December 13, 2011 Leave a comment
Winning The Race Of Her Life
By: Albert Fulcher, Ernesto Rivera and Serina Duarte
Published: Monday, December 12th, 2011 at 9:40 pm
Speedy cross-country champion Ayded Reyes is usually the fastest person around, but one evening fate caught up to her. So did the INS.
After her boyfriend was pulled over on a routine traffic stop by two Harbor Police officers in Chicano Park, she was unable to prove U.S. citizenship. Even though she was the innocent passenger in the car, the Border Patrol was summoned. Reyes found herself sitting alone in INS detention cells for four days, uncertain of what her once-bright future might hold.
“I came here when I was a baby,” said Reyes, who was born in Mexico City. “I was brought here by my parents. I had no control over that.”
Reyes said four days in detention cells was a horrifying experience and she wonders how many students like her have gone through a similar ordeal, lost and deported to a country they never knew. She said this is the reason she is willing to tell her story — to help those who do not have the same support that saved her from immediate deportation.
“It was nerve-wracking,” said Reyes. “I cried like I’ve never cried before. I’m usually a lot stronger but this was just…”
Reyes said she was very uncomfortable with the sudden attention she has received from the news media, but as bad as it made her feel to talk about her ordeal she knew she had to.
“I started talking because I want to bring awareness to how horrible the conditions are for all the other people that have to go through this,” she said. “It’s too personal and I don’t know if I want everyone to know. It’s something I went through that was really hard. I’ve never been treated that way or put through such bad conditions.”
Taken initially to the Imperial Beach holding facility, Reyes said INS agents began trying to get her to sign paperwork saying she wanted to go back to “her country” immediately. She said she remembered a warning from a high school Spanish teacher to not sign anything under pressure by the Border Patrol or INS. Her teacher taught her that everyone in America has human rights, including the right to due process.
“The first thing they gave me was this paper in Spanish, even though I was speaking to them in English,” said Reyes. “When I asked for paperwork in English and told them I was going to college the officers didn’t believe me. They were making fun of me. I’m an immigrant, but I’m not dumb.”
Reyes refused to sign the paper, which made the agents unhappy. Reyes stood her ground.
“I’m not going (to Mexico),” said Reyes. “I have family, but I do not know anyone there. I kept wondering what I was going to do over there, where I would go. Tijuana is a very dangerous place to be now.”
Reyes said the pressure and the stress made her just want to sign the papers, but she knew better. She said the most important message she wants to get out to the public is the horrible conditions in immigration detention centers and the mistreatment of detainees.
“What about all the other people that don’t know they have the right to go to court?” she said. “What about the way they’re treated? It’s not right.”
While sitting in holding facilities, Reyes said many questions went through her mind and she felt completely isolated. She wondered what would happen next, what she needed to do and did not understand why she was being treated so badly.
“I’ve worked so hard (to earn a university scholarship) and now I can just lose it all,” she said. “The reason my parents came here was to succeed and when you see that you can just lose everything in a minute — it’s horrible.”
Reyes was shuffled from detention facilities in San Ysidro, Chula Vista and Imperial Beach. She said in between transfers she was held in a small holding facility. She said the conditions were hideous and does not understand why they make people go through what she described as a nightmare.
“There’s no bed, you sleep on the floor,” said Reyes. “There were three of us in there. We only had one really thin blanket each and the air conditioner was on high. There’s a sink on top of the toilet and you are supposed to drink out of the sink with no cups, you have to slurp.”
Reyes said no one knows what people go through at these facilities until someone who has been there can go out and tell everyone. She said the Chula Vista detention facility was a little better, she at least got to take a shower. Guards, however, demonstrated a sadistic streak and subjected detainees to sleep deprivation and other tactics from prisoner of war or concentration camps.
“It’s horrible, you don’t even see the sunlight,” said Reyes. “At night when you were sleeping they would knock on your window just to wake you up. For no reason. There are little things like that that are just not right.”
Reyes said she wonders about all the people sent off to foreign places that were never their home.
