In the heart of the Midwest, one man facing deportation to Mexico has become a flashpoint for the debate over President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.
Roberto Beristain has lived in Granger, Indiana, for nearly two decades with his wife, Helen Beristain, after illegally entering the country from Mexico. Together they’ve raised three children and run a restaurant, Eddie’s Steak Shed, according to the South Bend Tribune. In 2000, during a trip to Niagara Falls, the Beristains inadvertently crossed the border into Canada, and in doing so alerted federal authorities that he was in the country illegally.
Because of the incident, Beristain was given a voluntary self-deportation order telling him to leave the U.S. within 60 days. Instead, he chose to stay with his pregnant wife, who was also suffering from high blood pressure at the time, according to Indiana Public Media. After that, he received a final order demanding he leave the country, which he also ignored.
Since then, he has checked in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents every year, maintaining a clear criminal record and even getting a driver’s license, work permit and social security card with permission from ICE agents, per the South Bend Tribune.
Meanwhile, the 2016 election came. Helen Beristain told Indiana Public Media that she voted for Trump, in part because of his harsh stance on illegal immigration.
“We don’t want to have cartels here, you don’t want to have drugs in your high schools, you don’t want killers next to you,” Helen said. “You want to feel safe when you leave your house. I truly believe that. And, this is why I voted for Mr. Trump.”
In Indiana, Helen was hardly alone. Trump stormed to a nearly 20-percentage point victory in the state. Even in the more liberal St. Joseph County, where Granger is located, Trump only lost by 0.2 points. Later, pundits would point to Trump’s overall success in the Midwest as pivotal to his surprising victory.
But what Helen did not expect was that the Trump administration’s sweeping efforts to curb undocumented immigrants would result in her husband getting arrested by ICE agents when he arrived in Indianapolis on Feb. 6 for his annual check-in, per BuzzFeed News.
“[Trump] did say the good people would not be deported, the good people would be checked,” Helen told Indiana Public Media.
Since his arrest, Roberto has been taken to a facility in Wisconsin, and he is scheduled to be deported by as early as Friday, per the South Bend Tribune. Meanwhile, the Beristain family has filed an appeal in court in hopes of delaying such an action, according to a family lawyer. They point to his family and his lack of a criminal record as reasons for him to be allowed to stay, and they have received a public boost from Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of the neighboring South Bend, Indiana.
In a column written for the Huffington Post, Buttigieg, a Democrat who at one point was a candidate for chair of the Democratic National Committee, noted how many of Beristain’s family and friends are conservative.
“Think of the favorite themes of conservatism: hard work, small business ownership, suspicion of overbearing government, and support for family,” Buttigieg wrote. “Each one of those themes is at stake here — and each is insulted by the prospect of a person like Roberto being ripped away from his business, friends, wife, and children, by a federal agency.”
However, under an executive order signed by Trump during his first week in office, many people like Beristain could be deported. Trump’s order prioritized deporting criminals, which appealed to many of his voters, but it also expanded the definition of what a criminal was to include any person charged with a criminal offense, even if he or she has not been convicted, per the New York Times.
The order also prioritized any undocumented immigrant who has received a final order of removal “but who have not complied with their legal obligation to depart the United States.” Because Beristain ignored his final order of removal 16 years ago, that made him a priority.