WEST VALLEY CITY — Adrian Juarez hasn't seen his mother since April 28 when she was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
Since then, the 10-year-old has been the subject of much compassion from multiple groups who have said the potential deportation of the boy's mother, Silvia Avelar-Flores, is "immoral" and represents a federal effort to "terrorize" immigrant communities.
But Adrian is most concerned for his youngest sister, 2-year-old Ariana.
"She's been asking for (her mom) the whole time," the boy told the Deseret News. "My dad says she's at work. (Ariana) struggles at night. She always sleeps with my mom."
Avelar-Flores, 31, was taken into custody by ICE agents while buying supplies for a birthday party with her 8-year-old daughter, Jazira, according to Mormon Women for Ethical Government.
On Wednesday morning, members of the advocacy group and dozens of others from Salt Lake Indivisible and Action Utah joined Avelar-Flores' husband, Carlos Juarez, to argue for her release at a rally outside the ICE field office in West Valley City.
Juarez told reporters he is doing his best to keep his devastated family afloat, but he's "running out of excuses" to give Ariana, who doesn't understand what happened to her mother.
"She's like, 'Is mommy coming? Is mommy coming?'" he said.
'Final orders of removal'
Juarez said he was called by ICE and informed he needed to pick up Jazira, who was with her mother at the time of the arrest. He was initially kept in the dark about where his wife was, he said, before eventually finding out she had been taken to the Cache County Jail.
ICE spokesman Carl Rusnok said Wednesday that Avelar-Flores "has been under final orders of removal for about 20 years."
Rusnok said in a statement sent to the Deseret News that Avelar-Flores first came to the United States in April 1993. She would have been 7 years old at the time.
Avelar-Flores was in the U.S. legally "as a visitor for pleasure" but was required to leave within six months, which never happened, Rusnok said.
In December 1995, when Avelar-Flores was 10 years old, she was ordered to leave the country voluntarily before the end of March 1996 or be removed by authorities, according to the spokesman.
Based on those "final orders of removal," pending for more than two decades, ICE agents arrested Avelar-Flores, Rusnok said. She's being held in custody "pending her removal to Mexico," he said.
Juarez, a legal U.S. citizen, claims immigration authorities deported his wife's parents several years ago and assured Avelar-Flores at the time that they would not go after her for deportation.
Avelar-Flores has also been aggressively pursuing becoming a legal citizen and was hoping to gain that status by the end of this year, her husband said.
"I guess that's not enough for ICE," Juarez said.
Rusnok declined to respond to those claims.
A search of state court records shows Avelar-Flores' criminal history in Utah is limited to vehicle and driver's license offenses, and a city ordinance violation. None of her convictions rise above the level of class C misdemeanor.
Searches for Avelar-Flores' name in a federal court database yielded no cases.
Rusnok said Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly "has made clear ICE will no longer exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement."
"All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention, and if found removable by final order, removal from the United States," he said.
"It is important to note, however, that the removal of noncriminal aliens is nothing new," Rusnok said, noting that over the past five years, "about 41 to 45 percent of total removals had no prior criminal convictions."
Action Utah, a nonpartisan advocacy group that promotes government accountability, told supporters that Avelar-Flores may have missed a hearing in immigration court shortly before being arrested.
"(She) was told that she had been detained for missing a meeting with immigration officials scheduled for three days prior to her detention," the organization said in a statement on its website. "However, (Avelar-Flores) and her husband had received no notice of such a meeting by phone, mail or email, and ICE officials have shown them no proof that such a meeting was scheduled."
An attorney on Avelar-Flores' case could not immediately be reached for clarification about that hearing. Rusnok didn't immediately respond to a request for more information about such a hearing.
Meanwhile, Juarez is grappling with his wife's sudden absence from his family's life and praying for a miracle.
"My wife is a nice person. I've just been praying she can come back to us," he said, stopping at one point in his remarks to the crowd to dry his eyes. "We've never been this separated."
Juarez and Avelar-Flores have been together since they were sweethearts at Kearns High School, he said.
A rally sign held by 10-year-old Adrian, which appeared to be written by a child, simply said, "Stop taking my mom. Stop."
Abigail Tapia, 15, spoke about Avelar-Flores, her aunt, "always being there for me since I was young." Describing her aunt to the gathered crowd eventually became too much as she broke down and wept quietly into her hands.
"She doesn't deserve this," Abigail said. "I don't believe anyone deserves to be separated from their families."
About 50 people were gathered outside the ICE field office in support of Avelar-Flores on Wednesday, where Sharlee Glenn, president of Mormon Women for Ethical Government, said the woman's deportation "flies in the face of the values we hold most dear."
"We recognize the ever-present need of strengthening families," Glenn said. "Families are meant to be together."
She called on those present to condemn the deportation and others like it, and to throw their support behind Avelar-Flores' family.
"We will mourn with those who mourn, comfort those who need comfort and bear the burdens of our fellow men and women," Glenn said.
Last month, Mormon Woman for Ethical Government joined Salt Lake Indivisible, a group that focuses on opposing the policies of the Trump administration, to call for a deportation stay for a Draper mother who is also an undocumented immigrant. They were ultimately unsuccessful in getting the stay.
Judi Hilman, an organizer for Salt Lake Indivisible, urged those gathered Wednesday to put pressure on their West Valley leaders to make sure police do not allow themselves to be deputized by ICE in performing immigration enforcement.
Hilman also said the deportation of undocumented immigrants who are upstanding citizens can terrorize immigrant communities and isolate them from the officers sworn to protect them.
"It means that families will move into the shadows," she said.
Andrea Himoff, Action Utah executive director, urged Utah's congressional delegation to vocally oppose Avelar-Flores' deportation and others like it.
"We call on our representatives to condemn these unethical and immoral deportations," she said. "Make no mistake, this is nothing but a tragedy."
Himoff also called on the crowd to be persistent in calling their representatives about Avelar-Flores' case.
Matt and Carol-Marie Rowley said they were moved by what happened to Avelar-Flores and decided to drive from Cedar City to join the rally.124 comments on this story
"We just feel like this is an incredible miscarriage of justice, and we wanted to do something about it," Matt Rowley said. "(Here you have) three children, all U.S. citizens, losing their mother. No one wins. It strikes me as a way to terrorize the community."
Carol-Marie Rowley said the deportation of Avelar-Flores is so obviously wrong that even a child could understand the problem with it, though "somehow our representatives don't."
"The immorality of what's happening is so clear that when we explained that to our 6-year-old, she burst into tears," she said.