Steven Barron knows the routine. When his mother starts to cry, the 8-year-old boy grabs a tissue and slices up an orange to soothe her.
Just home from school one afternoon in early February, Steven stood in the doorway of his living room, silently holding a plate of fruit for Anabel Barron as she knelt on the floor.
Paper after paper detailing her attempts to gain citizenship over the years — a petition with more than 100 signatures, newspaper articles and photos stretched from one end of her couch to the other — show her efforts, all in vain so far.
Barron lives in fear that any day she could be deported — separated from her four children and the life that she has built here for 16 years.
“To stay with them — that’s all I ask,” she says of her children — 6-year-old Jacqueline, 8-year-old Steven and two teenage daughters, Stacy, 13, and Leslie, 16.
When talking about her children, Barron begins to cry. Her son brings tissues for her to wipe her eyes. He stays by her, holding her arm as she organized the papers and, with a forced laugh, worried whether her tears smudged her makeup.
This is a rare moment of vulnerability for Barron.
“I pretend to be strong in front of people that I talk to,” she said, apologizing for crying. “Inside of me, it’s killing me. I don’t cry because I don’t want people to feel sorry for me. I just want them to see my story.”
Barron, who was illegally brought to the United States from Mexico by her parents when she was a teenager, went to the Federal Building in Cleveland last week for the latest in a series of hearings to determine whether she will be deported.
Backed by her lawyer, Jennifer Peyton, and a group of supporters, including Lorain Police Chief Cel Rivera, Barron entered the courtroom Tuesday and returned moments later with no resolution.
Her next hearing is Aug. 26.
While the initial feeling was one of relief, Barron quickly started counting the days until she would have to go through it all again.
“She has a pending application for a stay,” Peyton said, adding that while the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Cleveland has ordered that Barron be removed from the country, she and Barron will continue to fight for her to stay.
Barron, who has watched over her shoulder since her parents brought her here, said she has to constantly be prepared in the event that the next hearing is her last. As a single mother, she has made arrangements for her children — they would stay with a friend — in case she doesn’t return.
No matter what happens to her, leaving her children in the United States is the best for them, she said.
“I bet all the money in the world, if you were a parent, you would want what’s best for your kids,” Barron said, explaining that the few memories she has from her childhood in Mexico are of violence and crime. “Every night I go to bed, holding (them) so tight because I don’t know if I can do it.”
It’s been a year since Barron’s car was pulled over in Sheffield Lake and police discovered she was undocumented. That was the moment she had feared her entire adult life.
Barron lived in a little town in Mexico until her parents brought her at age 16 to the United States in hopes of a better life. She remembers her old life as one riddled with violence and poverty, where people like her parents made only a few dollars for a 12-hour workday.
Initially Barron’s family moved to Texas, where she stayed for a year before she left her brothers and parents and moved to Lorain with the man she would later marry and later divorce. Because of the complications of moving and being undocumented, Barron said she did not go to school in Lorain and instead worked to get her GED after she had children.
She grew up, married, had four children, got divorced and settled down in Lorain, where she raises her children on the salary she makes cleaning and cooking for a household in Rocky River.
Though Barron loves the United States, she said the life she has built with her children has not been an easy one. Because she was undocumented, she could not apply for welfare or food stamps, which has made providing basic necessities for her family difficult.
One instance sticks out in her mind. A few years ago, Steven asked for a cup of juice.
“I couldn’t give it to him,” Barron said, putting one hand up to cover her mouth as she slowly relived the painful memory. She was struggling so much that year, she couldn’t buy a carton of juice. “That killed me.”
The problems weren’t limited to financial ones. Barron said her fear of being deported and taken from her children meant that she’s lived much of her life in the shadows.
“You have to be very careful when you drive,” Barron said, remembering how she would tell her children to duck when a police car passed by. Even if they weren’t doing anything wrong, she wanted to make the family as innocuous as possible.
“You live in hiding,” she said.
That fear grew after Barron’s mother died in 2000. Her mother had moved back to Mexico earlier that year, and — though she knew it was a dangerous risk — Barron traveled to Mexico for her mother’s funeral. When she tried to return to the United States, she was turned away at the border.
She managed to find a way back but that moment put a target on her back.
“That was the first time they knew I was (undocumented),” she said.
Veronica Dahlberg, executive director of the activist group Hispanic Organization of Lake Ashtabula, or HOLA, said Barron’s case is not unusual.
“They haven’t had an updated immigration law in 20 years … old policies are in place,” Dahlberg said. “They need to put some sort of brakes on deportations until they get immigration reform.”
Immigration and Custom Enforcement spokesman Khaalid Walls said almost 4,500 people were deported from Michigan and Ohio in 2013. Though, he added, most of the deportations each year are of undocumented people who have been convicted of a crime.
For Barron, it was a simple traffic stop — an annoyance at best to U.S. citizens — that catapulted her into the crosshairs of immigration officials.
In May 2013, Barron was pulled over for speeding in Sheffield Lake as she was on her way to work. Barron said the reality of what might happen hit her the moment she watched the officer walk to her car.
“I started praying,” she said.
She said she carried a sheath of papers, including a copy of her application for citizenship, with her everywhere, calling them her protection. However, the application didn’t save her when the officer discovered that she didn’t have a license and that she was not legally allowed to live in the country.
