Immigrant Family Torn Apart in Arizona Raid

Sheriff Arpaio has arrested 248 immigrants in raids allegedly aimed at unlawful hiring, but no employer has been penalized.

PHOENIX, Arizona — Katherine Figueroa was playing outside her home Saturday morning when she overheard the news coming from a nearby TV. The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office had just raided the car wash where her father and mother worked.

She rushed to see her dad’s image on television. His expression looked worried, his hands were tied with plastic cuffs.

Her eyes filled with tears, the 9-year-old made a plea to President Barack Obama to return her parents home in a video produced by Arizona activists and reports on the Univision network.

“I want my parents back, is not fair for me to be alone,” said Katherine who was born in the U.S. and is a U. S. citizen.

Katherine Figueroa saw her father's immigration arrest on TV. (Photo: Valeria Fernández)

Katherine Figueroa saw her father's immigration arrest on TV. (Photos: Valeria Fernández)

Listen to Katherine in an interview with Feet in 2 Worlds:


Although the federal government has announced changes to its policies regarding work-site immigration raids, not much has changed in the Phoenix area, where Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is implementing what critics call “his own brand of law.”

“The message I have for everybody is that we’re going to continue to arrest those that violate the ID theft laws, but also if they’re illegal,” said Arpaio during a press conference outside the car wash on Saturday.

The owner of the Lindstrom Family Auto Wash did not respond to an interview request.

The arrest of 14 workers in the small business in central Phoenix is the seventh raid to take place since Arpaio started enforcing a new state law aimed at cracking down on employers who knowingly hire undocumented labor. Over all, at least 248 workers have been arrested and most of them face identity theft charges for working with fake documents.

But no employer has been penalized. The state law includes suspension of a business license at the first offense and revocation of the license if they are caught again.

The consequences for workers are life changing. Family separation and deportation with a felony on their record are the norm.

On Monday, Katherine’s mother Sandra Figueroa, 33, cried inside the Estrella Jail visitation room, worried about her daughter’s well-being and her own future.

“We were just making a living, we weren’t committing any crimes,” said Figueroa, the only woman arrested during the raid. She had worked at the car wash for nine years, her husband Carlos for eleven.

The morning of the raid she was vacuuming a car when Carlos came rushing to tell her she needed to hide. But deputies had circled the premises and found her shortly after.

“I never thought the sheriff would raid our workplace,” she said, adding officers were rude and constantly yelled at those arrested, almost running a worker over with one of their vehicles.

Figueroa remembers that two days before the sweep, two Hispanic men came with cars that had small stickers from the sheriff’s office.

“Maybe they where coming to investigate,” she said.

Katherine with her grandmother Mercedes Hernández (Photo: Valeria Fernández)

Katherine with her grandmother Mercedes Hernández.

For undocumented relatives of those arrested the raid creates another obstacle because they’re not allowed to visit their detained relatives.

Arpaio’s policies prohibit undocumented people from entering his jails.

The Figueroas’ relatives are desperate and heartbroken.

“They’re catching people like birds in their nest, which are the workplaces. That’s the truth,” said Mercedes Hernández, Katherine’s maternal grandmother.

Hernández, 63, denounced the sheriff’s methods.

“Mr. Arpaio arrives with his weapons and his police and everything. Who can stand against him? Why doesn’t he go where there are shootings?” she said.

“But he doesn’t look for criminals. What he looks for is innocent people.”

Listen to Hernández (in Spanish):


Several other families have been impacted by the raid, and some are left without their sole breadwinner.

“We’re very sad not just for us, but for everybody else that had someone arrested. There’s a woman with a four-month baby. Mr. Arpaio doesn’t stop to think … Who is going to take care of this woman or who is going to help her,” said Griselda, Sandra Figueroa’s sister, who asked that her last name not be published. “What is going to happen to all these families who have been abandoned?”

Griselda is worried about what could happen to her sister while in detention since she’s heard stories in the news about jailers abusing prisoners.

“What worries me is that they’re going to jail, they’re going to take them where there are many criminals and we don’t know what will happen to my sister and brother in law in there. They’re innocent, the only sin they committed is coming to this country to work.”