“All those people probably had it worse than me,” said Reyes. “It just makes me wonder. You don’t know how they were treated and how they were sent back. It’s sad. I don’t think it is right. They’re humans.”
Reyes said her four-day incarceration felt like months. But she said she had to compete that week and wanted to be there for the team. Determined to do well at the Pacific Coast Conference Championship, she immediately focused on training and homework after her release. She did not want to break the Southwestern College streak of winning the conference over the past 11 years and said, “This is not going to stop me.”
“It felt great to have something positive in my life,” said Reyes. “ I was a little nervous because I hadn’t run in two weeks. But I fought with all my heart and ran my heart out. I just kept telling myself I have got to do this.”
In a storybook finish, Reyes won the PCC Championship going away. SWC’s championship skein lived on. Reyes was the favorite to win the California championship a week later in Fresno. Her heroic accomplishment could not have happened without the support she received from people she had never met.
“I didn’t know how close I was to being deported until Saturday, when coach told me,” said Reyes. “While in detention I didn’t even know what was going on. I actually thought they weren’t doing anything for me, but a lot of things were going on I wasn’t even aware of.”
Cross-country coach Dr. Duro Agbede said he was contacted by Reyes’ parents on Friday and informed that she had been picked up by Immigration.
“When I got the call from her parents I was shocked,” he said.
Agbede said that Reyes has been in this country all her life and her arrest caused many people to stand up for her.
“It’s not just her being a star student,” said Agbede. “It’s that she’s a student at this college and every student from this college has a lot to offer to this country.”
Agbede said he was blank after receiving the call, wondering what he could possibly do to help Reyes. He first contacted Professor of Journalism Max Branscomb and Professor of History Laura Ryan. Branscomb immediately contacted a human rights law firm recommended by Governing Board Vice President Norma Hernandez to block an immediate deportation.
“Immediately Laura and Governing Board President Tim Nader got involved,” said Agbede. “We were on the phone all day Saturday. From that Friday, especially that Saturday, which was the critical time. I was on the phone back and forth, back and forth with Mr. Nader. It was tough, it was really tough. I really have to thank him.”
Nader said he first heard about Reyes’s situation when he was approached by Ryan while attending an SWC Chicano/Latino function. He said he put Ryan and Agbede in touch with Congressman Bob Filner’s staff and also contacted an immigration lawyer that is very committed to this type of situation.
“As a lawyer myself, I believe it is best to get the best representation in this type of case,” said Nader. “It is very important that you have good representation in this.”
Nader said he made several phone calls to faculty, federal authorities, Filner and the detention facilities to let them know how concerned the entire college community was in the possibility of losing a star student.
“She is like the poster child for the many students that face this problem,” he said. “She is one of the best students that represents the college and deserves the right to fair representation.”
Nader said it was a collaborative effort by many people on campus that helped get Reyes out of the detention facility and he was happy to do “what little” he could do to help the process.
“When I spoke to the INS authorities, they said they were receiving many phone calls from people expressing that Reyes should be released,” he said.
Nader said the family had called an immigration lawyer, but the fees were well beyond their financial abilities for a sustained legal fight.
“I tried to put them in touch with resources that I know that are affordable or free,” said Nader. “I am not sure whether they found the help they needed there, but felt it was important that she received good representation at a cost the family could afford.”
Agbede said Saturday was a critical day because Filner’s office contacted him and told him Reyes was being prepared for immediate deportation.
“That was the critical period and luckily I was able to contact, for the first time, the supervisor from where Ayded was being held in detention,” said Agbede. “I explained to the supervisor the people already aware of Ayded’s situation. They needed to know that she was not alone. I was direct and I was forceful in making him understand that this is the type of girl you have.”
SWC Governing Board Trustee Humberto Peraza said he was taken aback when he heard about the Reyes saga and immediately contacted Filner and his staff for help. Reyes’ situation really touched a lot of people, he said he wanted to do as much as he could to help. Peraza, a former member of Filner’s staff, said it was the combined help of everyone who got involved that got her out.
