Joy, then heartbreak: What happened at one woman's ICE check-in

Story highlights

  • She used a fake visa 18 years ago to try to cross the US border from Mexico
  • She worries what deportation would do to her relatives, who are "hoping for a miracle"

Chicago (CNN)The day before she checks in with immigration officials, Francisca Lino gets sick. Migraines cripple her mind. Her stomach churns. She can't sleep.

"My entire body hurts," she told CNN.
Her check-in Tuesday couldn't have been more excruciating. It marked the first time the 50-year-old mother of six, who lives outside Chicago, had to report to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement since Donald Trump became President.
    As her meeting drew near, anxiety mounted. Terror gripped her. She wondered if she'd fall victim to the new administration's hardline immigration policies, which dramatically expand the power of immigration officers and make clear that no one, including people who otherwise have not broken the law, is safe from deportation.
    Now that Trump is President, "it worries me," Lino said.
    Since Trump ordered the changes in January, similar fears have festered as families, lawyers and advocates accustomed to a relatively predictable process have tried to divine how the new rules would affect them. So far, little clarity has emerged.
    Some immigrants deliberately have skipped their check-ins and gone into hiding. Others have spoken out against the changes and been detained. Some have checked in and been released, as usual. Meantime, Trump supporters have lauded the President for making good on campaign promises to tighten immigration rules to protect American jobs and security.
    At the break of dawn Tuesday, Lino and her family sat in their kitchen. Everyone else in her household is a US citizen. And every other time Lino has checked in with ICE, she's been allowed to return to her life -- her husband, her children, her church.

    'Hoping for a miracle'

    As on the days of those prior visits with ICE, Lino's three youngest daughters skipped school Tuesday. They all sat down for breakfast together, the girls munching cereal. Lino and her husband, Diego Lino, sipped coffee.
    Everyone said they felt a sense of calm.
    "I don't feel like anything is going to happen today," 16-year-old Britzy Lino said. "I feel like we'll all come home."
    But beneath the surface, dread simmered.
    "It's just a very heavy feeling. It just feels like something that's weighing down on me," Britzy said, recalling her mom's previous ICE check-ins. "It's just scary (thinking) that the only person that's going to walk out is my father, that my mom is going to stay back, and I don't know anything at the moment because she's inside and I'm outside, in the waiting room."
    Francisca Lino's mother-in-law, Maria Burciaga, fears what would happen to their family if her son's wife were deported.
    If her mom were sent back to her native Mexico, Britzy wouldn't hesitate, she said. Her mother is her only confidante. She'd move with her.
    But Lino frets about her three youngest children. Born in Illinois, the two youngest don't speak Spanish well. It would be hard for them to acclimate to Mexico, she said.
    In the living room, Lino's mother-in-law sat alone, terrified her son's wife would be deported. She could barely speak. And when she did, tears started rolling down her cheeks.
    "This makes me so sad," Maria Burciaga, 62, said.
    Twelve years ago, when Lino's case first raised red flags with ICE, she was detained for 28 days. Diego, a healthy man, had a heart attack at work, Burciaga said. Britzy, then 4, sank into depression.
    "Francisca is a good woman. Her only crime is to come to this country to try to better herself and to help her children in Mexico get ahead. What mother wouldn't do that? Or what father?" Burciaga said. "I don't know what is going to happen. The other President would give her a chance. But this one, I don't know. We are hoping for a miracle."

