Henderson County is the lone sheriff’s department in Western North Carolina that participates in the federal 287(g) program. That agreement allowed for a 25-year-old Hendersonville man to be deported after he was arrested last month, following a traffic stop.
On the morning of Jan. 28, Hendersonville Police arrested Roman Ruiz Perez on charges of driving with a revoked license and reckless driving. He was on his way to his restaurant job, four miles from home.
His wife Andrea Santos Lopez woke up with nausea and stomach pain, which she says had her husband running late that morning -- making breakfast and taking care of their two-year-old daughter Luisa.
"Because he didn't want to be late for work, that's why he was speeding," Santos Lopez said.
Five minutes after he left the house, Santos Lopez says, she received a phone call from his brother-in-law, who was in the car when Ruiz Perez was pulled over. That’s how she found out her husband had been arrested for speeding.
"I didn’t know what to do because I don’t know anyone here. I don’t know this country. I felt so alone," Santos Lopez said.
The police report says he was going 58 in a 35 mile per hour zone, near Laurel Park. Henderson County Sheriff Lowell Griffin says he should have been more cautious.
“We have a lot of Latino folks and a lot that are undocumented in this county," Griffin said. "We have absolutely no reason to have any kind of negative interaction without probable cause to detain them.”
Sheriff Griffin’s department participates in a voluntary agreement with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, called 287(g). It allows for officers in the county jail to work with ICE agents to remove an inmate suspected to be in the country illegally. Sheriff Griffin says ICE picked up Ruiz Perez from the county jail less than two days later.
“Look, the easiest way to keep us from looking into somebody’s background is don’t go to jail. Don’t do anything to draw attention to yourself,” Griffin said.
The Sheriff says Ruiz Perez had already previously been deported. ICE did not comply with BPR's continued requests seeking documentation.
Santos Lopez and their daughter came to the US just four months ago to be reunited with her husband. But now he’s back in Mexico. Santos Lopez faces a difficult choice.
Five days after Ruiz Perez was arrested, Santos Lopez says her stomach pain continued. She took a pregnancy test.
"That’s why I felt sick, I was nauseous because of the pregnancy. But when I worry about my husband, I also feel sick again, for that reason," Santos Lopez said.
She’s now three months pregnant. She can’t drive, and she doesn’t have a source of income. Spanish is her second language. She and Ruiz Perez are from San Juan Chamula -- small town in the state of Chiapas, where the Tztoztil is the dominant language spoken.
On Mon., ICE officials dropped off Roman Ruiz Perez in the border town of Reynosa. He tells BPR he’s in a migrant shelter, about a thousand miles away from his hometown in Chiapas.