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Fear, Uncertainty Persist In Del Valle Immigrant Community After Deportations

Gabriel C. Pérez
Margarita, a resident of the Stony Point neighborhood in Del Valle. Residents of the small community 20 miles east of Austin say the Bastrop County Sheriff's Department collaborated with ICE during traffic stops to turn over undocumented immigrants.

Residents of the Stony Point neighborhood are still reeling after the Bastrop County Sheriff’s Department turned roughly a dozen members of the community over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) late last month.

On June 23, at the height of pushback to family separations caused by President Trump’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy, Bastrop County Sheriff Maurice Cook implemented a zero-tolerance policy of his own.

That weekend his deputies were “instructed to use zero tolerance for offenses” – including minor traffic violations like broken taillights and driving without licenses.

According to a Facebook post from Cook, the department made more than 60 stops in the Stony Point area. About two dozen people were arrested, and all but one person was Latino. Thirteen of those arrested were eventually turned over to ICE for deportation proceedings.

Margarita, whose last name we are not using because she’s undocumented, was affected by those arrests. Her husband was among the more than dozen people turned over to ICE.

Margarita and her husband have lived in Central Texas for about 22 years and have four kids, but now, she says, she’s facing the possibility of leaving her family behind because of the incident, which happened as they were headed home from getting groceries.

“We passed by the store,” she said in Spanish. “And there were some police there.”

“They told me, ‘Immigration already got him. There’s nothing you can do now.’”

Margarita says she wasn’t scared at the time because they hadn’t done anything wrong. So, they went shopping, got back in the car and pulled out of the parking lot.

As they drove away, Margarita’s husband noticed something.

“He told me, 'The police are following behind me, and they are going to stop me,'” she said.

Margarita says the police pulled them over because of their brake lights. They asked for proof of insurance and, then, for her husband’s driver license.

“And my husband told them, ‘No,’” she said. “And that’s all I heard.”

The police arrested her husband for driving without a license and Margarita drove herself home.

She didn’t speak with her husband until much later that night, when he told her he was afraid they were going to send him back to Mexico.

“We didn’t sleep that night,” Margarita said.

The next morning, Margarita said she went to the courthouse for her husband’s meeting with a judge who was going to read his charges, but he never made it to that.

“They told me, ‘Immigration already got him,’ she said. “‘There’s nothing you can do now.’”

Credit Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT
The small immigrant community of Stony Point is on edge after a "zero-tolerance" traffic enforcement effort in June led to deportations.

Margarita’s husband told her that almost all of the other people pulled over told him they, too, were pulled over for minor violations like broken taillights, not having headlights on or driving without a license. When contacted for comment on this story, the Bastrop County Sheriff’s Department, which carried out the majority of the arrests, didn’t wish to comment further on the arrests, directing KUT to the department’s statement on Facebook.

According to that post, one person was pulled over for drunk driving and another person was caught with drugs. But, overall, not having a valid license or not having any license at all landed most of these people in jail. Cook emphasized the initiative had “nothing to do with immigration,” that the department was simply enforcing the law and that the arrested “had no business operating a vehicle on our roads.”

Margarita said she understands law enforcement officials have to do their job, but this was different.

“It’s unjust,” she said.

Margarita said in 59 years her husband has never been arrested. She says her family has worked hard and kept their heads down, and that they had plans to continue working on their house and spend time with family.

After her husband’s arrest, she says those plans aren’t as clear.

“They ruined my life,” she said.

A few of the people turned over to ICE were eventually released, including Margarita’s husband. However, he still has to appear before an immigration judge in September.

In the meantime, Margarita says she’s dreading the reality that she might have to break up her family and move back to Mexico with her husband – a place that hasn’t been home to them for decades.

On top of that, she’s worried about going outside, because of fear that she’ll encounter ICE. It’s a fear other neighbors in the Stony Point community share.

Credit Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT
María, a Stony Point resident, says she fears her husband, who is undocumented, may be deported and her family may have to move to Mexico.

“I’m scared every day,” said María, a woman who also lives in the area. María’s husband is undocumented, so she doesn’t want to use her last name.

She says she’s scared when her husband goes to work or goes to the store because police might stop him.

María says she had to sit her 9-year-old daughter down and tell her what was going on.

“If something happens, my daughter needs to be prepared, mentally prepared, to confront my family’s situation,” she said in Spanish.

She’s heard that other families in the area have been broken up by deportation, a prospect that’s scared her daughter.

“She asked me, ‘That’s not going to happen to us, right, mom?’” María said.

She told her daughter the family will stay together, and that they’ll move to Mexico, together, if they have to. Her daughter told her she didn’t want to move, that she wants to stay with her family in the U.S.

“My daughter said, ‘It’s unjust that this is happening to us,’” María said, “‘It’s not fair because my dad is not bad.’”

Credit Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT
Stony Point residents gathered at the Juan Diego Catholic Church to speak out against the Bastrop County Sheriff's Department on July 2.

She says in the past few weeks her daughter has been getting nervous when she sees cars outside her window and she’s been crying at night. María’s been driving more so her husband isn’t behind the wheel, if they get pulled over. Maria’s family had plans to go to the beach this summer, but it’s a long drive and they usually take turns driving. So, that might be out of the question.

Faced with the idea of moving to Mexico, María says it’s heartbreaking.

“My whole family is here – my parents, my siblings – they are all here legally,” she said.

All María’s daughters were born in the U.S. It’s the only home they’ve ever known, and, María says, she doesn’t have anywhere to live in Mexico. Still, she says she needs to make plan, just in case.

“Those are difficult plans to make,” she said, “because they are complicated and sad.”

In a meeting with Bastrop Interfaith, a religious community group, Cook said he would widen the scope of the enforcement effort to areas outside of Stony Point, and that it will no longer be called a “zero-tolerance policy.”

Ashley Lopez covers politics and health care. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AshLopezRadio.
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