Raymond Torres breathes a sigh of relief.
After nearly two weeks in an immigration detention center — where, his attorney said, he was “mistreated and abused” and twice required medical attention for dehydration — the 30-year-old Sylmar resident is back at home with his family after posting bail.
“I feel great, happy that I’m with my kids and back to coaching,” said Torres, who serves as a volunteer youth football coach of the South Valley Raiders at El Cariso Park.
Those two weeks in detention were “horrible,” he says.
“We were just in this big stress box. No medical, bad food,” Torres said. “There were 180 people in one room with three showers.”
During those days, all he could think about was his fiancé, Araceli, and his two kids, ages 3 and 7.
“I’m very scared. I’ve never been in Mexico,” Torres told the media. “I have no family there in Mexico. That would be like throwing me to the trash and becoming homeless.”
The Beginning of the Nightmare
Torres was brought to the US by his grandmother when he was two-years-old. He’s never been to his native Mexico. All his family lives in the San Fernando Valley and he has trouble speaking Spanish.
On the morning of January 11, a few minutes after dropping off his son at Fenton Elementary School in Lakeview Terrace, he said three unmarked vehicles followed him and blocked him in.
About six men got out of the cars and quickly started asking him questions as he looked at them perplexed.
“Are you drug dealing? Are you armed? Are you a gang banger?” were the questions the men asked him. They were dressed in plain clothes and only identified themselves as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents after putting him in handcuffs, Torres said.
“I was asking who they were,” he recalled.
After being detained, he continued asking them questions.
“I was asking them for a warrant,” Torres added. They didn’t have one.
The ICE agents had apparently been trailing him since he left home that morning.
ICE spokeswoman Lori Haley said Torres was targeted for arrest by deportation officers with ICE’s Los Angeles-based fugitive operations team. All ICE arrests are “targeted” and never “random,” Haley said.
“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement cont-inues to focus its enforcement resources on individuals who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security,” Haley said in an official statement. “However, as ICE Deputy Director Thomas Homan has made clear, ICE does not exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement. All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States.”
Torres was first taken to a detention center in Camarillo, then transferred to a downtown Los Angeles detention center before being transferred again to the Theo Lacey facility in the City of Orange, in Orange County.
He says he was repeatedly pressured to sign papers that would have meant immediate deportation, but he refused to sign them.
He was released on Friday, Jan. 26, after an immigration judge granted him a $15,000 bail.
That release can still be appealed, which worries Torres’ lawyer Erika Roman Maury.
“It didn’t used to be so common,” Roman Maury said of those appeals. “But with this new government, most trial attorneys are very eager to reserve appeals. It’s something you’re not expecting.”
She adds that ICE agents should never have pulled Torres over without a warrant, and she now wants the case against him thrown out.
“The manner in which he was detained was illegal,” Roman Maury notes. “They (ICE agents) had no cause to pull him over.”
In fact, she says, the detention report doesn’t specify how he was detained, which — to her — points to the fact that the federal agents are “cheating the system.” She stresses that ICE agents can’t stop someone driving on the street without cause.
Roman Maury adds that she’s working on filing a lawsuit in conjunction with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) challenging these detentions, which are happening more and more.
“ICE is pulling people over who happen to be Hispanic,” she argues.
“They act like bullies. It’s Gestapo-like tactics.”
She says they don’t know why ICE targeted Torres for detention. She hypothesizes it’s because Torres has an AB60 driver’s license, documents approved in California for undocumented immigrants, which have a distinct, different look from a regular driver’s license.
Torres was told he was arrested because of his criminal record.
Haley said in the ICE statement that Torres had a “criminal history” that included a DUI and felony narcotics possession.
But Roman Maury said Torres says those were misdemeanors and not felonies. She adds that Torres took care of those years ago and is now a law-abiding, citizen.
She points to Torres’ work with kids.
“Other parents trust him with his kids. He doesn’t fit with ICE high priority target list,” Roman Maury said.
Back to His Home
Torres is now trying to return to his regular life.
He’s heading back to coaching this week. At a get together Monday night, Jan. 29, he says parents and players welcomed him with open arms.
“They hugged me. They know who I really am. It’s a big bond I have with these kids. I’m like their big brother,” he said.
The Monroe High School graduate is also trying to get back to work as a manager at a solar panel company in Chatsworth.
“They told me to go back in and do some paperwork,” he said of his employment. “They reserved my spot. They know I’m a good worker. I never failed them in five years.”
The uncertainty around his detention weighed heavily on his kids, he said.
“My son was going through a lot of stress at home. My daughter was at the window asking when I was going to come back,” Torres said.
He was also having anxiety about the prospect of being deported to a country he doesn’t know.
He admits he’s still worried.
“I’m in God’s hands, trying to stay positive,” Torres said.