Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Don't deport the 'tamale lady'

By Ruben Navarrette Jr., CNN Contributor
August 2, 2012 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Juana Reyes, a mother of two, faces possible deportation after an arrest for trespassing.
Juana Reyes, a mother of two, faces possible deportation after an arrest for trespassing.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Juana Reyes was arrested after selling tamales near a Wal-Mart store in Sacramento
  • Ruben Navarrette says her potential deportation is a case study of policy gone wrong
  • He says Obama adminstration has used mass deportations as a tool to gain support
  • Navarrette: Administration should do as it says, focus on deporting hardened criminals

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette.

San Diego, California (CNN) -- Juana Reyes didn't think that selling chicken, pork and chili cheese tamales would buy her a one-way ticket out of the country. But it just might.

Reyes is a Sacramento, California, woman who the media is calling "the tamale lady." A 46-year-old single mother of two and illegal immigrant, Reyes faces deportation by the Obama administration.

So what's the problem? Aren't illegal immigrants supposed to be deported?

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

Sure. But there are rules to the game, and the administration keeps breaking them. This case undermines the claim that the immigration crackdown is targeting hardened criminals.

Reyes' trouble started on June 28 when she was arrested outside a Walmart by Sacramento County Sheriff's deputies and charged with trespassing and interfering with a business.

What exactly was the interference? Reyes is unemployed. She was selling tamales so she could buy food and clothes for her two children -- 10-year-old Cesar and 7-year-old Montserrat, both of whom were born in the United States.

News: Young immigrants prepare for new U.S. deportation policy

Think about it. This woman wasn't holding a handmade sign that read: "Will work for food." She was working by making food and selling it.

Mixed messages on immigration?
Obama plans to relax deportation policy
'Deportation a humanitarian crisis'

Reyes says that she was a familiar presence in the parking lot, and that her customers included Walmart employees. On this day, she was asked to leave, by a security guard and a sheriff's deputy. She did leave, but she returned when she saw other vendors outside the store. She was arrested.

Suspecting Reyes was in the country illegally, the sheriff's deputies handcuffed the mother and placed her children in a squad car and drove them to the sheriff's station. Then they called Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which put a "hold" on her that resulted in her being locked up in the county jail for nearly two weeks without a lawyer. When ICE agents finally visited the jail, they determined she was in fact in the country illegally and took her into custody and put her children in foster care while she was being detained. Now Reyes is awaiting deportation.

Really? Handcuffing her for trespassing? Holding a woman for nearly two weeks without a lawyer? What were these people thinking?

News: Breaking down the Supreme Court decision on Arizona's immigration law

All for selling tamales. Some will insist that Reyes is actually being punished for coming into the United States illegally. But this woman only came to the attention of federal authorities because local law enforcement officers arrested her for an infraction that would have normally resulted in a slap on the wrist. And the reason that she was arrested was because she was selling tamales.

Judging from media reports, some people in Sacramento agree that the feds are overdoing it, and say that local cops ought not be accomplices. But, for many others, the conversation stopped when they heard Reyes was living in the country illegally -- perhaps for as long as 20 years. They think she got what she deserved.

What kind of immigration policy does America deserve? The presidential candidates offer a choice: Hands off, or all thumbs.

Democrats mock Mitt Romney's claim that, if jobs dry up, illegal immigrants will "self deport" and take their children with them.

The Obama administration likes to give the impression that it has a more humane approach. Instead of illegal immigrants voluntarily taking their children to their home countries with them, the kids are seized by authorities and given to other people through the foster care system.

When it comes to immigration, Obama is a bully. He's trying to build support with conservatives and organized labor by deporting as many illegal immigrants as possible, nearly 1.5 million since taking office.

The administration accomplished this feat by arm-twisting localities and states into participating in a dreadful program called Secure Communities. It requires that local law enforcement submit to federal authorities the fingerprints of people they arrest who they suspect are in the country illegally.

Navarrette: 'Illegal immigrant' is the uncomfortable truth

Guess whom those local cops, many of whom have no training in the enforcement of immigration law, often suspect? Latinos. That's ethnic profiling. In fact, last year, a report by U.C. Berkeley's Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy confirmed that Secure Communities disproportionately targets Latinos.

The law enforcement partnership was initially marketed as voluntary -- until states like New York and Massachusetts tried to opt out, and then suddenly it became mandatory. It was also supposed to concentrate only on violent criminals -- until we learned that it also ensnared scores of folks without criminal records such as gardeners, housekeepers, nannies, traffic violators -- and yes, tamale vendors.

Recently, a group of three national immigration advocacy groups claimed to have found evidence that, in California, Secure Communities isn't just reserved for violent criminals. Under the Freedom of Information Act, the groups obtained e-mails between the FBI and the state of California that allegedly show that the program has resulted in the deportation of people who have never been arrested.

Navarrette: How Arizona law hurts Hispanic citizens

This being an election year, President Obama is trying to downplay the deportations and convince Latino voters that his administration has become more lenient. In June, Obama himself announced what was billed as a major policy change at the Department of Homeland Security where so-called DREAM'ers who met certain qualifications would be spared deportation and issued work permits. To qualify, candidates had to be under age 31, have come to the United States before age 16, have lived here for at least five years, have no criminal record, and either be in school, a high school graduate, or a military veteran.

Reyes doesn't meet all those qualifications.

Obama's Latino defenders buy the line that this is a kinder and gentler administration. They'll buy anything to keep from admitting that they made a mistake in 2008 and helped put in office the most anti-immigrant president in a half century.

Navarrette: For immigrants and opponents, court's ruling hits their real lives

But on the ground, in immigrant communities, they know better. They know that it is business as usual. And they can point to the miscarriages of justice that prove it.

Just ask the tamale lady.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1338 GMT (2138 HKT)
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1127 GMT (1927 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1356 GMT (2156 HKT)
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 2015 GMT (0415 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1535 GMT (2335 HKT)
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1227 GMT (2027 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1157 GMT (1957 HKT)
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
July 19, 2014 -- Updated 0150 GMT (0950 HKT)
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1755 GMT (0155 HKT)
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1953 GMT (0353 HKT)
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1933 GMT (0333 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1011 GMT (1811 HKT)
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1214 GMT (2014 HKT)
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 2016 GMT (0416 HKT)
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1729 GMT (0129 HKT)
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1804 GMT (0204 HKT)
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1518 GMT (2318 HKT)
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 0124 GMT (0924 HKT)
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT