It was 6 on a Monday morning and the street outside Alma Brigido’s Beechview home was silent.
The home was silent, too, save for the pre-dawn movements of a relative readying himself for work.
As Alma, her husband Martin Esquivel-Hernandez and their three children slept upstairs, Martin’s brother Arturo gathered his belongings, stepped through the front door and headed toward his waiting vehicle.
He was quickly surrounded.
The immigration agents at his car asked if he was Martin.
They followed him back into the house.
The agents quickly climbed the stairs, and when they reached Alma and Martin’s second floor bedroom, the agents opened the door. Alma woke up. Martin was arrested and taken away with nothing on but the shorts around his waist. Alma remained in their bedroom unable to leave, but tried to provide him clothing. She wasn’t allowed.
Alma listened for the children asleep on the third floor.
She listened for her husband.
She heard nothing.
And then the agents were gone — along with Martin.
The home was silent again, Alma told The Incline, save for the sound of her own panicked breathing.
18 months later
A year and a half has passed since that May morning.
Almost eight months have passed since Martin was deported back to Mexico after a lengthy stay in U.S. custody — and despite the many protestations of his supporters.
Alma and their children — 12-year-old Shayla, 10-year-old Luz and 5-year-old Alex — remain in Pittsburgh, adapting and also failing to adapt to life without him, his household presence and the income he generated.
The family told The Incline about these struggles last week at Casa San Jose, a welcome center for Latino immigrants in Brookline. Alma speaks little English, so Shayla translated for her mother.
Alma Brigido and daughter Shayla hold photos of Martin Esquivel-Hernandez at a rally calling for his release from federal custody on immigration charges filed in Pittsburgh.PHOTO VIA THE 'BRING MARTIN HOME' FACEBOOK PAGE
“My sister, she always told my father if something bad happened,” Shayla said. “She would only tell my dad, because she always felt safe with him, and now she’s like stuck on a shelf, and she cannot come out.”
Luz sat motionless nearby as Shayla spoke.
“And my brother, it just became harder for him to focus and pay attention,” Shayla added, “and I had a whole lot of depression when my father left. Now I’m taking therapy.”
Alex sat across the table from her, repeatedly uncoiling and recoiling what appeared to be a paperclip.
With Shayla translating, Alma recalled the morning of Martin’s arrest and nervously waiting a day to tell their children what had happened. She talked further of the personal reverberations that continue for her and their children today. Alma, Luz and Shayla are all undocumented. Alex was born in California.
“She’s worried that if she walks in the street or drives and ICE just pops up out of nowhere and takes her,” Shayla said, translating for her mother. “She thinks, ‘What will happen to my children?’”
Shayla is soft-spoken and well-spoken, seeming older than she is. In speaking with her, you’re reminded of her age only by the mouthful of braces occasionally revealed mid-sentence. She wears her hair in a long ponytail and infrequently smiles.
In announcing that her family has decided to leave their Beechview home, where Martin was arrested, Shayla said, matter-of-factly, “We’re not comfortable there.” They will remain in Pittsburgh.
‘A priority for immigration enforcement’
Alma and her daughters were the first to reach the states. Fleeing violence at home, they illegally crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in 2011, winding up in San Jose. From there they moved to Pittsburgh, where Martin’s mother, also an undocumented immigrant, had been living since 2005.
Martin’s attempts to join them repeatedly failed.
According to federal authorities, he was captured trying to cross the U.S. border and returned to Mexico on four separate occasions between November 2011 and May 2012. Martin succeeded on his fifth attempt, leading to an illegal re-entry charge that would ultimately bring about the deportation case against him. That case also followed two citations in 2016 for driving without a license in Pittsburgh, including one just days before ICE arrived at their home.
While detained by federal authorities, Martin was bounced between correctional facilities in states like Pennsylvania and Ohio. His children visited him often during that time. Alma, fearful of detention herself, did not.
“She couldn’t see him. Only us children could see him,” Shayla said.
Those prison visits, conducted through a glass partition, continued with Martin spending almost nine months in custody as his case worked its way through the courts.
“It was kind of upsetting to me because he was wearing the same clothing as a prisoner,” Shayla said. “It felt unfair.”
As for her father, “He seemed sad,” she added. “He seemed like he always wanted to cry but didn’t want to upset us.”
Then, in December 2016, nearly 7 months after his arrest, Martin pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor count of using false identification to enter the United States. It was a lesser count than the original illegal re-entry charge and left immigration officials with leeway in deciding whether or not to pursue deportation.
It quickly became apparent that they would.
“Mr. Esquivel-Hernandez has two misdemeanor convictions, one [for illegal re-entry] from 2012 and one from [December] 2016, and federal authorities removed him to Mexico four times since 2011, with the latest removal taking place in 2012,” an ICE spokesperson said in January.
“As a result, ICE has designated Mr. Esquivel-Hernandez’s case as a priority for immigration enforcement.”