Courts & Crime

Mexican couple's deportation leaves behind two small children in Lodi, Calif.

LODI — Every day, 2-year-old Kimberly Vrabo peeks around her apartment complex for her mom. If she hears police sirens, she runs inside.

Kimberly's mother, Maria Magdalena Perez-Rivera, got into a fight with her boyfriend, Vicente Tellez, on a Saturday night.

The next morning, Perez-Rivera's sister called Lodi police. Two days later, the undocumented couple were deported to Mexico, leaving behind Kimberly and the couple's 3-month-old son Anthony Tellez.

Their swift removal has shattered the family. And Sacramento's Mexican Consul General Carlos González Gutiérrez and UC Davis Law School Dean Kevin Johnson question whether justice has truly been served.

More people are being deported than ever – 50,000 in Northern California in the last three years, compared to 17,317 from 2001-2003, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Half the deportees have been convicted of crimes.

But the Lodi couple, each charged with felony domestic violence, were never tried or convicted. Perez-Rivera, whose family claims she was beaten repeatedly, was not given the chance to apply for a U.S. visa, which protects crime victims from being deported if they cooperate with law enforcement.

"This deportation scenario is all too common. It illustrates the potential pitfalls of local police cooperating with immigration authorities," said Johnson. "Immigrant women in particular are going to underreport domestic violence, and generally, immigrant communities are going to be less likely to cooperate with police for fear of being deported."

One third of Lodi's 65,394 people are Latinos.

"We do not deport people; we encourage victims and witnesses of crimes to feel free to speak with us," said police spokesman Eric Bradley. "Our interest is in protecting the community."

When the couple were booked into the Lodi jail on felony charges, their fingerprints were sent to ICE under the federal government's partnership with local law enforcement, Operation Secure Communities, designed to identify criminal aliens for possible removal.

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