MOUNT PLEASANT — Eneida Carrillo said she hopes, when people hear Walfred Uriza’s story, they feel just a bit of the pain the teenager is suffering right now.
She hopes they look at their own children and imagine leaving them alone.
She hopes they understand how difficult it is for a 15-year-old boy to be alone.
She hopes feeling just a bit of that pain prompts them to help and to inspire change.
When Walfred Uriza, a sophomore at Mount Pleasant High School, finished classes May 9, he was met with the jarring realization that his father, Elmer Uriza, had been one of the 32 men arrested and detained during the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid at Midwest Precast Concrete in Mount Pleasant.
Families were torn apart. Mothers and children were left without their husbands and fathers. A community was left reeling, trying desperately to get its family members back. And Walfred found himself completely alone.
At 15 years old, Walfred lived only with his father. They moved to Mount Pleasant four and a half years ago from Guatemala. He has no other family in the U.S., and his mother stayed in their home country. He’s lost the stability of home, bouncing from house to house in the past week. On Wednesday, Walfred was staying with Eneida Carrillo.
Carrillo translated Walfred’s story, since he speaks primarily Spanish.
It’s difficult for Walfred to talk about, but he said he wants to explain what happened and why he is here in the United States. When he was younger, a gang told his father they wanted Walfred to move some drugs across town for them. Elmer said no and went to the police, where he was told there was nothing the police could do, and suggested letting Walfred make the trip so the gang members would leave them alone. The police said they were not responsible for Elmer and Walfred.
So, Walfred made the trip. But the gang returned. And when Elmer said his son would not carry the drugs again, the gang replied with a threatening “You don’t have any idea what kind of problems you will have.”
So, they fled to the United States. Elmer first, and then Walfred when his father had saved up enough money.
“With all these gangs and drugs and cartels in our countries. Mexico, Guatemala, it doesn’t matter what country it is,” said Carrillo. “The future is very black.”
“We want to have a better world. We want to stop all the cartels in our country. We want to stop them from sending drugs to the United States,” Carrillo added.
She said the response of America should be to help eliminate the cartels, rather than sending back the innocent people fleeing from danger.
Elmer Uriza is currently in Cedar Rapids, detained in the Linn County jail. Carrillo said the Urizas' lawyer, Jessica Malott out of Iowa City, said the case is very complicated and told Walfred his father will likely be deported.
“I told him he needs to be strong,” said Carrillo. “Because the lawyer told him today probably he will be able to do nothing for his dad because this case is very difficult, but I told him he needs to keep believing in miracles happening every day.”
With tears rolling down her cheek, Carrillo translated Walfred’s concern that if his father is deported back to Guatemala, he may be killed by the gang members he talked to the police about.
Walfred had the chance to speak to his father Wednesday, and hopes to continue visits regularly while Elmer is detained at the jail in Cedar Rapids. When the two began to talk, Walfred said the first thing his father told him was to keep going to school.
Elmer has begun seeking asylum in the U.S. for his son, and Walfred’s hearing is set for August. Despite the imminent danger of his own deportation, Elmer said he wanted his son to begin the asylum process first.
Elmer and Walfred came to America to seek a better life and remove themselves from the danger of drug cartels. They came to be educated. They came to work.
Until now, Walfred said his life in Mount Pleasant was “good, calm, happy.” He has friends and plays soccer. Elmer woke up every morning at 3:30 a.m. to get to the Midwest Precast Concrete factory by 5 a.m., and was home in time to eat dinner with his son. He did not drink or smoke.
Both Walfred and Carrillo said they have only experienced kindness, respect and acceptance from the Mount Pleasant community, even under a president who recently referred to some undocumented immigrants as “animals.”
Carrillo said she hopes stories like Walfred’s let people know that immigrants are not criminals, and they are not stealing jobs. She moved to America 18 years ago, and raised three daughters in Mount Pleasant. Her oldest daughter will soon become a doctor.
“Before, I saw this in the news when situations like this happened and it would break your heart,” said Carrillo. “But now we live all this pain with our community.”
Carrillo said even those who are responsible, immigration officials and President Donald Trump, have families, and she hopes they can understand the pain Walfred, Elmer and the rest of the immigrant families in Mount Pleasant are feeling right now.
“Feel inside to your hearts,” she pleaded. “And help this boy.”