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A 31-year-old mother of three young children was swept up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents Friday in the parking lot of a retail shop as her 8-year-old daughter watched.
Silvia Avelar-Flores is now in federal detention in the Cache County jail. ICE officials said Wednesday she soon will be deported to Mexico.
She is among a growing number of undocumented immigrants without a criminal record whose families are being separated by more aggressive immigration enforcement under the administration of President Donald Trump, according to immigrant advocates.
At a rally Wednesday morning in front of the Department of Homeland Security field office in West Valley City, her husband, Carlos Juarez, 32, said his young family is shocked and heartbroken.
"They are devastated," he said of his children, Adrian, 10, Jazira, 8, and Ariana, 2. "Every night, we just cry together."
Juarez is a legal permanent resident and said his wife, who was brought to this country at age 7, has complied with ICE regulations and recently was granted a work permit.
"My little ones keep asking, 'Where is Mama? Where is Mama?' " Juarez said, choking back tears. "They don't deserve this."
He added that he and his children hold out hope that she will return.
A statement Wednesday from ICE spokesman Carl Rusnok painted a different picture.
"On April 1, 1993, Silvia Avelar-Flores legally entered the United States at San Ysidro, California, as a visitor for pleasure for a term not to exceed Oct. 1, 1993. However, Avelar-Flores failed to depart the United States as required by her visa," the statement said.
"On Dec. 13, 1995, a federal immigration judge granted Avelar-Flores voluntary departure to Mexico with an alternate order of removal on March 31, 1996," the statement said. "On Sept. 23, 1997, the Board of Immigration appeals dismissed Avelar-Flores's appeal, making this a final order of removal."
Trump's crackdown on immigrants is hurting families, said Sharlee Mullins Glenn, of Mormon Women for Ethical Government, who helped organize the demonstration. She called the ICE action "unconscionable."
"Families are meant to be together. Forced separation of working parents from their children weakens families and damages society," she told the gathering of 50 people who held signs supporting Avelar-Flores.
"We don't approve of any method of enforcement that hurts families and loved ones."
Actions like the one ICE is taking against Avelar-Flores and her family are deplorable and are occurring across the country at an alarming rate, said Andrea Himoff of Action Utah.
"This event is nothing but a tragedy," she said. "It's a tragedy for the family, it's a tragedy for Utah and a tragedy for our country."
Candidate Trump had said he would deport 11 million undocumented residents, Himoff recalled. He then softened that to say he would deport "only the bad ones."
However, since Trump took office, ICE has rounded up hundreds of people in Utah who have no criminal record, she said. At least half the people detained nationally have no criminal record beyond traffic violations, she added.
Between Jan. 26 and March 13, 5,441 undocumented immigrants without criminal records were deported from the U.S., according to immigration statistics reported by The Washington Post.
The total for that period is 21,362 immigrants deported. Some of them were criminals, but the vast majority had been cited for, or convicted of minor crimes, according to immigrant advocates.
In contrast, Rusnok said ICE focuses its resources on immigrants who pose a threat to national security and public safety.
"Secretary of Homeland Security John F. Kelly has made clear ICE will no longer exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement," Rusnok's statement said. "All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and removal from the United States."