Listen to Griselda (in Spanish):


“He’s enforcing his own brand of law. … Can’t anyone do anything?” asked Andrés, Griselda’s husband.

Listen to Andrés (in Spanish):


The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office is currently under investigation by the Department of Justice, and reportedly the FBI, for alleged civil rights violations and racial profiling.

As Arpaio vowed to continue cracking down on illegal immigration, human rights activists worried about a wave of laws making their way through the Arizona legislature that could further criminalize undocumented immigrants.

Dan Pochoda, lead attorney of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arizona, said some of the bills might be challenged in court because immigration enforcement is the responsibility of the federal government. Yet the challenges are not always successful, as was the case with the state’s employer sanctions law.

A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision established that immigrant workers can’t be charged with identity theft if they did not knowingly steal the identification number they used to work. But this doesn’t impact Arizona, which has its own identity theft laws, Pochoda said.

Migrants charged with identity theft spend up to three months in detention if they choose to go to trial. Those who plead guilty are later turned over to federal immigration authorities.

Those who are deported with a felony –as would be the Figueroas’ case– don’t have a chance to adjust their immigration status in the future even if an immediate family member is a U.S. citizen.

Inside her aunt’s trailer, Katherine has built a little altar with pictures of her mother and father. She prays and hopes they’ll be released.

“Mom, I love you,” she wrote her in a letter. “I’ll do anything to get you out of there.”

Valeria Fernández is an independent journalist in Arizona.


  1. David

    GOOD for Joe and Good for Arizona. I wish the rest of this country would follow in his footsteps. Instead of Janet Being DHS Joe should have gotten that Job to clean up this Illegal immigrate mess.

    Nebraska is trying but they are slow to move forward hopefully soon and make OMAHA free of illegals.

    We are on your side Joe.


  2. LadyM

    Boo Hoo….Maybe someone should teach this child that this is what happens when you are a criminal. Anyone that breaks the law must realize that there are consequences and that if they’re caught justice should and will be meted out. If her parents had come here legally there wouldn’t have been a problem. However, they chose to break the law so now they and she must pay the price for their criminal behavior.

  3. Jerry

    This is not an Immigrant family, it’s an Illegal Immigrant family. Illegal Immigrant parents puts their children in this postion. The family doesn’t have to be torn apart – send them all back to the parents country of origin.

    Yes the employer needs to be prosecuted and loose his business license for life.

  4. Anonymous 6.17.09

    “We were just making a living, we weren’t committing any crimes,” said Figueroa

    Coming into a nation illegally isn’t a crime? Working illegally isn’t a crime?

    It sounds as if this couple had a nice decade-long run of gaming the U.S. Now they’ve been caught and their criminal, yes, criminal career ended.

    They can take their daughter with them. There is no need for this family to be “torn apart,” even if the parents are both career criminals.

  5. melissa

    When do we begin to blame the parents and not the United States for separation of families. The parents knowingly had children, knowing there would be a risk. I am sure that every illegal alien family has an alternate plan for the care of their children…as in this instance. Playing on our sympathies because families are broken doesn’t faze me, it was all their own doing. You should also know that broken families are the American way. Many American children come from homes where their family has been broken up. Illegal immigration is risky business. Sorry, no longer sympathetic, you have played these stories too many times….

  6. melena29

    Valeria Fernández laments the anchor baby’s predicament as not being any fault of their own. Their predicament, while unfair and unjust, is not the doing of the American people. Illegal immigrants did this to themselves, and should be held responsible for the outcome their deliberate decision to break our laws.

    What makes this so abominable is that these actions were undertaken with cool calculation and with no regard whatsoever for the consequences their children would have to suffer. They did this in droves in order to whip out the race card when we finally took notice. They have their children on American soil because they believe it garners them American citizenship (it doesn’t). They did this the way they did this because when they did it the last time, we let it slide. Shame on us and shame on them!

    To all illegal immigrant criminal offenders, I care as much for what your children will suffer, as you did for my children and grandchildren and what they will have to endure as a result of the devastation you have so callously wrought on my country and my fellow Americans.

