An Escondido family has been split in two after a mother was deported to Mexico, leaving her twin 18-year-old daughters without a parent.
Just before lunchtime on Feb. 7, María Robles-Rodríguez said she was with a female friend parked in a car outside of a home where the U.S. Border Patrol was conducting an investigation. She said a relative of her friend lived in the house.
Robles-Rodríguez said that plainclothes law enforcement officers approached the car and knocked on the window. She said they never identified themselves and took her into custody.
They "asked us, what are we doing there, who are we going to see," Robles-Rodriguez said in an interview from Tijuana this week.
Robles-Rodriguez, as well as immigration organizations working on her behalf, said she does not have a criminal record. "I never had any problem, I lived for my daughters and worked," she said, speaking in Spanish.
The Border Patrol later confirmed there was an investigation going on at the Escondido home and that their agents contacted Robles-Rodriguez and a second person, Silvino Hernandez-Aguas. The agency made no reference to a woman with Robles-Rodriguez as she described in her account.
In a statement, the Border Patrol said, "During the course of their investigation, agents encountered Silvino Hernandez-Aguas and Maria Robles-Rodriguez. After conducting interviews, the agents established that both individuals were residing in the U.S. illegally and placed them under arrest."
The statement did not include details of the investigation.
David Loy, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties, questioned whether Robles-Rodriguez's civil rights were violated.
If they weren't the target of the investigation at the house, Loy said agents would need probable cause to detain Robles-Rodriguez and Hernandez-Aguas
"Why was Border Patrol scrutinizing them? Why was Border Patrol detaining them? Why was Border Patrol focusing on them at all if they were not the targets of the investigation?" Loy said.
He added that "it raises questions about whether they are running targeted enforcement or a dragnet that targets an entire community."
Robles-Rodriguez originally entered the United States before her daughters' births on a tourist visa and has since supported the family as a single mother by cleaning houses and selling used items such as toys, clothes and shoes at swap meets. She continued returning to Mexico, and was in Tijuana as recently as a month ago, she said.
After the officers took them into custody, Robles-Rodriguez said that she and her friend waited hours for someone to take her friend's 2-year-old child before they were driven to the Otay Mesa Detention Center. The Border Patrol made no mention of a child. A sign on the wall said she could make a phone call, but she was not afforded the opportunity, she said.
"I made signs with my hand that I would like to make a call," she said, but the guard shook his head to say no. She was also given a voluntary departure form that officials told her to sign, but she didn't fully comprehend the document. She said she was never told if she could speak with an attorney.
A spokesman for the Border Patrol said procedures were followed.
"As with any foreign national apprehended by our agency, Ms. Robles-Rodriguez and Mr. Hernandez-Aguas were advised of their privilege to speak with the consulate of their country of citizenship. Attorney privileges did not apply to these individuals because they did not face criminal charges," Supervisory Agent Mark Endicott said in the statement.
At 6:30 p.m., Robles-Rodriguez was deported to Tijuana. She's staying with her daughters' paternal grandmother.
The expediency of the deportation is alarming and might violate due process rights, including rights to a hearing, Loy said.
Robles-Rodriguez had a right to speak with an attorney even if she wasn't detained on a criminal charge, and it's insulting that Customs and Border Patrol described access to an attorney as a privilege, he said.
"That's an outrageous violation of due process," Loy said. "Maybe the government doesn't have to pay for that attorney, but they cannot deny you the right to call your own attorney at your own expense.
"It left her children, American citizens, in the lurch, and the loss of their mother has put them on the verge of homelessness, Greg Anglea, the executive director of Interfaith Community Services, said.
"There are a lot of deportations that happen all the time, on a daily or weekly basis. This may well be par for the course." he said. "It is particularly heartbreaking given this particular family situation."
Anglea said his organization is trying to get the teenagers assistance.
Recent deportation actions across the country have heightened concern among immigrants and their representatives that the federal government is stepping up enforcement after pledges by President Donald Trump of increased crackdowns.
Immigration agency officials have denied that, though the president has lauded what he called stepped-up activity.
On Jan. 25, Trump signed executive orders that began the process of building a wall at the U.S. border with Mexico and to enhance efforts to track and deport people who are in the country illegally.
While the Trump administration said he would focus on "criminal aliens," his order directed immigration officials to focus on people who had not only been convicted of a crime, but also people who have done something that might be considered a crime.
Media reports show that people without criminal records have been deported in increasing numbers. An article in USA Today said that 74% of the 678 people who were detained in 12 states last week had been convicted of a crime, while 90% of people detained in 2016 during the Obama administration had records.