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A Family Was Stopped By ICE On The Way To School. ‘I Always Thought Fresno Was A Safe Place.’

Monica Velez
Valley Public Radio
Angela Sanchez and Sandra Hernandez holding hands during a Faith in the Valley meeting.

Fifteen-year-old Sandra Hernandez can’t get this one Tuesday morning out of her head.


“All I was thinking at that time was ‘I wanted my dad back,’” she said. “I wanted him to get in the car and for us to go to school like any other day.”


Her father, Hugo Hernandez, was pulled over by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers in central-east Fresno on Nov. 5. It was about 7:30 a.m. and he was taking Sandra and her 16-year-old brother Eduardo to school. Eduardo said it was just like any other day.


“I told my dad to take me to school early because I needed to turn in work that day, and it was just like having a conversation in the car, a normal conversation,” he said. “Next thing you know, the situation just happened out of nowhere.”


They were pulled over. Eduardo was in the passenger seat, and he said he didn’t know they were immigration officers until he saw “ICE” printed on their black uniforms. Sandra was in the back seat of the car recording the encounter on her cell phone.


In the video, there’s an ICE officer at the driver’s window telling Hugo, “Go ahead and step out of the vehicle.”


Credit Sandra Hernandez
Hugo Hernandez in a screen shot of the video his daughter, Sandra, took the day he was detained by ICE while taking his kids to school.

Eduardo translates for his dad and asks the officer, “My dad wants to know, what is this?”


The ICE officer responds: “I need to talk to him and he needs to step out of the vehicle.”


“I plead the fifth,” Hugo said. 


“OK, that doesn’t matter, I don’t care,” the ICE officer responds. “He needs to come out, I’ve got to talk to him.”


The ICE officer opens the car door and multiple officers start yelling at Hugo. It’s unclear from the video exactly how many there were. 


“Get out of the car right now,” the ICE officers yell. “He’s going to taze you! Step out of the car! Lift your hands up! Lift your hands up!”


Hugo doesn’t get tazed, but one ICE officer reaches into the car, grabs his arm, and pulls him out. Eduardo was on the phone with his mom and told her Hugo was just arrested, and to call a lawyer. 


Hugo is represented by Linda Barreto, an immigration law professor at the San Joaquin College of Law, and director of the New American Legal Clinic. She said there are several instances in the video that are legally and constitutionally “concerning.” 


Credit Monica Velez / Valley Public Radio
Valley Public Radio
Eduardo Hernandez, 16

“We could say by ICE putting their hands into the vehicle, that could be constituted as a trespass because that’s Hugo’s property and he wasn’t allowing them to enter,” Barreto said.


Barreto said ICE has a reputation for using “egregious tactics.” It’s hard to know how often situations like these happen, she said, but, “I think it happens more often than we know because usually there’s nobody available to record.”


ICE also didn’t care about Hugo’s rights at that moment, Barreto said, because, “You hear the officer say 'I don’t care about that,' and that, I think, can sum up the video.”


Barreto still hasn’t learned why ICE detained her client, but she said ICE doesn’t have the authority to do routine traffic stops. ICE usually targets people who are an “enforcement priority,” she said.


“Usually those are people who have been convicted of particularly serious crimes, things that involve danger to society, and Hugo doesn’t have that to my knowledge,” Barretto said. 


ICE did not respond to requests for comment. 


After ICE officers arrested Hugo, an officer walked over to the siblings in the car. Sandra asked him what was going to happen, and the officer covered the camera with his hand and said "We got to talk to him (Hugo) about that. He was resisting arrest right now."


"Yeah because you guys pulled him over for no reason," Sandra responded. "You guys are treating him like he's a criminal. He's not a criminal."


Hugo is detained at the Mesa Verde Detention Facility in Bakersfield, waiting for his bail hearing. Barreto said Hugo does have some possible pathways to legal residency.


In the meantime, Eduardo and Sandra are trying to stop reliving that Tuesday morning. But both said it’s been really difficult.


“I didn’t go to school for like, two days and I decided to go to distract myself, but it’s kind of hard,” Eduardo said. “It’s like a videotape replaying every time in my head, and that day that I went to  school, I started getting headaches, and out of nowhere, I felt like throwing up.”


Credit Monica Velez / Valley Public Radio
Valley Public Radio
Sandra Hernandez, 15

Sandra said she missed a week of school after her dad was detained.


“There are days that I feel confident going to school, but then there’s days where I feel like it’s not good for me to go to school,” she said. “I can’t keep on pretending that I’m really strong and that nothing’s happening, and that my dad didn’t get snatched away from me out of nowhere.” 


But the siblings did show up to a Faith in the Valley meeting this week to plan a march to support keeping immigrant families together. 


Ariana Martinez-Lott,  a regional coordinator for the grassroots organization, asked the group of teens: “What is the world as we want it to look like? Why did we choose to be here today?”


“Immigrants shouldn’t be hiding in fear,” Sandra responded. “They should be able to have the same opportunities that every other citizen has.” 


Sandra and her classmate Angela Sanchez sat together, holding hands. Angela said when situations like this happen, it makes the whole community fearful, and it’s affected her family too. 


“I always thought Fresno was a safe place, but I was wrong because it happened to her dad, and I’m afraid it’s going to happen to my dad at any second,” Angela said. “Every time I go, like outside, I can’t, I’m afraid. I’m afraid that one day my dad is going to go missing.” 


The march to support immigrant families will take place sometime in December.


A GoFundMe has been created for the family to help with expenses while Hugo, the breadwinner of the family, is in ICE custody. Here's the link: bit.ly/gofundmehernandez

Monica Velez was a reporter at Valley Public Radio. She started out as a print reporter covering health issues in Merced County at the Merced Sun-Star.