    Call me heartless and cruel if you like, I DON’T CARE!!! It doesn’t matter one bit to me what you think. It does, however, matter very much to me what my selfless ancestors think, and what kind of nation I leave to my offspring. I and my fellow Americans are determined that it be better for our descendants when we hand it over than it was for us when we inherited it from our ancestors. That is the American way.

    So you’ll all have to go back where you came from and do the honorable thing you should have done in the first place, which is to make things right in your own country for the sake of yourselves and your fellow (fill in the blank) citizens. Sounds daunting, doesn’t it? It will take a hell of a lot of hard work, but then again you’re such hard workers, aren’t you?

    No go home and build your own nation. As for what you’ve done here, I and mine have had just about enough!

  7. Stephani

    ““He’s enforcing his own brand of law. … Can’t anyone do anything?” asked Andrés, Griselda’s husband.”

    No, Sheriff Joe is enforcing US federal laws regarding illegal aliens. We have laws here in the US. If you break them – and these illegal aliens did – and you’re caught, there are consequences. The only blame lies squarely on the shoulders of those who knowingly cross the border illegally.

    I have one question. Why play upon American citizen sympathy? Why don’t these people ask for and receive help from the organizations who encourage their law breaking ways? I’m sure the Catholic churches, LARAZA, LULAC and such will surely put their money where their mouths are and help these fine people pay their rent, buy their food, gas their cars, etc.

    What’s that you say? They don’t help out this way. Well, shame on you and shame on them for taking advantage of America.

  8. Dave-co

    Oh BOOO HOOO, another sick story twisting the truth. This illegal alien claims they are breaking no laws but is told to HIDE??? I have no reason to hide ever. They got exactly what they deserved. It should be a felony for illegal aliens to have children in the USA. I feel no sympathy for these ILLEGAL ALIEN invaders from the south. DEPORT THEM and put the girl in the foster care system if they dont want to take her

  9. Delaware Bob

    It’s just one thing after another with these ILLEGAL ALIENS. If the ILLEGAL ALIENS would just go back to their own country where they belong, ALL the problems would go away. I sick and tired of theses ILLEGAL ALIENS snubbing their nose at our laws, demonstrating on our soil and demanding AMNESTY. Who do these people think they are? Yes, Who? ILLEGAL ALIENS have no right to be in this Country, no rights at all!

    They are making American a dumping ground for all their ILLEGAL ALIEN children, that the American taxpayers pay for, then we have to school them, give them medical care and the list goes on and on. This has got to stop!

    I think Joe Arpiao is doing a fantastic job! We need more like Joe. If the ILLEGAL ALIENS are tied of it, GET OUT!

  10. Bowman

    Katherine should have been deported along with her parents, since her Citizenship was Unconstitutionally granted.

    The 14th Amendment authors specifically said it did not apply to “foreigners, aliens, those not subject to the complete jurisdiction of the USA”. But our corrupted Federal politicians has decided to grant birthright citizenship to illegal alien babies anyway, for the same reason they won’t enforce the immigration laws, because they want a more compliant and easily fooled citizenry. Low IQ illegal aliens fit the bill.

  11. Anonymous 6.17.09

    If only our local, state, and federal government had any concern for citizens — but the politicians think they can buy the anchor baby voting block for the future by giving amnesty to illegal aliens who have spawned on U.S. soil.

    “Mexican baby waving” sums these “what about the kids” stories perfectly.

  12. Shasta

    Susan, if their children are American, we can’t send them BACK anywhere.

    And Dave-co, they certainly shouldn’t be put into the already underfunded and broken foster care system.

    Arpaio needs to focus energy on violent and dangerous criminals as opposed to working family members.

    How ridiculous that we’re so obsessed with deporting people that we’re raiding CAR WASHES of all places! WHAT A WASTE OF TAXPAYER MONEY.

  13. Barbara

    I would like to put in my 2 cents worth. All illegal aliens children born in the US are legal citizens of Mexico if at least one parent is a citizen of that country. All they have to do when leaving the US is stop at any Mexican consulate show the US birth certificate fill out a form and they are free to go across the border. So this hogwash about having to leave the kids behind because they are US citizens is just gaming the system, “hogwash again”.

