BALTIMORE — For months, Veronica Castro had dreaded Tuesday, when she was scheduled to check in with immigration officials.
The undocumented immigrant didn’t know whether she would be detained and deported to Mexico or allowed to return home with her husband, a disabled veteran, and their four children, all U.S. citizens who live in Lothian, Md.
On Tuesday, as she and her husband stood in a crowded office in the George H. Fallon Federal Building here, their fears were allayed in less than 30 minutes.
Immigration officials gave Castro another year before she would have to check in again.
“I’m happy,” she said in Spanish, smiling.
“It’s raining, but it’s a wonderful day,” said her husband, Ricardo Pineda, who served in the Army for six years and reached the rank of sergeant. “We get another year, one more year to be together, and hopefully more.”
Three clergy members had accompanied the family into the immigration office, a tiny room with 11 chairs and a flier on the wall that warned of an MS-13 member wanted for murder in Honduras. As they stood in the elevator heading down, a stranger noticed them and asked if there were religious services in the building.
“God is everywhere,” Pineda told him.
Outside, a crowd had gathered to show the family support. Among them was a pastor who had traveled from Chicago and local immigration rights activists who had formed groups only after President Trump’s inauguration. They held signs to let the family know they weren’t alone. “We love you,” read one. “Safety for all,” read others.
Those in the crowd had prayed together and listened as Castro told them her family’s story. The 38-year-old told them about her husband’s medical needs. Pineda, 47, received a medical discharge from the Army and takes medication for diabetes, depression and pain in a hand he injured during combat training. She told them about her four children, two of whom have disabilities. The couple’s 14-year-old son has cerebral palsy and their 17-year-old was left with brain damage after heart surgery as a toddler. His mother helps him bathe, get dressed and walk to and from the bus each day.
“My husband wouldn’t be able to take care of my children without my help,” Castro said. “If I’m deported, my family will be destroyed.”
Castro, who twice entered the country illegally from Mexico, has faced these check-ins since 2011. That’s when her application for parole in place, which allows relatives of military members to apply for legal status while remaining in the country, was denied on the basis that she had years earlier used a “fraudulently obtained Border Crossing Card.”
In the months leading up to Tuesday’s appointment, she and Pineda appealed to politicians and clergy members for help. They feared that despite Pineda’s service and their children’s medical needs, Castro would be swept up in Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigration. His executive orders have widened the pool of those vulnerable to deportation.
In Arizona, a mother of two U.S.-born children, checked in on Feb. 8, as she had done for eight years, when she was detained. The next day she was deported to Mexico.
Last month, immigration officials arrested five people in Massachusetts who showed up for scheduled appointments at a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office, including at least three who were seeking green cards. One woman, according to local media reports, was married to a U.S. citizen and had shown up for a marriage petition interview with her husband when she was taken into custody.
“All of us have to really take a good look at what kind of country we live in,” said Pastor Emma Lozano, who flew from Chicago to support Castro and has supported other military families facing immigration uncertainties. “Many military families and Gold Star families are also being affected by deportation.”
Yasemin Jamison, who stood in the crowd, said that before Trump’s inauguration she was “just a mom and a massage therapist.” Now, the Muslim immigrant from Turkey is one of 650 people who make up the Anne Arundel County Indivisible.
“I don’t remember being in such fear before the Trump,” said Jamison, who suggested her dad skip his annual trip to Turkey this year.
When Castro and Pineda walked out of the building, and it was announced they had been given a reprieve, the crowd cheered. People rushed to hug them.
But even as they expressed relief, there was an acknowledgment that there were still families sitting in the immigration office who didn’t yet know what would happen to them.
“We are celebrating today,” said Richard Morales, the immigration policy director at Pico, an interfaith activist group. “However, we know today people are walking into that office right now, and they aren’t walking out.”
The clergy members who accompanied Castro and Pineda inside the building had already started planning for the next few months. They said they know of seven people in the Washington region who have check-ins coming up.