EDITORS NOTE: This story was updated on 12/22/2017.
By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Mother of six faces deportation
By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Maria Concepcion Calderon Hernandez said she believes God will help her as she awaits a Jan. 3 preliminary hearing that could lead to her deportation to Mexico. But the undocumented mother has chosen not to tell her six children, knowing that they will be distraught.
Calderon Hernandez, 31, a member of St. Mary Parish, came to the attention of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials after she was arrested Dec. 13 at Von Maur department store in Northpark Mall. She was accused of taking two pairs of children’s pants out of the store without paying for them. All of her children, ages 1-8 were with her. The theft, she claims, was accidental. One of the children inadvertently placed a sweater over the pants, all of which ended up in her bag as she collected her things and headed out of the store, she told The Catholic Messenger through an interpreter. Von Maur officials declined comment, citing company policy.
An affidavit from the Scott County Clerk of District Court states that Calderon Hernandez “concealed the clothes, valued at $50, in the bag. She passed all points of sale without paying for the merchandise and exited the store with the intent to deprive (Von Maur) of their property.”
She was charged with fifth-degree theft and placed on an immigration detainer. She was taken to Scott County Jail and spent the night there. Her husband, Adolfo Nava, a U.S. citizen who works at a plant in Eldridge, was called. He picked up their children and took them home.
Father Guillermo Trevino, who serves at St. Mary’s, was Christmas caroling with some parishioners a short distance from the courthouse when he received an emergency phone call about the arrest of Calderon Hernandez. He raced to the courthouse, but it was closed, so he went to the family’s home.
The next morning, he went to the county jail where he received permission to speak with Calderon Hernandez via video-teleconference. “She was distressed,” Fr. Trevino said. “She was concerned that she was going to be deported. I told her, ‘You have rights. We’re going to be fighting for you, a lot of people. More importantly, trust in God.’”
Calderon Hernandez had previously begun the process to seek citizenship but didn’t continue because of confusion about the expense involved.
In a statement, an ICE official said: “Maria Calderon-Hernandez, an illegally present citizen of Mexico, was arrested by ICE deportation officers Dec. 14 on suspicion of violating U.S. immigration laws, following her local arrest on criminal charges in Davenport, Iowa. ICE released Ms. Calderon later that day on her own recognizance after issuing her a notice to appear before a federal immigration judge.”
Asked for his thoughts, Bishop Thomas Zinkula observed: “It is not a legal requirement that local law enforcement officials turn someone over to ICE, which can lead to that person potentially being deported. We are talking here about a fellow human being who has a baby and other children, and who allegedly committed a simple misdemeanor. This action seems heartless and unnecessary.”
Calderon Hernandez was not released in time to attend a 5 p.m. rally in front of the Scott County Courthouse that aimed to bring attention to the brokenness of the immigration system. Her children and other family members attended the rally, along with dozens of supporters, who were chanting “NICE, not ICE!” Eight-year-old Adolfo said he was sad about what had happened and missed his mom.
Calderon Hernandez “poses no imminent danger to this community,” Margie Mejia-Caraballo of Quad Cities Interfaith told rally supporters. “This kind of inhumane treatment needs to stop!”
In a news release distributed earlier, rally organizers expressed disappointment that the young mother was shown “no flexibility, no consideration of circumstance” and that authorities were “blind to the consequences of policies that rip families apart.”
Rabbi Emeritus Henry Karp said the treatment of the undocumented mother flies in the face of the welcoming community that Quad-City civic leaders promote. It’s not just words, but actions that demonstrate a welcoming community, he noted.
After her release, Calderon Hernandez spoke with The Catholic Messenger at St. Mary’s. “I’m well, but scared,” she said through an interpreter. She arrived in the U.S. at age 16 and has been a member of St. Mary’s for 15 years, where she and her husband were married in 2004. “I don’t have a home in Mexico. Our family, they are all here.”