Immigration and Customs Enforcement detained and quickly deported an undocumented man on Wednesday, leaving behind his four children as well as his six nieces and nephews who were recently orphaned when their parents got into a car crash fleeing ICE.
The arrest of Celestino Hilario Garcia, 33, was the type of ICE action that takes place every day. He has a criminal record for driving under the influence and was previously deported to his native Mexico. It was clear that ICE already had had him in its sights. When ICE agents went to an apartment complex in Delano, California, in mid-March, they were looking for him.
But given what happened next that day, Hilario Garcia’s wife and local advocates condemned ICE’s decision to move forward with his removal.
On March 13, ICE agents went looking for Hilario Garcia and instead followed another man who fit his description: his brother, 35-year-old Santos Hilario Garcia, who was in the car with his wife, 33-year-old Marcelina Garcia Profecto. The two sped to get away from ICE, then veered off the road and crashed their car. Both of them died at the scene.
“We’re still not recovered from the loss, and now they separate us,” said Celestino Hilario Garcia’s wife, who requested anonymity because she fears for her safety, in an interview in Spanish.
The immigrant and farmworker communities in the majority-Latino city were outraged after the deaths, accusing ICE under President Donald Trump of being overly aggressive in following the couple. Some residents said they were afraid of leaving their homes after what happened.
On Wednesday morning, Celestino Hilario Garcia had just gotten into his car to go to work when ICE agents arrived and yelled at him to put his hands up, his wife said. She and her youngest child, a 4-year-old girl, watched it happen while the other children were still asleep, she said.
By the end of the day, ICE had deported Hilario Garcia back to Mexico. His wife said he decided not to fight his removal because it could lead to his being locked up for years while the case played out — something he felt he could not do. He told her he didn’t feel like a criminal and just wanted to give a better life to his kids, she said.
“It’s not fair that this happened ― first to my brother-in-law and now what they did to my husband,” she said.
Santos Hilario Garcia and Garcia Profecto left behind six children, who range in age from 9 to 18 years old. Celestino Hilario Garcia’s wife said the children are very close with her family.
“Yesterday when I spoke to them, they started to cry,” she said, herself in tears.
“I have no idea how my life will be from now on,” she added. “How to help my kids get by. Right now I’m the only one, also caring for my nieces and nephews.”
An ICE spokesperson confirmed that deportation officers from ICE’s Fugitive Operation Team arrested Celestino Hilario Garcia on Wednesday. ICE previously granted him voluntary return to Mexico ― an alternative to deportation ― seven times from 2002 to 2009, at which point an immigration judge ordered his removal, and he was deported, the spokesperson said. After re-entering the U.S., he was deported a second time a month later, according to ICE, which also said he has three criminal convictions for driving under the influence.
His wife said those convictions took place in 2011 and 2012.
After Santos Hilario Garcia and Garcia Profecto died, ICE blamed California’s so-called sanctuary policies limiting police cooperation with deportation efforts, saying the state’s laws lead to more enforcement conducted in communities and arrests of people who were not initially their targets.
The United Farm Workers Foundation, which has been active in advocating for immigrants’ rights, condemned Celestino Hilario Garcia’s deportation as a new blow to the farmworker community.
“Can ICE be more callous in visiting even greater anguish upon this family that has already suffered so much?” United Farm Workers Foundation Executive Director Diana Tellefson Torres said in a statement on Thursday. “How much crueler can Donald Trump’s immigration policies become?”