    Getting caught, coming clean

    As she tidied up after breakfast, Lino began to cry. She put on her jacket, grabbed her purse and reading glasses, and headed out the door. Rolling downtown in rush hour, the radio played. The girls focused on their phones. Then, they fidgeted as the stress of the day lingered in the car.
    They arrived 90 minutes later at the ICE office, at the busy intersection of Congress Parkway and Clark Street in the Loop.
    The scene felt strange. Before Lino's prior visits, her supporters had held news conferences and prayer circles outside the federal building, Lino's pastor, Emma Lozano, said. Now, security guards asked reporters to turn off their cameras and turn the lenses away from the federal building.
    Lozano asked Lino to wait for her attorney before walking in. When he arrived, the three of them, plus Lino's family, went in together.
    The lawyer had been hopeful about this check-in.
    "We will walk out of there, no problem," he told CNN Monday as he prepared for the visit with ICE. "She will not be grabbed by ICE because she has a stay until April 27."
    Lino first tried to enter the United States in 1999. She hired a coyote, or human smuggler, who gave her a visa. She didn't know it was fake, she said.
    Border agents snagged Lino that time and sent her back. But days later, she tried again and made it all the way to Chicago, where she met and married an American citizen and gave birth to four American children. She is an active member of her church.
    Soon after they wed, her husband filed paperwork for Lino to obtain a green card. They hired someone to help them file the documents. Lino said that during her final in-person interview, she was told her paperwork didn't match what she was telling ICE officers. She was immediately detained.
    Lino was held for four weeks. Since then, her family has lived in fear of getting torn apart -- and she has had to check in periodically with ICE.

    Joy, then heartbreak

    At the federal building in Chicago, about an hour passed before Lino re-emerged through the glass doors.
    She clapped her hands together, then quickened her step and ran, arms outstretched in joy. "Thank God!" she yelled. "Thanks to all of you!!"
    "Yes, she could!" a supporter howled.
    "They gave me a year until I have to come back," Lino told CNN. "So we're going to try to fight for my visa."
    Relief reigned for five minutes. Then Lino's lawyer came back.
    "They called," Bergin said, "and they said the officer we talked to was filling in, and the main officer in charge of her case wants to talk to her about it, he's got some information on her case. I don't know what that means."
    Lino grew concerned. Britzy's eyes filled with tears.
    The family disappeared back into the building. Less than a half-hour later, Lino was back.
    "There were changes," she said.
    Immigration officers told Lino to return July 11, suitcases packed and plane ticket in hand.
    In other words, her deportation date is set.
    Inside the ICE office, Britzy had suffered a panic attack.
    "I couldn't breathe," the teenager told CNN. "I was choked up. I couldn't talk at all. I just couldn't breathe. It's not fair that they do that to us, that they tell us, 'Oh, you have a year,' and then they just say, 'Oh no, you have a few months.' It's not fair."

    Time to plan

    As for what happened Tuesday, this is the Trump administration in action, Bergin said. It wouldn't have happened under Obama.
    "The whole point of Obama's policy was discretion," Bergin told CNN. "Someone who just has a removal order and has all these kids and husband, they're all citizens, been here forever, no criminal record, never caused any trouble -- they would leave them alone."
    ICE had little to say about the apparent mix-up with Lino's case beyond a broad narrative of her situation.
    "Francisca Burciaga-Amaro, a Mexican national, was previously deported in 1999 after receiving final orders of removal," ICE spokeswoman Gail Montenegro said by email. "She later illegally re-entered the United States. On March 7, Burciaga-Amaro reported to the ICE office in Chicago as required and was advised that the reinstatement of her prior order of removal was being enforced."
    The agency wouldn't comment further.
    Lino said she is committed to showing up when authorities ask her to, that she won't run or seek sanctuary.
    But not everyone has her conviction. And given the widespread fear already lingering in immigrant communities, some worry Lino's experience could have a further chilling effect.
    "ICE needs to be careful not to turn routine supervised-release visits into a high risk of detention," said Leon Fresco, who served as deputy assistant attorney general at the Department of Justice's Office of Immigration Litigation during the Obama administration. "Or it will unwittingly create more fugitives who won't show up to these visits."
    Far from defeated, Lino's supporters vowed to spend the next four months searching for a way for her to stay.
    "I'll keep fighting," Lino said. "I have to keep fighting. They're not going to separate me from my family."
    Her daughter, the one who says she cannot live without her mom, won't accept another outcome.
    "My mom, she's not leaving," Britzy said. "She's not leaving."