Just before Christmas, Juan Ceda found himself in an immigrant lockup 230 miles away from his Waco home, his pregnant wife and their two toddler boys.
He was in pain from two broken wrists and suffering from an anxiety disorder. He was confused about why, after living 18 of his 19 years in Waco, he was in danger of being sent to Mexico, essentially a foreign country to him.
Then came another piece of confusing news: Some lady he didn’t know back in Waco was raising bond money to free him.
“I was really in shock because I didn’t know anybody,” Juan Ceda said. “I couldn’t get it through my head why she wanted to help. I was like, ‘Wait, what’s going on?’ ”
The woman was Hope Mustakim, a Waco immigrant advocate who had lived through a similar struggle to free her husband from immigration limbo in the same detention facility in Pearsall.
Mustakim, a leader of the Waco Immigration Alliance, was contacted through the Cedas’ church and quickly set up a crowdfunding web page to help raise the bail money of $4,000.
Last Friday, she and Juan Ceda’s wife, Ana Ceda, a U.S. citizen, spent a long day driving down to Pearsall to retrieve Juan Ceda.
“I saw the urgency, that she’s pregnant with two toddlers, a 1- and 3-year-old,” said Mustakim, a Baylor social work graduate student and mother of two children that same age. “So there’s a bit of empathy there. I would just be dying from the stress of it all. We saw that it was possible and something we could do within our own means.”
Mustakim, whose own husband was released from a yearlong immigration detention in 2012, is hoping to recover part of the bail money as the seed for a fund that will help other immigrant families. She said that effort is motivated by the vows of the new Trump administration to crack down on unauthorized immigrants and deport 2 or 3 million people.
Those policies could complicate Juan Ceda’s future. But his attorney, Antonio Almazan of San Antonio, said Juan Ceda has some factors weighing in his favor, including a long residence in the U.S. and his wife and children’s status as citizens. In any case, it could be years before the case is settled, Almazan said.
Juan Ceda’s troubles actually started a month before Trump took office.
He said Immigration and Customs Enforcement picked him up Dec. 19, during a scheduled visit to his probation officer. The probation is part of a deferred adjudication deal he made last November, when he pleaded guilty to a Class A misdemeanor domestic violence charge dating back to 2015, county court records show.
Under President Barack Obama’s administration, ICE prioritized its enforcement efforts on felons and recent border-crossers. A secondary priority was those with “significant misdemeanors” such as domestic violence, drug dealing or drunken driving, according to ICE materials.
But, it appears that ICE did not place an immigration detainer on Juan Ceda when he was arrested, as it normally would do with high-priority candidates for removal.
Waco is the only home Juan Ceda can remember. His Mexican parents brought him to this country on a tourist visa when he was 1 year old, then overstayed the visa. He grew up here, attending University High School and working jobs in restaurants and construction sites starting when he was 13.
Juan Ceda said he realized when he was about 16 that he couldn’t get a Social Security card or a driver’s license because his family lacked legal status.
Juan Ceda never applied for the Obama-era protection for children of unauthorized immigrants, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, saying it was too expensive to apply. He has been trying instead to get a green card showing legal permanent residency, based on his wife’s citizenship.
But that effort has been derailed for now because of an incident stemming from the time before the two married.
December 2015 charge
On Dec. 7, 2015, Juan Ceda was arrested on a charge of domestic violence assault against Ana Ceda, whom he hit in an early-morning argument at her apartment. Ana Ceda called the police but later decided not to testify against him.
“After a couple of days, talking to his mom and everything, I decided to drop the charges,” she said. “I’ve been with him a long time. I knew how he acts. I guess I kept telling myself he’ll change. And he has changed.”
She said he hasn’t hurt her since that episode, and he has taken good care of their 3-year-old from a previous marriage as well as their 1-year-old.
“He’s a great dad,” she said. “He does everything with the kids and plays outside with them.”
About a month after his Nov. 17 deferred adjudication order, Juan Ceda fell about 16 feet from stilts he was wearing at a construction job, where he was taping and bedding drywall. He showed up to his Dec. 19 probation meeting with newly splinted wrists and his mother at his side. He said ICE agents were waiting to carry him away, first to the Jack Harwell Detention Center, then to Austin and finally to Pearsall, south of San Antonio.
Juan Ceda said he received some medical attention for his wrists during his detention but didn’t have access to painkillers and started having anxiety attacks.
Ana Ceda said she cried for the first week her husband was gone.
“What was I going to do?” she said. “I’m a stay-at-home mom. I was so far along with my pregnancy, nobody was going to hire me. Now I was going to have to take care of my kids by myself.”
Juan Ceda’s mother came to help out, and the two raised money by cooking plates of food for family and friends.
Soon after Juan Ceda’s detention, Ana Ceda met Hope Mustakim and learned about her story.
Mustakim’s husband, Nazry Mustakim, had come to the U.S. from Singapore when he was a boy and had a green card. In 2005, he was arrested on a felony drug charge and later got 10 years probation for the offense.
In 2011, newly married to Hope and working at Mission Waco, Nazry Mustakim was shocked to find himself detained and sent to the Pearsall center for eventual removal to Singapore.
Hope Mustakim waged an all-out campaign to free her husband with petitions and letter-writing campaigns to a North Texas judge who was reviewing the original case. The judge dropped the case on the grounds of missing evidence and also said she was persuaded that Nazry Mustakim had turned his life around.
Today, he runs the Urban Edibles food truck at Mission Waco, while Hope Mustakim is taking a break from her master’s of social work degree to focus on her kids and the needs of Waco’s immigrant community.
After hearing Trump’s rhetoric around immigration, Mustakim said she “couldn’t sit idly by.” As a leader for the Waco Immigration Alliance, she has participated in protests and “know your rights” events, but working with the Cedas has been the most meaningful action, she said.
She drove to Pearsall with Ana Ceda twice to see Juan Ceda, finally freeing him on Feb. 17.
“Whenever I was driving down with Ana the first time, that’s when everything came together: our experience, my experience learning about immigration policy, then to be there when the babies saw their dad and being with her as she drove away,” Mustakim said. “I know the feeling, leaving your husband and getting farther and farther away.”
She said she also is convinced Juan Ceda is turning his life around as her own husband did.
In detention, Juan Ceda got therapy and was diagnosed with anxiety and bipolar disorders, which he is now controlling with medications.
Juan Ceda said he’s ready to go back to work, and he’s confident he can beat the immigration charges against him and get a green card and, ultimately, citizenship. He said he longs to be able to work legally and to travel the world, after having met fellow detainees from all over the world.
“There’s doors I want to be able to open,” he said.