When the agent handcuffed Marta, she said, “Please help me! My dog is in my trailer by herself. It’s just a few doors down. Please let me go there and give her to someone to take care of her. I’ll go with you, I promise. Just let me take my dog to my neighbor. She’s home alone.” But either the agent didn’t understand Spanish, wasn’t listening, or didn’t care, because he hustled her out the front door and into the van without a word. Marta began speaking more and more loudly, then shouting, until the agent gagged her with a strip of cloth across her mouth. Then she stomped her feet against the floor of the van until he shackled her feet together. After that, she sat still, arms twisted behind her back, tears coursing down her face.
When the van got the detention center, two big guards took Marta out, shuffling with her shackles, to the women’s processing area. The guards stood by while she was freed from the handcuffs, gag, and shackles, in case she tried to hurt someone. But Marta stood still, and asked, “Do any of you speak Spanish?” Some of the inmate processing staff did speak Spanish, and Marta began speaking urgently. “It’s my dog. She’s in my trailer alone. I have to call someone to come and take her. Can I use a phone now?” All in good time, one of the processors said, first you have to be checked in. After that, there will be no phone calls until tomorrow. What if everyone wanted to make a phone call tonight? The whole system would be thrown out of whack. Marta started to protest, but saw one of the guards shake the handcuffs at her. After that, she followed all orders, crying silently. It took six hours, until four in the morning, for the “processing.” She was led to a bunk in a large room with dozens of women sleeping in double stacked rows, and fell into bed exhausted.
Guards called all the women out of bed at 6 a.m. With breakfast and shower, and many hours sitting on her bunk with nowhere to go, it was 11 a.m. before a guard led her into a room where Marta met with a harassed-looking man who said he was her deportation officer. He began by asking her for her full name and place of birth, but she interrupted. “Please listen,” she said, “I have an emergency. My dog has been locked up in my trailer since 6 o’clock last night, without getting out, and without food, and her water will be long gone by now. Will you let me call my sister now so she can go get her?” The officer looked at her blankly for a moment, then pushed a phone to her. “Dial 9 for an outside line,” he said. Marta dialed. When her sister answered, Marta said, “I’m in immigration detention, Rocio. They took me last night. Jennifer has been home alone all this time. Can you go over there now and take her home with you?” Rocio had many questions, but Marta said, “I’ll call you later with details. Just get Jennifer. You still have the key, right?” Rocio promised to get her.
Only later, after Marta had been released on bond from detention, did she learn what happened to Jennifer. Rocio had been in eastern Washington visiting her daughter at Washington State University when Marta called. Rocio called her son to go get the key and get Jennifer, but her son didn’t answer his cell phone until that evening. Meanwhile, Rocio left Pullman, and drove straight for six hours, but didn’t arrive until after 9 p.m. She grabbed the key to Marta’s trailer, drove the 15 miles from her house to Marta’s, and finally liberated Jennifer at 10:30 that night, more than 28 hours after Jennifer had been left alone. She took Jennifer home with her that night.
The next day, at 9 a.m. when the bond window opened, Rocio went to detention and paid Marta’s $7500 bond. By 3 p.m., Marta was released, and Rocio picked her up. “Jennifer’s fine,” Rocio said as soon as she saw her sister. “She’s with Tyler.” When Marta and Jennifer were reunited that day, even Tyler, Marta’s stoic nephew, was moved to tears.
Rocio had petitioned for Marta’s legal residence many years before, and the visa was now available. She was eligible to get her permanent residence, and she did get it within a year of being arrested for being in the country undocumented. She and Rocio hired an immigration attorney to handle the case, and represent Marta in deportation proceedings, to terminate the process. She was one of the few lucky ones. She had been in the US before 2001, when Congress decreed that those whose family members petitioned for them before May 2001 could get their residence. Residence however, would only be possible when the long wait for the visa – from three to 18 years, depending on the country and family relationship -- was over. No one who entered the US undocumented after that time could get residence based on a family petition, not even spouses of US citizens.
What Marta could never understand was why the officers had arrested her. It was a huge waste of taxpayer money, when she was not a criminal and posed no threat to anyone. She paid taxes, and offered a good service to the community with her tailoring business. She had a permanent residence visa immediately available to her. What a waste! And what cruelty! But two things it had done for her, she told Jennifer. The arrest made her decide to make friends for herself and Jennifer with her neighbors, give two of them keys to her trailer, and make sure that she had their phone numbers with her always. And the second thing? It politicized her. She took Jennifer to every single protest march in Seattle and Tacoma that she could find against inhumane immigration laws and practices. Jennifer always wore the sign: “ICE left me home alone. Bark out against injustice!”