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“Release My Mother”: A Yale Student Fights to Halt Deportation of His Mother with Stage IV Cancer

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Tania Romero, an undocumented mother from Honduras and survivor of stage IV cancer, is fighting to remain in the United States with her four children. Two months ago, Romero was imprisoned by Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the privately owned Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia, interrupting her life-saving medical treatments. In mid-August, Romero was pulled over for a minor traffic infraction and arrested for not having a driver’s license. Tania Romero’s attorney requested a stay of deportation on humanitarian grounds because of her fragile health, but it was denied in September. Her son, Cristian Padilla Romero, is organizing against her deportation, with a petition demanding his mother’s release with over 30,000 signatures. We speak with Cristian Padilla Romero, a Ph.D. student in Latin American history at Yale University and a Honduran immigrant with DACA status.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to the case of Tania Romero, an undocumented mother from Honduras and a recovering Stage IV cancer patient, who is fighting to remain in the United States with her four children. Two months ago, Romero was imprisoned by Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the privately owned Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia after she was pulled over for a minor traffic infraction and arrested for not having a driver’s license. Her arrest and imprisonment interrupted life-saving medical treatment as she recovers from oral cancer. Romero remains locked up at Irwin, an immigration jail notorious for its abuse and medical neglect, where she is awaiting news about her case.

AMY GOODMAN: Tania Romero has lived in Atlanta, Georgia, for 20 years and raised her children there while working as a nanny, eventually a full-time construction worker. A deportation order against her had apparently been outstanding since 2008, but she didn’t learn about it until a decade later, according to her family. This is Tania Romero speaking on a phone call from detention Monday afternoon to her son, Cristian Padilla Romero.

TANIA ROMERO: [translated] My experience here has not been easy. There are a lot of people inside this detention facility, so we don’t get much sleep. I need to see my oncologist, because I am not getting any care here. I need to see him. I had an appointment with the oncologist at the hospital in September, and I have not been able to see him yet.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Tania Romero speaking from the Irwin Detention Center in Georgia. Her attorney requested a stay of deportation on humanitarian grounds because of her fragile health, but it was denied in September. Her son, Cristian Padilla Romero, is not backing down. Padilla Romero, a graduate student at Yale University, has been leading a campaign demanding his mother’s immediate release from detention and for ICE to kill her deportation order. He has a petition on behalf of his mom with nearly 30,000 signatures.

AMY GOODMAN: Cristian is a Ph.D. student in Latin American history at Yale University. He’s a Honduran immigrant protected by the Obama-era DACA — that’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — which grants undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children relief from deportation and a renewable work permit, as well as ability to study. He’s joining us now from New Haven, Connecticut.

Cristian Padilla Romero, welcome to Democracy Now! I’m so sorry under these circumstances. Can you tell us what’s happened to your mother, how did she end up in jail, and what you’re doing to fight to get her out of this for-profit detention facility and prevent her deportation?

CRISTIAN PADILLA ROMERO: First of all, thank you for having me, Amy. I really appreciate you sharing this story.

So, my mother ended up in Irwin Detention Center after being pulled over for a traffic violation. And because she was in a county, Gwinnett County, that works with ICE through the program called 287(g), after our family paid bail, a few hours after, the police department held her on hold for ICE, and the next day she was already on her way to Irwin Detention Center. And since then, our attorney has been fighting to basically get her released so she can see her oncologist, specifically the appointment she had in early September which she missed. So we have no idea where her cancer situation is at the moment in terms of the remission. And so, we started this campaign last week because we are really fearful for her health. And we really want to ask for people’s support to build pressure on ICE to release her while we await the pending motions to the courts.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Now, Cristian, could you tell us something about your family’s journey — you’re from Honduras, but various members came at different times — and where you grew up and how you ended up at Yale?

CRISTIAN PADILLA ROMERO: Yeah. So, I always say that my mother has been, you know, the single biggest reason why I ended up at Yale. My father was the first one to come, then my mother, and then I came along later. I came when I was 7 years old, and have been — I went through the public school system. And I was fortunate enough to have some good mentorship and, you know, a very hard-working mother that worked multiple jobs to make my life easier and make my academic life easier, especially. I was fortunate to —

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you were raised largely in Georgia?

CRISTIAN PADILLA ROMERO: Yes, yes, I’ve lived in Georgia up until — except for a few years, in Georgia, up until college, when I went to school at Pomona College in California, now at Yale University.

AMY GOODMAN: Cristian, you called your mother in detention Monday afternoon and asked what her message is for the community, as well as for President Trump. This was her response.

