Families separated: Central American migrants in Iowa City adjust after husbands' deportations

After arrests during ICE check-ins, women become single mothers

Nancy Carolina Raudales Martinez, seen Nov. 19 at the Catholic Worker House in Iowa City, is a Honduran refugee who arri
Nancy Carolina Raudales Martinez, seen Nov. 19 at the Catholic Worker House in Iowa City, is a Honduran refugee who arrived in Iowa in June with her husband and two daughters. Her husband was detained during an ICE check-in and subsequently deported. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

President Donald Trump in June 2018 reversed his “zero tolerance” immigration policy, under which federal authorities separated at least 3,000 children from parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, with no established plan for reunification.

Even still, a national increase in migrant arrests and deportations has split some families in Iowa.

Federal authorities detained the husbands of Modesta Mateo Pedro and Nancy Carolina Raudales Martinez at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement check-in meetings in Cedar Rapids. Both men were deported shortly thereafter.

Their removals have left Pedro and Martinez to raise multiple young children as single mothers while building new lives in Iowa City and awaiting decisions in their asylum cases.

Husband, father deported just 10 days after arrival

Pedro, 32, immigrated to the U.S. from Huehuetenango, Guatemala, in 2017 with two of her three children — daughters, now ages 10 and 6 — to join her husband Francisco and oldest son, now 12, who had arrived in Iowa the previous year.

The married couple had struggled to make a living in their home country harvesting cardamom and selling firewood.

To reach El Paso, Texas, Pedro and her husband went into debt to pay coyotes — the people who help immigrants across the border illegally — to ferry her and her children 20 days through Mexico. The group rode on buses during the days and walked at nights. Through a translator, Pedro said she slept only briefly during the bus rides, out of fear that someone could kidnap her children at nighttime.

“I was really happy (upon my arrival in the U.S.) because I accomplished my dream and because my children, they knew they were going to see their dad” after being apart for a year, said Pedro, speaking through a translator.

The family ultimately was together for 10 days before Francisco was arrested, during Pedro’s first ICE check-in meeting in September 2017.


“He didn’t commit any crime, so he thought that he was going to be OK while (authorities and I) met, but at that appointment, they didn’t pay attention to me, they focused on him,” she said. “They came out (of an interrogation room) and told me ‘Your husband has a deportation order, so you need to figure out how you can go back to your house.’ ”

Francisco now is working as a bus driver in Guatemala, but Pedro said he sometimes is unable to work on account of personal danger, including from his debt to the coyotes.

Though Pedro is legally employed at McDonald’s, she said her family’s experience has left her 12-year-old son, now in sixth grade, fearful of what the future could hold.

“He asks, ‘Mama, what will happen if ICE comes to the school and they deport me?’ ” she said.

Pedro says she and her husband speak occasionally over the phone, when she can afford to do so, and she hopes he eventually can obtain permission to work in the U.S., or at least the ability to visit.

“The experience was really hard, and I don’t understand why they treat us in this way,” she said. “The only thing we want is to have a better life, to provide for our families, and we don’t come here to commit crime. In my case, I just want to work and have a better life.”

Honduran family separated from husband, father since August

Martinez, 35, emigrated from Tegucigalpa, Honduras, with her husband, Ronald Josue Garcia Colindres, and two daughters, ages 8 and 12, in late March, after her family received multiple gang threats, sometimes with involvement from corrupt police officers.

The bad actors were looking to extort money from the salon business she had operated for nine years, she said.

Martinez’s father-in-law, an Iowa resident for 28 years, advised the family to move to the U.S., and the four travelers arrived at the border June 24.


Before arriving in Iowa City in July, Martinez and her family spent two days in an immigrant detention facility in Eagle Pass, Texas.

“That was a hard experience because I never was in situation like that before,” she said through a translator.

Martinez said she observed about 500 immigrants, who packed together on the floor in cold cells, with access to portable bathrooms but no water to wash their hands. Each detainee was given one burrito to eat every 10 hours and a thin plastic blanket, she said.

Martinez’s family was released after facility officials spoke via phone with her father-in-law, who paid for the family’s bus tickets to Iowa City.

Not long after their arrival, on Aug. 20, she and Ronald attended an ICE check-in meeting, where he was asked to accompany an officer into an interrogation room. Martinez has not seen her husband since.

Now back in Honduras, Ronald is unemployed and “practically doesn’t go out” because of safety concerns, Martinez said.

“That feels horrible, to be separated,” she said. “Your family is split. Hopefully the next president, if there’s another one, is more conscious about us (immigrants). I understand that we are so many, but there could be another way to address this immigration crisis.”

Martinez does not have work authorization but is taking English classes at Kirkwood Community College. She and her children live with her father-in-law and have received help with food and clothing from the Iowa City Catholic Worker House.


Martinez said her children had never seen snow before moving to Iowa, and her youngest daughter now loves to play in it — “that was a really beautiful experience,” she said, of the state’s first snowfall this year.

Outside her family’s experience with ICE, Martinez said of the Iowans she’s met so far, “They’re really good people.”

“After everything that’s happened to us, it’s good to know there are good people in this country who are willing to help us.”

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