STORY FOR: palabra, NAHJ

February 2021


A California woman watches, unable to help, as her son struggles with COVID and depression inside a notorious ICE lockup. She's found community among families waging a quixotic fight against official indifference.  

Story by: Abraham Marquez and Zaydee Sanchez

On Oct. 16, 2018, Ana Arellano got up early to make breakfast for the family. Her husband, Jose, had just left for work. Ana heard a ruckus coming from the front yard. She thought it was her husband returning because he forgot something. As she approached the front door, she saw uniformed officers moving through the yard, trying to enter her home. She abruptly stopped them, holding a strong grip on the doorknob. Her heart was pounding. She was afraid; she was, after all, an undocumented mother of four. She asked the officers why they were there. They showed Ana a picture of someone, who was not her son, and told her they needed to speak to Jose Arellano about this person. Ana, hoping to avoid trouble, grabbed her son so he could answer whatever questions they had. She hadn’t yet realized the officers were from ICE.

The agents surrounded Jose. “They already had all my information, my records,” he said, recalling his arrest during a phone call with palabra. from inside the Adelanto facility.

Jose recalled being overcome by a profound feeling of emptiness as the cold metal handcuffs wrapped around his wrist. He said he screamed in Spanish to his mom, “no salgas,” (“don’t come out”), who watched from inside the house. He felt cold shivers as he heard his mother’s cries for help.

Ana said she fell to her knees, in tears. “I wanted to hug him and hold him back,” she said. She watched, powerless, while the officers threw him into the back of a vehicle.

Anna Arellano

The ICE agents didn’t tell Ana where they were taking her son. She was left without information on where to find him and how to fight for his release. For several days, Ana and her family wore heavy hearts. They drove to different jails only to be disappointed that his name was not registered. It was not until Jose was finally allowed to make one call that she discovered where he was being held.

The first year of her son’s absence was hard on Ana. ''I cried a lot, I felt weak. My husband tried very hard to cheer me up by taking me out to the mall or to eat at restaurants,” Ana said.

Now, once a week, Ana gathers the family in the living room while Edwin, her youngest, sets up a video chat with Jose, via an app called GettingOut. Jose looks forward to seeing everyone’s face every week. He likes to talk about cooking for all of them once he is out. He promises to make his favorite dish, “lomo picado” -- loin trimmings with his signature green salsa -- and “pozole estilo de Michoacán,” a hominy and pork stew that’s a tradition in the family’s home state in Mexico. Sharing recipes for comfort food has become a routine on daily phone calls and the weekly video chats.

Jose has missed three New Year’s celebrations with the family. No hugs. No kisses for good luck. Yet Ana goes on, doing what she can to lift his spirits.

“Hijo, no te desanimes,” she tells him in Spanish. “Son, do not be discouraged.”




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