CINTHIA AND HER PARTNER, Cesar, began the new year with a new baby, a surprise early delivery that added a third child, a boy, to their family. Four weeks later, Cinthia was feeding her son when she answered the phone. It was a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent. ICE had arrested Cesar that morning. Cesar would tell Cinthia later that it was a matter of mistaken identity, and he expected ICE to release him quickly, so he asked the agent to call her.
Six weeks later, he still hadn’t come home.
Cinthia gradually pieced together what happened as Cesar called every day from a regional ICE detention center near Atlanta. On the morning of February 5, an ICE agent in an unmarked car stopped Cesar, a plumber, as he drove to work. The agent showed him a picture of a man whom ICE sought on criminal charges; Cesar did not recognize him. When the agent asked for identification, Cesar acknowledged that he was an undocumented immigrant from Honduras.
Although he wasn’t the man the agency was looking for, the agent took Cesar to the ICE offices on Tyvola Road. Agents fingerprinted him, took his phone, and, later that day, moved Cesar to the detention center. For weeks, he hoped for a bond hearing and to return home. Cesar has no criminal record, Cinthia told me.
Cesar’s arrest came during a week when ICE detained hundreds of undocumented immigrants in North Carolina. The precise number is unclear. ICE said it arrested an even 200. Local journalists and immigration groups said the number was closer to 275. Plain-clothed agents in unmarked vehicles arrested immigrants in residential and commercial areas, some with criminal records or pending charges, many not. The agency concentrated its raids in east Charlotte, the hub of the city’s Latino community and a place where, even weeks later, normally bustling shops and public spaces were unusually quiet.
Cinthia, a stay-at-home mother, found a part-time job to pay their bills while Cesar stayed in the detention center. She cleaned offices and brought her baby to work with her. She and Cesar told their two daughters, ages 5 and 6, that their dad was away on a big job. She didn’t expect to keep up the story this long, and she didn’t know how much longer she could expect them to believe it.