family full-time. Back in Mexico, her father has no one left to call family. It's dangerous, too, Brenda says. It's no longer his country.

Jose Robles doesn't speak much English, but through the translation of his lawyer, tells me that he's devoted his whole life to working to provide for his family. After the Nisqually earthquake, Robles helped complete renovations on the Olympia Capitol Building. A photo taken of Robles at the time shows him standing next to the building, waving at the camera in blue jeans.

Natalie Robles, 7, is a US citizen.
Natalie Robles, 7, is a US citizen. SB

Robles's second eldest daughter, Yuritzy, chokes up when talking about her dad.

"My dad's a really warm person who is always supporting us," she said. "He's always the one person believing in us, telling us that we can do it. I don't know what my future's going to be like, but I know it's not going to be much if he's not here."

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When Robles exits the ICE building after dropping off his latest petition for a stay, he keeps his hands balled up in his sweatshirt pockets and thanks his friends and family for coming by. Natalie, his youngest daughter, runs up to her dad and wraps an arm around his hips.

He strokes her cheek. The only option left for the Robles family is to wait for ICE to make their decision. It could come in a week, a month, a year.


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