Barron said she realized that her children — who were in school at the time — may never see her again. She feared she might never have a chance to say goodbye.
“My life … it stopped,” Barron said of the moment she was taken to a holding cell in the Sheffield Lake Police Department while police called ICE to decide what to do with her. “I didn’t know if I would come back home.”
With her one phone call, Barron, who expected to be put on a plane to Mexico in a matter of hours, asked a family friend to take care of her children.
Barron got lucky that day: HOLA and Peyton intervened. She was let out of jail the same day with a promise that customs officials would follow up.
That began the process of waiting and worrying.
Peyton said the 33-year-old has a pending application for a stay, though she is on a “final order” of removal. According to the Immigration and Nationality Act, when an illegal immigrant is given a final order of removal, he or she is deported from the country in 90 days and often held in custody during that time.
However, the U.S. attorney general can cancel the removal or adjust the status of an undocumented person if he or she meets a series of conditions. Some of the conditions include having lived in the country for at least 10 years, not having been convicted of an aggravated felony and if the person’s removal “would result in exceptional and extremely unusual hardship to the alien’s spouse, parent or child,” according to the Immigration and Nationality Act.
Those are the exceptions that Peyton is pushing in her bid to keep Barron here.
“Anabel has so many positive factors,” Peyton said.
Barron said, in some ways, that traffic stop has brought relief. She no longer has to hide from custom officials; now they know her.
“I don’t blame (police), I thank them,” she said. “I’m not afraid anymore to say that I’m undocumented. This is the face of an undocumented person … what am I going to lose if I don’t speak up?”
She also is able now to legally drive, after getting her license in October, and go out in public without fear. She said she has received an outpouring of support from others in her situation.
“For the first time in my life, I feel like a person with dignity,” she said.
Barron’s furniture still sits where it always has against the dark purple walls of her living room. No one walking through her house would get the feeling that she may be counting down the days in her home.
She simply doesn’t want to move anything — that would mean she’s given up, she said.
“Inside of me, there’s a little bit of hope,” she said.
Soon after she was released from custody in May, her story spurred response around the undocumented community, many of whom signed a petition to grant her a longer stay here.
However, for a woman who was arrested for being undocumented and who used to tell her children to hide from police, one of her most significant supporters is also one of the most surprising.
Six months ago, Cel Rivera, Lorain police chief, met Barron and others in situations similar to hers at their church. There, he listened to accounts of families who had been separated by deportation, men and women who are terrified to go outside to buy food for their families for fear of being caught and even one woman who said she watched her house get robbed because she was too scared to call police.
“It made me feel ashamed of what we’re doing,” Rivera said. “I told them, ‘You can put your signs down. We’re on the same side.’”
Rivera, who attends HOLA meetings and has dinner with families of HOLA members, said he was shocked to discover how undocumented families exist in anonymity.
“They live in the shadows. You don’t see them, you don’t know them,” he said.
For Rivera, that first meeting was the moment he could tie the faces of children, families, mothers and fathers to the idea of deportation.
“I heard the effects of what it does to them,” he said.
After meeting with the undocumented immigrants, Rivera changed Lorain police policy.
Now, he said, Lorain police are instructed not to call ICE or Border Patrol officials if they come across an undocumented immigrant for a minor offense like a traffic violation. They will alert immigration authorities only if the undocumented person is involved in a more serious or violent crime.
“It’s not our job to enforce federal law,” Rivera said, adding that the goal of the new policy is to create a better connection between undocumented people and police.
Rivera said his primary concern is keeping families like Barron’s from being separated.
“These people have intact families that are just breaking apart. It’s hard for me to believe that it’s keeping with the ideas of what America is about,” he said.
Barron has come to rely on Rivera in ways she never imagined.
“I feel like I have a father. When I need a hug, he will give me a hug. It’s huge because I was so afraid of him,” she said.
Because of support from Rivera, HOLA and others, Barron said she feels lucky despite her situation.
“I feel like, in too many ways, I’ve been blessed. This made me a better person,” she said. “I won’t stop hoping until I put my feet on that plane. That’s when I know this is over.”
IMMIGRATION ENFORCEMENT FACTS
Undocumented immigrants with at least one U.S.-born child who were deported
First half of 2013: 46,486
Between 1998 and 2007:100,000
SOURCE: Department of Homeland Security
Undocumented immigrants deported in Ohio and Michigan and how many have been convicted of a crime
2013: 4,473 people deported. 73% of those people were convicted of a crime
2012: 5,872 deported. 66% convicted of a crime
2011: 7,298 deported. 51% convicted of a crime
2010: 8,054 deported. 44% convicted of a crime
2009: 8,358 deported. 33% convicted of a crime
2008: 8,010 deported. 27% convicted of a crime.
Top five removal countries for Ohio and Michigan in 2012:
SOURCE: Immigration and Custom Enforcement spokesman Khaalid Wells
368,644 people removed from the country by ICE in 2013
59% had been convicted of a crime
133,551 or 36 percent of those were apprehended in the U.S
235,093 or 64 percent of those were apprehended along the border while trying to enter the country.
SOURCE: ICE website