  14. Anonymous

    Shasta — If the kids are American citizens, there’s no law that says their parents can’t take them back to the country where the parents are legal residents. They can all be together and no one “torn apart.”

    We’ll just have to give more funding to the foster care system. I prefer that to having illegal aliens come here to steal a better life, which is what these parents were doing. What happens to American children whose parents commit other crimes, such as burglary or embezzlement? These anchor/jackpot kids should be treated exactly the same.

    Arpaio is concentrating on criminals — and illegal aliens are criminals. Just because they haven’t stolen your job, Shasta, or depressed wages in your work sector doesn’t mean that they aren’t waging economic violence on America. They come here to STEAL a better life.

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  16. Margaret

    Undocumented immigrants do not come here with the intention to commit a civil (because illegal immigration is not criminal) infraction. They come here to provide for their families. I hope that all of you with such hateful comments above me can take a moment to imagine how difficult it must be to leave your home because you cannot support yourself, or your parents, or your children. Undocumented immigrants working in the U.S. are here to provide for their families, and whether you realize it or not, they provide for all of us with their hard work and presence in our communities.

  17. c. smith

    It all makes me so sad… because Sheriff Joe is such a media clown everyone is eager to denounce him, tell me, in his job as Sheriff, what is it that he has done wrong? We have so many problems due to the economy that might be addressed if we corrected the illegal immigration problem. Our welfare system is a money sucking vacuum, one of the reasons is because I can’t work at a low paying car wash and take care if my family. Welfare/sosial services won’t help me stating I make too much. However, illegal immigrants are given full welfare benefits for their children (Katherine) and their family of three. Because they are illegal they can’t work. So they use your identity to to work and cause you problems, have the low paid job and get monthly welfare checks, food stamps and health care, grates. When her parents get deported her (illegal) grandmother will con’t. to get the welfare while mom and dad sneak back across the border.

  18. jrg

    The parents broke the law and now the family is going to be separated. Funny how you never see these sob stories when an American family is separated because a parent broke the law and is sent to prison. And by the way, maybe a couple of Americans can use those jobs to help feed their families.

  19. c.smith

    Illegally entering the USA is a criminal act and it is a minor violation in our legal system. However the other crimes that often accompany it are much more serious. Such as identity theft is a felony. When your SSN is used to get a job and get loans etc. you have problems for years trying to correct things with the IRS and creditors. People in Arizona are having problems because of it. Low wage paying employers are having to stop paying minimum wage and start offering benefits and this is a problem for them because this year they won’t be able to buy a new Escalade they have to keep their 2 year old model!

    If we attempted to legalize the illegals they wouldn’t comply because just like us they would have a hard time surviving in this economy.

    For the most part they don’t want the legal status, they just want the Not deported status.

  20. kathy

    Car wash …. these were the jobs that young Americans took as their fisrt jobs the job that taught them what hard work and responsibility means they would then work hard to advance themselves and create a work history. But now those jobs are unavailable to them because it is easier to violate federal labor laws when you hire people that can’t/won’t complain.

  21. note2self

    This is such a sad story. But its a reality that these families live with everyday. So many of these people come here to provide a better life for their families, only to be stereotyped by racists with their own agenda.

    I am so happy that this country is finally moving towards reforming our immigration laws and providing a pathway for citizenship for these undocumented immigrants.

    I hope Katerine’s parents are released soon.

  22. Anonymous

    Margaret — Poor illegal aliens. They leave their families and come here to steal work and services. Then they birth a lot of kids, get arrested by ICE, and are deported. The bright side of it is they can take the kids with them.

    Most criminals only get to see the kids on visiting day at the jails. Illegal alien work thieves can take them along and see them all day every day.

  23. rogerg

    Margaret Says,

    “Undocumented immigrants do not come here with the intention to commit a civil (because illegal immigration is not criminal) infraction.”

    “Undocumented immigrants”? Most have more “documents” then citizens. Nope, the name doesn’t work. It’s illegal aliens alright. Here is the law;

    Under Title 8 Section 1325 of the U.S. Code, “Improper Entry by Alien,” any citizen of any country other than the United States who:

    Enters or attempts to enter the United States at any time or place other than as designated by immigration officers; or Eludes examination or inspection by immigration officers; or Attempts to enter or obtains entry to the United States by a willfully false or misleading representation or the willful concealment of a material fact; has committed a federal crime.

