The undocumented mother of an Army Officer was ordered Wednesday to self-deport to Mexico in 30 days, after the federal government refused to grant her discretionary protections specifically for relatives of military service members.
Rocio Rebollar Gomez, 50, has lived in San Diego for 31 years. She owns a small business, drives for Uber, has three children, three grandchildren and bought a house two years ago.
Her lawyer, Tessa Cebrara, believes Rebollar Gomez is exactly the type of person this type of protection from deportation was created for.
“This policy was written for people exactly like her,” Cabrera said. “She has no criminal history, she has U.S. citizen children, pays her taxes, she is the model recipient for deferred action.”
Rebollar Gomez’s son, Gibram Cruz, is a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army. He currently serves as an information officer in Arizona.
According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ website, undocumented people who are the spouses, widows, parents, or children of active-duty members of the U.S. armed forces, or military veterans who were not dishonorably discharged, are eligible for deferred action for up to two years.
“We recognize the important sacrifices made by U.S. service members, veterans, enlistees, and their families,” reads a statement on the agency’s website. “To support these individuals, we provide discretionary options such as parole in place or deferred action on a case-by-case basis.”
USCIS spokesperson Steve Blando, via email, said the agency cannot comment on specific cases.
Blando did not immediately respond to a follow up email asking about general reasons relatives of service members are denied this deferred action.
Rebollar Gomez originally applied for deferred action in April 2018, after ICE officers detained her for being in the country illegally. While her request for deferred action with USCIS was pending, ICE put her deportation on hold to wait for the request to be answered.
The family spent more than a year waiting for a reply. Cabrera reached out the USCIS multiple times, even scheduling meetings to inquire about the status, but each time, she was told the application was pending.
“We were always positive that she was going to get it and really puzzled about why it was taking so long,” Cabrera said.
As more time passed, Rebollar Gomez’s family grew more concerned.
“We’ve been on pins and needles throughout the entire process knowing that anything can happen at any moment,” said Karla McKissick Cruz, 34, Rebollar Gomez’s oldest daughter.
McKissick added that the main reason her younger brother joined the military was specifically to protect her mother from deportation.
“He decided to enlist in the military to get assistance and to make sure that our mom was protected,” she said. “Then, while he was almost about to finish his contract, we found out my mom was in trouble. So, for that reason, he reenlisted.”
On Wednesday, inside the federal office building in downtown San Diego, an ICE officer handed Cabrera USCIS’ denial of the deferred action request.
Cabrera disagrees with USCIS’ decision to deny the request.
“It seems like USCIS is blatantly ignoring a military family,” she said.
But, Cabrera did note that the decision is completely discretionary and USCIS is not required to respond one way or another.
On Wednesday, she asked ICE to postpone the deportation in order to give her time to ask USCIS to reconsider. ICE officers gave Rebollar Gomez 30 days to get her affairs in order before leaving the country.
The decision left Rebollar Gomez’s family in a daze.
“I’m so scared for her,” said McKissick. “I don’t even know what we’re going to do.”
Cabrera tried to stay positive, telling the family that the 30-day window gives her a chance to ask USCIS to reconsider their decision not to grant Rebollar Gomez deferred action.
“This isn’t the end,” she told the family. “It’s not a great decision. It’s not what we wanted. But it’s not the end yet.”
Rebollar Gomez is terrified by the thought of going back to Mexico.
She is from the beachside city of Acapulco, which was once a tourist destination but has been overrun with drug cartel violence.
Two years ago, her brother was kidnapped in Acapulco and Rebollar Gomez received multiple extortion calls.
“First they asked for $2,000 and we paid,” she said. “Then they asked for $10,000 and we paid again. We never found him. Not even his body.”
Still, Rebollar Gomez has not given up hope.
The woman runs her own natural products business and drives more than eight hours a day for Uber while simultaneously taking care of her 81-year-old mother. Through hard work, she was able to save enough money for a down payment on a house and credits most of her success to her faith.
“I’m not going to pack because I believe in God and I know that God is going to help me,” she said.
© 2019 The San Diego Union-Tribune
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