TANIA ROMERO: [translated] I want to thank all of you for your love and for your prayers. Thank you all for your efforts, for signing the petition and helping anyway you can. What I would tell President Trump is that he should consider my delicate health and for him to give me the opportunity to stay in this country.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you talk about where the case stands now and the community response? I mean, you haven’t stopped organizing. Talk about your work at Yale as a — what’s the new phrase? — “DACAmented” student. how are students responding, professors? And, of course, this is happening around the country. Who are you linking up with?

CRISTIAN PADILLA ROMERO: Yeah. So, the support has been really incredible. I mean, the petition itself was a very collective effort, as well. I’ve had help from peers here in the graduate school, in my cohort. I’ve had help from professors. I’ve had help from different organizers at, you know, national immigration advocacy organizations. And so, you know, I’ve received so many help, and especially since the petition. Just the signatures alone have been amazing, but I’ve also been contacted directly from people who want to help in any single way. We’ve also been able to get support from Congresswoman Lucy McBath’s office in helping them submit an inquiry to ICE regarding my mom’s case. And they’re the ones at the forefront in terms of directly communicating with ICE regarding her situation to see what could be done in her situation.

Like I said, my peers have been really, really, really influential and really key in this organizing effort, because, you know, for example, on Thursday, a lot of my peers organized a phone banking event in one of the buildings here at Yale where they called ICE. You know, about like 90 students, I believe, called ICE over two hours, basically asking them to release my mother. And so, that, among other things, are just an example of the incredible support we’re getting.

My mother has known about this, too. Every time I speak to her, I tell her about the new number of signatures or the people that are helping. And she’s just in awe most of the time, because, you know, we expected support, but this kind of support has just been really amazing, and we’re just really grateful for it.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I wanted to ask you about the continuing problems in Congress in trying to fashion some sort of immigration policy reform. You are obviously protected by DACA, which President Trump has tried to rescind, but the courts have prevented it from doing it so far. But your mother would have been, it seems to me, protected by DAPA, the other policy that President Obama initiated that protected the parents of childhood arrivals, but the courts have basically sided with President Trump on his elimination of DAPA. Your frustration or your sense of what’s going on in Congress, or not going on, in terms of immigration reform?

CRISTIAN PADILLA ROMERO: Yes. I mean, it’s a very unfortunate reality. I mean, as you know, oral arguments will start next month at the Supreme Court over DACA, and we should have a decision by June. And so, it’s a very precarious situation. You know, unfortunately, what’s happening, the effect has been that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of undocumented families have been torn apart. And, you know, many individuals and, as we know, kids are trapped in these detention centers with nowhere — with very little to do. Many people are not receiving the medical care they need or the accommodations they need. And, you know, that’s really one of the basic things that could be at least done on very humanitarian grounds, is address the issue of the separation of families and the long detentions and all these things. And unfortunately, you know, there’s been no political will so far, from Congress especially, to address this issue. And that’s the reality that people like my mom — you know, she’s one of hundreds of thousands of people who are trapped in this situation for very unfortunate reasons.

AMY GOODMAN: In fact, in 2017, the Atlanta-based immigrant rights group Project South, alongside Penn State Law, published a report documenting the abusive conditions at the privately owned Irwin Detention Center, where your mom is currently imprisoned. In response to her case, Project South’s legal and advocacy director Azadeh Shahshahani tweeted about the report’s findings, saying, “Medical care is woefully inadequate. As a result, outbreaks of illnesses like rashes, the flu, and stomach illnesses remain rampant throughout the facility. #ShutDownIrwin #AbolishICE.” The same 2017 report, Project South said, “The lack of adequate access to medical care is alarming. The standard wait time for immigrants at Irwin wanting to visit the medical staff is between two days and two weeks. Once detained immigrants finally meet with medical personnel, their conditions are loosely diagnosed and their complaints are ignored.” As we wrap up, in these last 15 seconds, what do you feel is most important right now, Cristian?

CRISTIAN PADILLA ROMERO: What’s most important is, one, stop my mom’s deportation — you know, ICE has scheduled to deport her — and, two, to release her so she can see her oncologist and get the care that she needs so, you know, her health is not put at a very great risk.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you so much for being with us. We’ll continue to follow the progress of the case.


AMY GOODMAN: Cristian Padilla Romero, Ph.D. student in Latin American history at Yale University. He’s fighting against his mother Tania Romero’s deportation order, demanding her immediate release from detention so she can be treated.

Voters are heading to the polls today. And that’s our next segment. We’re going to look at ranked-choice voting, and we are going to look at, well, innovative approaches to getting more people to vote in these midterm elections. We’ll be speaking with the Colorado secretary of state. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “A Song for Assata” by Common. This month marks the 40th anniversary since Black Panther Assata Shakur’s escape from a prison in New Jersey.

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