    Violations are punishable by criminal fines and imprisonment for up to six months. Repeat offenses can bring up to two years in prison. Additional civil fines may be imposed at the discretion of immigration judges, but civil fines do not negate the criminal sanctions or nature of the offense.

  24. Kathy

    I am not a racist! I am an American, and darn proud of it. When will you unbelievably idiotic people learn something about the real world? You hear stories such as this and you cry for the little girl and her family, then you preach immigration reform… Do you even know what the current laws are? The laws are perfect as is the only problem is citizens of other countries do not want to abide by them. We have just as much trouble from the Candians and Europians but, these aren’t put out there because they can’t get you “enlightened” Americans on their side. Whereas, they can play the race card with the Mexicans and you say “Oh, my”.

    Hopefully, one day soon we will all be able to look at this issue and see the facts not the made up drama.

    And Yes, citizens of Mexico can come to America legally.

  25. andreabeth

    “How ridiculous that we’re so obsessed with deporting people that we’re raiding CAR WASHES of all places! WHAT A WASTE OF TAXPAYER MONEY.”

    No Shasta. Rounding up and deporting illegal aliens is an excellent use of taxpayer money. If these two are allowed to remain in the US, who knows how many more anchor babies they will have (that the US taxpayer is then obligated to support) and how many of their equally uneducated family members they will drag over in the future. Each illegal deported saves us TONS of money.

  26. Gloria López

    Just about all of these comments show how ignorant some people are… Let me help you out…

    A higher percentage of undocumented immigrants come to the US with a work/school visa therefore building your wall will do NOTHING to stop immigration. If anything it will probably give undocumented immigrants a job… Building said wall.

    Children born with in the US are rightfully American citizens. This is how it works. No one is dumping ‘illegal aliens’ here. They are children, not aliens and they deserve to be here just as much as you. I haven’t heard of a single person complaining when these supposed ‘illegal alien children’ are in Iraq fighting for EVERYBODYS freedom.

    Another fun fact for ya…. The undocumented immigrants bring in 3 billion dollar a year to the US. This is the amount AFTER deducting healthcare/governments programs expenses that these undocumented immigrants utilize. And this is not including the money they are charged every time they send back money to their home countries.

  27. charles goede

    My father and mother immigrated to the United States back in the 1950’s. They came from Germany and did it legally having a sponsor and all the proper medical checks and everything else that went along with immigration at the time. When I talk to my dad about things now he can certainly understand why people still come to this country but he feels that anyone who comes here illegally is committing an injustice to the folks who follow the rules and isn’t the rule of law one of the greatest reasons for this country after all?

  28. K

    The problem as I see it is very simple.


    Take all other pots off the stove. There are racist people here in the USA. But this is not a race issue. Illegal Aliens come from England, Japan, Norway, Egypt and everywhere else in this world. We do not discriminate we have one set of laws that apply to all (except for Cuba, hey aren’t they hispanc).

    So now I ask you… If I go to Mexico do I have to abide by Mexican law or can I do minor violations and not expect to be punished and then deported?

  29. bill

    do some objective research, these people are not making us rich. 81% are from MExico and Latin countries. Most withought high school educations. These studies that show these people are giving billions don’t take into account some HUGE costs.

    300,000 babies born each year, average cost over $9,000. These kids are instant citizens thanks to 14th amendment loophole. These kids can get welfare for them and family. These costs are not in the analysis and are HUGE. Also not in these analysis are all the immigrants who get fakes social security numbers and then apply for welfare. There are 800,000 people on food stamps in AZ. Want some more, remittances hurt our economy, $70 billion leaves a year in remittances to Latin America. Education costs do not count for legal citizens born to illegal parents. In az there are 65,000 known illegal kids in schol. Though 150,000 ESL students ($500 extra per kid). Plus food and healthcare (medicaid) not being calculated. This also helps us keep our dead last ranking in states k-12 education.

