An undocumented mother of a U.S. Army officer who was deported to Mexico last year after exhausting all legal options to stay in the United States at the time was allowed to return this week, her attorney said.
Rocio Rebollar Gomez stepped into the U.S. on Thursday after lawyers with the immigrant rights group Border Angels filed a petition for her to return under an exemption to a current pandemic-related halt on admitting adult asylum seekers.
Until Thursday, Rebollar Gomez hadn't seen her family since Jan. 2, 2020, when ICE denied her petition to stay in the U.S. through the "Parole in Place" policy, which allows undocumented family members of servicemembers to stay in the country.
It was her final attempt to gain legal status to stay in the U.S.
Prior, she and her lawyer had tried to file a specific type of asylum application to prove there was a reasonable threat to her safety in Mexico (she says her brother was abducted and held for ransom, and never returned). When that failed, she applied for deferred action. That failed, too.
Since her deportation, Rebollar Gomez has been living in an unfamiliar Tijuana, Mexico, and was alone until she met Robert Vivar of the Unified U.S. Deported Veterans Resource Center. He helped connect Gomez with the immigrant rights group, Border Angels.
"Despite all of our pleas, the community behind her, and getting national and international awareness on her case, despite all of the pleas for deferred action, the government deported her," Border Angels attorney Dulce Garcia said.
According to Garcia, Rebollar Gomez had shared "horror" stories about her time in Mexico. And, Garcia thought her experiences would be enough to get Rebollar Gomez into the U.S. under a Title 42 exemption.
Title 42 is a section of an obscure public health law that puts a stop to the asylum process during a public health crisis, like the coronavirus pandemic. It was invoked under the Trump administration and loosened under the Biden administration to allow children and adults under very rare circumstances to be allowed into the U.S. while their asylum claims are being processed.
The application was granted and, on Thursday, Rebollar Gomez was allowed to re-enter the U.S. -- this time legally.
Now, Rebollar Gomez will have to go through the same asylum process that denied her once before, showing up for court when necessary until a judge either grants or denies her the right to stay in the U.S. as an asylee.
Rebollar Garcia has admitted she illegally entered the U.S. on three different occasions since 1988, once while pregnant and wanting to reunite with her two other children who were still in the U.S.
"I had to come back to them; they were here and I couldn't leave them," she tearfully recounted in an interview with Telemundo 20 as she rode to court the day of her deportation.
She settled in San Diego County to give her children what she considers the "American Dream," and had lived here for 31 years -- longer than her lifetime in Mexico -- until her deportation.
During her time in the U.S., she bought a home in Lincoln Park, she paid taxes and she started a business. She held multiple jobs, including cleaning offices, hotels, delivering newspapers, and selling clothes.
She didn't have any run-ins with the law -- other than over her legal status, her attorney said.
The first time she interacted with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was in 1995. She was removed from the country. After that, she would re-enter the country illegally two more times before a lawyer advised her to fix her papers and push to obtain legal status so she could continue working.
In 2018, she was detained by ICE after fighting an order for removal filed in 2009. In March 2019, she was arrested and detained for a month and a half.
ICE told NBC 7 the agency's decision to deport Rebollar Gomez was based on her previous history with the agency, including her past detentions and deportations.
Rebollar Gomez's son, Gibram Cruz, a proud U.S. Army First Lieutenant, thinks the military failed to protect his family by denying her request for deferred action under the "Parole in Place" program.
"I guess, what I’m hoping out of this situation is that some light is shed on the current climate in regards to servicemembers and their families’ immigration status," Cruz said. "My mother’s case is one of many out there for servicemembers who are serving their country here and overseas and still having to deal with the fight of concerning themselves about the safety of their parents’ wellbeing."
On top of applying for asylum, Rebollar Gomez said she plans to file for the same deferred action program that helps family members of military servicemembers defer deportation for periods of two years.