29 detained poultry plant workers return to Mexico One illegal immigrant leaves infant behind

August 31, 1996|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

Twenty-nine Mexicans found working illegally in two Eastern shore poultry processing plants were sent back to Mexico yesterday, tearing apart families and friends.

After spending two years in Seaford, Del., Juana Cabra, 20, had to leave behind her infant daughter -- an American citizen -- and her common-law husband, Cesar, when she was placed on a U.S. Justice Department plane and flown to the Texas border.

"I have a nine-month-old daughter and they took her [Cabra] away," Cesar said while standing outside the Wicomico Detention Center in Salisbury. He asked that his last name not be used because he is here illegally.

Cesar said his wife wanted to take the baby back to Mexico with her but was not allowed to. "I'll have to go to Mexico and find her," he said.

Immigration and Naturalization Service Acting Deputy District Director Richard Caterisano said all 29 Mexicans left voluntarily. In Cabra's case, he said she left the baby with her husband voluntarily. In addition, he said the INS generally does not fly back children of detainees but tries to help coordinate a reunion with their parents.

Under the terms of their departure, the 29 will be barred from entering the country for the next five years without special permission.

"We have families ourselves but we have to enforce the law," Caterisano said. "We try to do it as humanely as possible. These things happen."

He said another plane, carrying at least 11 more people, is expected to leave this weekend or early next week.

The additional 66 suspected illegal immigrants who remain in custody -- sleeping in the detention center's gymnasium -- may ask for hearings to try to stay in the country, Caterisano said.

But an immigration lawyer who visited many of the detainees said yesterday he felt most will likely return home.

"Many of them, once they realize that going to a hearing will only delay the inevitable, choose voluntary deportation," said Eric S. Board, brought in by the INS to orient the detainees on their rights.

Federal and state agents detained more than 100 suspected illegal immigrants Wednesday after searching two Allen Family Foods plants on the Eastern shore. The officials had entered the plants with search warrants.

Yesterday, friends and relatives were able to see to the detainees for the first time. A small group lined up and filed into the detention center for 15-minute conversations with their loved ones, held over phones in booths with glass partitions.

Constantino Rojas, a Seaford, Del., resident, has two sons and a daughter being held. A legal permanent resident, Rojas said that for six years he has been trying to get approval for his children to stay in the country. At the time of the raid, all of them were using fake documents, he said.

"Here, you know, if you don't have papers you can't work, so people have to think of a substitute," Rojas said.

Early yesterday morning, many family members gathered in the parking lot of the detention center, carrying bags of clothes and toiletries for the detainees, having been told they were to be deported shortly.

Many were told by immigration officials to return later for a special visiting period. When they came back for that visiting period, however, they learned that their friends and family members had already been shipped back.

Twenty-eight-year-old Felix Trinidad's voice faltered when he asked the deportation officer if he could see his Mexican wife, Lucille Munoz.

"She's gone. She's out of here," Ken Joby told him.

Pub Date: 8/31/96

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