Detained by ICE: The Story of Jorge Gomez

“My name is Jorge Steven Gomez, I am 19 years old, I came from Honduras and on September 19th, I was released on bond from the Adelanto ICE Processing Center,” said Jorge Gomez.

Jorge Gomez, 19, outside of the Public Counsel office in Koreatown, Los Angeles, on October 10, 2018. He has been out on bond since September 19th.

Jorge Gomez, 19, outside of the Public Counsel office in Koreatown, Los Angeles, on October 10, 2018. He has been out on bond since September 19th.

On August 23, 2017, Gomez was arrested by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and taken into custody at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles. During his six month sentence, he received a notice from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency stating that he was to be detained for immigration processing. 

“I did not believe it.” Gomez said. 

Gomez fled Honduras when he was 16 and was approved for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SJIS). This immigration status is granted to children who arrive unaccompanied and were neglected, abused, or abandoned in their home country by one or both parents, according to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). 

“It has been very complicated, being alone in this country, not having my parents [around],” said Gomez.

With the current intense turmoil in Honduras, a deportation for Gomez can result in a death sentence.

Gomez arrived at the Adelanto ICE Processing Center during April of this year. He then signed up to get help from the Legal Orientation Program, which led to him being represented by public attorney Jaqueline Aranda.

“Many people told me that it was not easy [to get in contact with the legal orientation program], they said I had good luck,” said Gomez.

At the Adelanto ICE Processing Facility, detainees must act affirmatively by signing up on fliers posted in the dormitories to obtain services from the Legal Orientation Program. According to the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), the Legal Orientation Program staff relies on ICE to bring individuals listed on the sign-up sheet.

“The Legal Orientation Program has no input or control over which detainees they see or when they see a detainee at ICE’s Adelanto Processing Center,” said Gail Montenegro, the EOIR’s Regional Public Information Officer for the Midwest.

Gomez’s processing has developed differently due to him being processed in both the immigration court system and having the Special Immigrant Juvenile Status while in line for a visa. The hope, according to Aranda, was that a visa would become available before the removal proceedings were over.

“Broadly, there are two main agencies that deal with immigration, one is the immigration court system and the other is USCIS. USCIS processes applications for anything you are asking for affirmatively; in the court system, you’re acting defensively-- so if you’re in the court system, the government is trying to deport you. SIJS was processed by USCIS and then [Jorge] was placed in removal proceedings in immigration court,” said Aranda.

At the six month mark in the Central District of California, detainees are automatically scheduled for a bond hearing. During these bond hearings or, “Rodriguez” hearings, as they are commonly referred, it is the government’s legal burden to prove why they should continue detaining the defendant.

“It’s really jarring when you have one agency in the federal government that says it’s not in this young person’s best interest to return to their home country, but then they’re in removal proceedings, and you have a separate agency saying this person should go back to that country,” said Aranda.

During the Rodriguez bond hearing, the enforcement of the law is not in accordance with it's principle.

“It’s [the government’s] legal burden, but realistically, these judges are just looking for the person in proceedings to prove to them that they should be released,” said Aranda. “So what you do at bond hearings is try to paint a full picture of the person and convince the judge to let this person out of detention.”

“The fear of returning to my country gave me strength to keep fighting my case,” said Gomez.

After receiving aid from a GoFundMe fundraiser, Jorge was able to pay his bond and be released from custody.

“The truth is that [the public] already helped. They helped me pay my bond. It all depends on me now,” said Gomez.

“A lot of times when people do have the opportunity to get out of custody [on bond], they just can’t pay it,” said Aranda. “Because many [who] are detained come from really underserved, over-criminalized communities that do not have a lot of resources; financial support can make a really big difference.”

Community groups such as the Immigrant Youth Coalition supported Jorge emotionally, financially, and mentally along his journey. These institutions represet another impactful way that the community can take direct action to help people who run afoul of our government's immigration enforcement policies.

Representatives from ICE did not respond to requests for comments on this case.