    Illegal immigrants are a large drain not only on our economy, locally and nationally, but also on our communities and societies. If you have bleeding hearts fix the problem – MEXICO

    If people want to make signs and protest anyone, protest the beloved MEXICO. The corrupt country needs to take care of its own people. Spend your time and your wasted breath trying to fix Mexico, the United States is only made worse and more Mexico like with these people that Mexico rejects.

  30. lando

    First stop blaming the worker!! Blame the employer who knowingly hired an undocumented worker because he/she could do so for cheap! It is simple. Do not hire undocumented workers, the law allows for a Soc. Sec. number to be “run” to make sure it is valid!!!

    Employers choose to ingore this.

    !!!! No work in the USA for the undocumented, no migration of undocumented workers !!!! SIMPLE SIMPLE SIMPLE….

  31. flimmigrant

    All of you rabid nativists forget that your relatives ALSO came here with nothing–when the borders were open. That is the only difference between you and the people you dehumanize. This hate speech needs to stop, because there are just and unjust laws. At least according to American hero Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Get the facts here about immigration and the economy:

  32. Zee

    I am Iranian as I sit here worried about my family in Iran, some have made it here to this wonderful land, we are safe. the others are waiting and hope to have paper soon so they too can come. In Mexico you do not worry every minute for your safety..

    What is wrong with wating so you can be free and be here the legal way?

  33. Shasta

    ‘“Undocumented immigrants”? Most have more “documents” then citizens. Nope, the name doesn’t work. It’s illegal aliens alright.’

    Human beings can not be ‘illegal’. That is an incorrect adjective to describe a human, and the laws that use this terminology should be rewritten.

    “do some objective research, these people are not making us rich.”

    I sincerely hope this was not a serious statement. I also sincerely hope that the United States has better goals than ‘getting rich’.

    But that IS what this is all about. Nobody actually cares about safety and their children’s or anyone else’s children’s well-being. It’s all about ME ME ME and MY belongings and MY property here in Arizona. Get out of MY bubble of ignorance.

  34. Nellie

    Entering the US illegally or overstaying a visa is not a crime, it’s a civil violation. It is grossly inaccurate to refer to undocumented immigrants ans criminals. And the child herself certainly did not break the law.

  35. Rox

    How can you say that? what would this country do without mexican immigrants?? nothing!!

    They are not criminals. So a person who murdered someone is the same as an illegal immigrant? I think not.

  36. Sanity

    A lesson on semantics….

    Speeding is a civil infraction of our laws. Since soo many good people violate the speed limit lets trash these laws. Speeders are NOT criminals, they are not the same as murderers. Most are speeding to get to their job site so they can feed their family (true if they really cared about their family they would leave early enough so they could drive the legal speed limit). When there is an accident caused by a speeder on his way to work and he seriously injures the other party he will not face any charges or be held resposible because we legalized his civil diobedeance. He may go home to his family.

    Most people that spout immigration reform will comment how stupid I am, this is not the same thing… well, yes it is whether I leave for work 15 minutes earlier for work or I wait a year to cross the border either way I could then be in legal compliance.

  37. Anonymous

    Lando — I blame the worker and the employer. Both are criminals.

    Gloria Lopez — Educate me, please. Give me a source for your figure that illegal alien work and service thieves bring $3 billion a year INTO the U.S.? I’m think they must be arriving with truckloads of monopoly money — prove me wrong.

  38. JAMIE

    First off these is about the child not even the parents the child did not ask to be born here in the USA some children are brought here from 2 months old they did not ask for this as well.

    Yes they are immigrants but what about the rest of us?

    This country was made from immigrants unless your a native indian then you are also in immigrant so we should all go back then?

    Why did our ancestors come here?

    To get a better life because they couldnt at their birth place thats what this people are doing.

    I dont believe is a sympathy card , How would you feel if you were 9yrs old without your parents.

    Main point we are all immigrants

    Irish,Spanierds,chinesse,scottish,european,russians,italians,african americans, australians, Umm hello people then why dont we just all get the hell out of here and give this land back to the natives?

    About the citizenship then you shouldnt have it either sense your ancestors where not origianally from here..

    This great country America is and will always be base on immigration.


    The day all the immigrants leave, is the day that this country will fall apart.

    Notice as soon as they started to deport so many this country went under a crisis.

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