When the grandmother of a Mira Mesa military veteran's family was sent back to Mexico last week, her devastated relatives focused on the central role she played in the family, helping raise her two small grandchildren whose father is serving as a contractor in Afghanistan.
More details of her deportation came out this week, as immigration officials offered details of a felony welfare fraud conviction against the woman, Clarissa Arredondo, and disclosed that she had previously been deported.
Arredondo, 43, was removed to Tijuana on March 3 after being detained on Valentine's Day. Hers is one of many cases around the nation arousing attention as President Trump rolls out his immigration policies.
Arredondo was previously removed from the U.S. in 2005, according to Lauren Mack, spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
At that time, Mack said, Arredondo tried to enter the United States at the Otay Mesa port of entry and U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers determined that she did not have authorization to enter the country. Border officials sent Arredondo back to Mexico using a process called "expedited removal."
Mack said that border officials used a process called "expedited removal," which gave them the authority to send Arredondo back across the border without letting her see an immigration judge.
That order was still on her record when immigration officials targeted her last month. Mack said that gave border officials the authority to remove her again without giving her a hearing with an immigration judge.
Arredondo was targeted "based on her immigration and criminal history," Mack said.
Bardis Vakili, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union in San Diego, said he found the use of the expedited process in Arredondo's case troubling.
"Any time we hear that a longtime member of our community has been ripped from her family and deported without seeing a judge, we are going to be concerned," Vakili said in an emailed statement. "We have already documented ICE's utter disregard for the sanctity of military families, and this incident just continues the agency's pattern of terrorizing patriotic immigrant communities."
Arredondo pleaded guilty to a felony after being charged with misrepresenting her income level to obtain food stamps and cash assistance for her children between May 2001 and March 2003. Based on records at San Diego Superior Court, Arredondo apparently paid $6,633 in restitution and served five years on probation. According to terms of her plea deal, she was permitted to petition the court to reduce the conviction to a misdemeanor. There were no documents indicating that she did so. ICE's records indicate that the conviction remains a felony.
According to the initial documents filed by Cynthia Stewart, a public assistance fraud investigator, "less assistance would have been paid had it been known that the representations were false."
Arredondo worked several cleaning jobs to take care of her three children as a single parent, according to her daughter, Adriana Aparicio.
"Somebody who was working a bunch of bottom-tier jobs cleaning hotels and apartments, and raising three kids with an absent father, it's not like she was personally enriching herself on welfare," said Ev Meade, director of the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego. "I would find that hard to believe. She broke the law, but what did she break the law to do? It wasn't criminal violence. It wasn't a threat to the broader community. It was trying to provide for her kids."
Meade said he believes people are being deported under the Trump administration who would not have been deported under former President Obama — although it's hard to tell. He said that the Department of Homeland Security has a history of not being very transparent, making it difficult to know how enforcement now differs from enforcement under previous administrations.
"We don't often understand what the government is doing with regard to immigration because we don't have the information that we need to make an assessment of it," Meade said. "Since it's behind closed doors, people can choose to believe whatever they want about it, and you can find an echo chamber for all of the wildest myths about immigration that anyone can cook up."
Kate Morrissey writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.