Return to sender

A Mexican man is jailed and almost deported because of INS ineptitude

The ordeal was a "nightmare," Cynthia says. "My husband and I are not used to being apart. He goes to work and comes home. All our time is family time. We're each other's best friend. It was hard for us and the kids. They didn't understand what was going on. He and I had only left Carisma once -- the night Melissa was born. The children blamed [his arrest] on me. They saw us leave together and come back alone. They thought I didn't want him to come home."

Shortly after Rufino got out of jail, Dubove filed suit on the family's behalf against the INS under the Federal Tort Claims Act. He is asking for approximately $300,000 in damages -- about 10 times the amount of money Rufino lost in wages and attorneys' fees -- plus compensation for the emotional distress to Rufino and his family.

"There is no question in my mind they were damaged by his false imprisonment," Dubove says. "When she came to this office, she was crying and distraught. She was trying to keep the family together emotionally and financially and trying to explain to the children what happened to their father."

A life in limbo: The Cruzes wait for Rufino's December 17 court date.
Mark Graham
A life in limbo: The Cruzes wait for Rufino's December 17 court date.

Cynthia Cruz says she pursued the suit "so what happened to us doesn't happen to anyone else. We were lucky. We had support and a good attorney. There are people in jail for months with no one to help them. Everything we went through could have been avoided. It's real disappointing to do the right thing, but no matter what you do, it goes wrong."

Rufino, who was released from jail on his own recognizance, will appear on December 17 before an immigration judge, who will decide whether he can become a legal permanent resident. Until then, as he has since his arrest, he reports once a month on his day off to the Dallas INS office. "They're keeping tabs on him to make sure he doesn't run," says Cynthia. "It doesn't make sense."

The Cruzes try to make a family outing of it. "My children talk about going to the immigration the way other kids talk about going to Chuck E. Cheese's," Cynthia says.

Although she and Rufino have tried to keep their sense of humor, the ordeal was frightening and frustrating. In the two years since they moved to their apartment, the neighborhood has gotten dangerous. Some of their neighbors are dealing drugs and engaging in prostitution. They want to move, but they would have to get permission from the INS first, and their lawyer has advised them to stay where they are -- at least until the whole ordeal is behind them.

"Our life is in limbo," says Cynthia. "I don't feel safe, but we have no alternative."

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