“She is an amazing young woman,” said Peraza. “She is a great student and athlete and she is an American just as much as any citizen of this country.”
Peraza, a former high school cross-country runner, said he knew how hard it is to sit for a week, then compete. He said he was amazed at how quickly Reyes bounced back.
“It is astounding to me, after the stress and fear she went through that she went straight to competition and came out victorious,” he said. “I am so proud of her.”
Peraza said he is working with Filner and Reyes to do private legislation because he believes it really affects an individual that is going through this process. A U.S. Senator is also interested in the Reyes case.
Agbede said the contact with INS intensified once he learned Reyes had been moved to the San Ysidro detention center.
“Once they’re moved to San Ysidro it’s straight across the border,” said Agbede. “After that discussion Ayded was moved back to Chula Vista.”
The fight from Agbede, Nader, Peraza and Filner paid off.
“By Monday, I called the congressman’s office,” said Agbede. “They requested me to contact Ayded’s parents and send them down to the INS office and pick her up and by then Mr. Peraza sent an e-mail to everybody that Ayded would be out in two hours.”
Reyes said she is very thankful for the people that helped her through this ordeal.
“I thought I was going to get bailed out by my mother,” said Reyes. “But thanks to Bob Filner I was bailed out on Monday.
Agbede said Reyes said is an extremely talented student and athlete.
“The most important thing is that here is a girl who will definitely go to a university on a full scholarship,” said Agbede. “She has had an outstanding performance including winning the 2011 Pacific Coast Conference Championship and still remains among the best female distant runners in the state.”
Agbede said that Reyes’ PCC title enhances her opportunities for a full scholarship.
“If she didn’t run in the Pacific Coast Conference (finals) she would not have had the opportunity to run for regional and state,” said Agbede. “Winning the conference championship places her at a higher rate of a full scholarship. Without that, it would’ve been a hard sell because we would have basing her performance on the previous year and athletics is what have you done for me lately? Where are you now?”
Agbede said that Reyes’ timely release was pertinent.
Reyes said her parents and sisters are her strongest support, and this experience has brought them all much closer together. She faces a court date on March 1, 2012 and has a pro bono lawyer building her a case to help her stay in the U.S. She said she is unsure what is in store, but she is going to fight hard for the future she has worked so hard for.
Agbede said in the end he was filled with happiness and relief`.
“The joy was that someone who had been through this situation and with this kind of stress was able to let everything out and give the best performance of her collegiate career,” said Agbede. “It was very, very brutal competition.”
Agbede said Reyes feels all students in a similar situation should be educated on their rights.
“There should be a way to reach out the students in her situation and explain their legal rights to them,” he said. “Everybody in this country, whether they’re a citizen or not, has rights. Not only as an American but as human beings, fundamental human rights.”
SWC should provide all AB 540 students with information about their rights in case situations like these occur, Agbede said.
“Either through orientation, through counseling or through the international student department,” he said. “Letting them know that in case this happens, these are your rights, this is what you can do, this is important.”
Agbede said detainees are greatly pressured to sign a document approving their deportation before they have an opportunity to seek representation.
“Once they are taken they’re extremely fearful,” he said. “When you are in detention you can not be contacted by anyone.”
Agbede said Reyes was lucky because she was able to get assistance and believes everyone should be able to have that.
“Ayded wouldn’t be in this situation if she had no one to call,” said Agbede. “A student should know if they have this kind of problem they have someone to contact that can be of assistance and have their rights protected.”
Agbede said a lot of people helped Reyes.
“The credit goes to everybody. All the people that made this possible,” said Agbede. “I’d sincerely like to express my thanks to everybody. Particularly, Ms. Laura (Ryan), Mr. Branscomb, our board president and Mr. Peraza.”
Reyes has been offered scholarships by several universities, including Ivy League schools.
“There are a lot of reasons for me to stay here, I have a lot to lose,” she said. “Right now I just want to go to a good university and one that has a good biology program. I study here and I’m going to get a full scholarship, so I’m not even going to put the government in debt with loans. I’m doing this by myself and I have worked very hard for this.”