Disappeared and deported
Thomas Field has lived in Chico legally since he was 3, but now he’s being kicked out of the country
For two years, Esther Parris waited for her son Thomas to come home. He was expected to arrive in time for Christmas. His sister, Melissa, postponed her wedding so he could attend.
It was not to be. Just before Christmas, Thomas Field disappeared, sucked into the black hole of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention system—“put on ICE,” as the expression goes. Parris had no idea where he was.
Parris, who owns an infants’ used-goods business on The Esplanade called Angel Babies, has three children. Thomas, who’s now 21, is the youngest; Parris’ older son, Luke, is 24, and Melissa is 33. Luke and Melissa live in the area and have children of their own. They, too, were looking forward to Thomas’ return.
All of them are originally from England. They moved from there to Chico in 1990, when Parris’ then-husband, Stephen Field, took a job with Courtesy Motors BMW service. Thomas was 3 years old at the time.
The couple divorced in 2000, when Thomas was 13. The boy apparently took the breakup and his father’s absence hard and started acting out on occasion, though he was by and large a good kid, well-liked at school by both students and teachers. At one point he went to live with his father, who remained in Chico, but that lasted only about three months, Parris reported.
He was never in trouble with the law until an incident in June 2005, just a month after he turned 18. He broke into his father’s house through an unlocked window and stole a credit card and some cash. Later he made some purchases on the card.
When he was caught, his father pressed charges. “I took it upon myself to teach him a hard lesson instead of slapping him upon the wrist,” he explains in a March 2 letter seeking Thomas’ release from ICE confinement.
In a plea bargain, Thomas Field pleaded no contest to a felony charge of first-degree residential burglary, was sentenced to four years in state prison, but was credited with time served and released on five years’ probation.
His mother insists that at no time during this process was he informed that a felony conviction could make him vulnerable to deportation, but court documents show that, as part of his plea deal, he initialed a box—one of 30 on the court form—indicating that he understood that if he was “not a citizen of the United States, a plea of guilty or no contest could result in deportation….” Thomas Field is a legal resident but not a U.S. citizen.
He was working at the Dan Gamel RV Center on Eaton Road in December 2006, when he made what his mother calls a foolish mistake. After store hours, she said, he remembered that he’d left out a can of cleaning fluid he’d been using while detailing an RV. So he went back to the lot, climbed the fence, and got caught trying to put it away. That was sufficient to get his probation revoked. (A call to his probation officer was not returned before press time.)
Thomas Field was quickly remanded to High Desert State Prison, in Susanville, to serve out his term. With good behavior, he would be out in two years—just before Christmas of 2008.
Instead, just days before his scheduled release, he was picked up by the ICE and placed in detention.
At first his mother had no idea where he was—just that he was no longer at the prison. Her efforts to penetrate the byzantine ICE, part of the massive Department of Homeland Security agency, were to no avail. Her son had effectively disappeared.
For those caught up in the ICE system, even U.S. citizens, the experience is like something out of Kafka’s The Trial. They can be held without warrant and without being read their rights and have no access to an attorney unless they can afford one. Until this January they didn’t get a free phone call. And they can be deported without hearings.
The Associated Press has documented more than 55 cases in which U.S. citizens have been deported by mistake since 2000, and immigration lawyers report hundreds more.
It is estimated that as many as 30,000 people are being held at any given time, most of them incommunicado, in a series of ICE detention facilities. Anyone who saw the movie The Visitor has a good idea of what they are like: anonymous, windowless warehouses in cities around the country.
Even if a detainee can afford a lawyer, the system works against success. Immigration judges are swamped. In 2008, 214 judges decided 350,000 cases, Dana Marks, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, told the AP.
Once Esther Parris located her son—he’d been taken first to Sacramento, then to Oakland, then on to Phoenix and finally to Tacoma, Wash.—she hired an attorney for him. She also launched a campaign to convince the judge that, even though Thomas had committed a crime, he’d taken responsibility for it, done his sentence, and was no threat to society.
She solicited letters from adults who knew her son, including school counselors, the youth counselor for the Mechoopda Indian Tribe, the director of the Office of Alternative Education, and two former employers.
Joe McDermid, owner of Sticky Signs, writes that Thomas was “proficient, loyal and very reliable. … I only wished we could see more like him.” And Alberto Tudisco, owner of the former Pulcinella Ristorante in downtown Chico, calls Thomas “a natural entrepreneur … very hard working and always looking for the next challenge.”
Several of the writers note that the youth sought male attention “due to his abandonment issues with his father,” as Tudisco puts it. Terry Collins, the Mechoopda counselor, attributes Thomas’ burglary of his father’s house to “anger and resentment in response to the lack of attention from Dad.”
Stephen Field declined to speak with the CN&R, but in his letter to the immigration judge he writes, “I have forgiven [Thomas] and miss him dearly. I would not want him to leave the place where he has grown up and made so many memories.”
All of the letter writers call attention to his loving and supportive family in Chico and note that nothing positive would be accomplished by sending him back to England, where he knows nobody except two elderly grandparents.
Last week, Esther Parris learned that her efforts had been for naught, and that a judge had ruled that Thomas be deported sometime in the next two to three weeks.
“I’m devastated, totally devastated,” she said. “I just can’t understand why they won’t give him another chance.”
She said she’d spoken with Thomas on the phone, and that he was “trying to be brave. He’s tired of the fight and trying to be positive.”
All she knows is that he’s going to London, where he knows nobody and has no place to stay. She wishes she knew exactly when he was leaving, so she could fly to England to meet him, but she has no idea. She, too, is trying to be positive.
“You’ve just got to move forward and deal with what you’ve been dealt,” she said. “I’m taking it day by day.”