Helen Beristain voted for Donald Trump even though she is married to an undocumented immigrant.
In November, she thought Trump would deport only people with criminal records — people he called “bad hombres” — and that he would leave families intact.
“I don’t think ICE is out there to detain anyone and break families, no,” Beristain told CNN affiliate WSBT in March, shortly after her husband, Roberto Beristain was detained by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
On Wednesday, Beristain was proven wrong as ICE split her family across two countries.
Roberto Beristain, 44, was deported back to Mexico despite having no criminal record, family attorney Adam Ansari said.
“He hadn’t committed any crimes. He didn’t even have a parking ticket,” Ansari said. “From everyone’s accounts he is probably one of the most lovable guys you will ever meet. He is a loving husband and father. And he put a lot of work into his restaurant.”
CNN calls to Helen Beristain were not returned.
Ansari convened a group of pro bono immigration attorneys to represent Roberto Beristain after ICE detained him in February. They filed multiple motions in federal court on his behalf, arguing his removal order was legally improper and asking an immigration judge to stay his removal. They also filed a habeas corpus petition arguing the US government had denied his due process rights.
But unbeknownst to his legal team, ICE deported Beristain before either judge had time to issue a ruling.
“They suddenly told me it was time to go,” Roberto Beristain was quoted as saying. “They told me to get my stuff, they put me in the back of a van and sped toward the border. They took me to another facility while in transport to sign paperwork. I asked to speak with my attorney, but was told there wasn’t time for that. At around 10 p.m., I was dropped off at the Mexico-US border and walked into Mexico.”
In a statement to CNN, ICE said, “On April 4, 2017, officers with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) removed Roberto Beristain Cegueda to Mexico via Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. ERO officers turned him over to Mexican authorities at the Paso Del Norte Port of Entry in El Paso, Texas.”
A US resident for nearly 20 years
Roberto Beristain arrived to the United States in 1998 through a Mexican border crossing, Ansari said. Helen Beristain told WSBT they met in a restaurant in Fort Wayne, Indiana. They married in 2001 and eventually settled in the city of Mishawaka, once named the best place to raise your kids by Business Week magazine. Their family quickly grew from raising a child from a previous marriage to sharing three children, all US citizens.
The current legal predicament dates back to a 2000 family vacation to Niagara Falls, New York. The Beristains missed an exit and crossed into Canada. When they turned around they were detained by ICE, Ansari said.
“When immigration officials picked him up at that time, they classified him incorrectly,” Ansari said. “If they had classified him correctly, the voluntary departure order wouldn’t have been an option and he could have followed other avenues.”
Because of the incorrect classification that resulted in a voluntary departure order, Ansari said, Roberto Beristain entered a legal limbo in which getting a green card proved all but impossible. In the meantime, he made due with a work permit and a drivers license, Ansari said.
For the last few years, Beristain had been working as a cook in Eddie’s Steak Shed in Granger, Indiana, Ansari said. In January, he became the restaurant’s owner.
“He has employment authorization,” said Ansari. “For five years he had been voluntarily showing up at the ICE office in Florida, where his immigration attorney lives. This year when he flew down to Florida, he was sent back to Indiana. He drove to the ICE office in Indianapolis and that is where he was detained.”
From Indianapolis, Ansari said, Beristain bounced between detention facilities — Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, Louisiana, New Mexico and Texas — making it more difficult for his attorneys to file legal motions in one jurisdiction. Then on Wednesday, as his legal team was expecting a ruling, they got the news: ICE had deported him to Juarez in the middle of the night.
Voter thought the ‘good people’ would stay
“I think our President is going to keep all the good people here. He is not going to tear up families. I don’t think he wants to do that. He just wants to keep us safe,” Helen Beristain told WSBT in March.
Today, Ansari said, she feels betrayed.
When asked why she voted for Trump despite his harsh anti-immigration stance, Ansari said her main concern in November was the economy.
“Granger is in a very Republican town,” he said. “She has a lot of conservative people around her. They run a steakhouse that serves very working-class individuals. She is in the middle of Indiana. If everyone around you is only saying one thing … people live in news bubbles.”
In an interview with the South Bend Tribune, she recalled her husband saying, ” ‘He’s going to get rid of the Mexicans.’ ” She told the Tribune her response at the time was that Trump would only deport the “bad hombres.”
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a Democrat, wrote an article for the Huffington Post defending Roberto Beristain’s place in their conservative community.
“Think of the favorite themes of conservatism: hard work, small business ownership, suspicion of overbearing government, and support for family. Each one of those themes is at stake here, and each is insulted by the prospect of a person like Roberto being ripped away from his business, friends, wife and children, by a federal agency.”
Ansari and the legal team representing Beristain are far from done. They plan to file new court motions asking for a federal judge to bring him back.
“It is fundamentally unfair to do this to a person whether you have your papers or not,” Ansari said, referring to the lack of due process. “He has been here for 20 years. He has a family and a business. You are not going to give him an opportunity for relief? He has contributed so much to his community. As United States citizens we can give him that much.”