Pomona alum seeks help as cancer-surviving mother faces risk of deportation

A male college student kisses his mom on the cheek as they sit together.
Tania Romero, a recent stage 4 cancer survivor, has been held in an ICE detention center for two months. (Courtesy of Cristian Jose Padilla Romero)

Tania Romero’s been through a lot. She’s raised four kids, battled stage 4 cancer and now, she’s on the verge of being deported. 

Originally from Honduras, she came into the United States as an undocumented immigrant two decades ago, according to The New York Times. In mid-August of this year, she was pulled over for speeding in Gwinnett County, Georgia, and arrested for not having a license, according to her son, Cristian Jose Padilla Romero PO ’18.

He said they posted bail. But instead of being released, Tania was transferred to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Irwin County Detention Center — nearly 200 miles away from her family in Atlanta. 

In addition to fears of deportation, Cristian is worried about his mother’s health. Tania was diagnosed with stage four mouth and neck cancer in late 2016 and underwent surgery in early 2017, followed by chemotherapy and radiation treatments, he said.

He started a petition and GoFundMe on Tuesday afternoon, alleging that the detention center has deprived her of regular medical follow-ups and post-radiation and post-chemotherapy care. She was recently diagnosed with a serious B12 vitamin deficiency, he said.

“She still needs to be carefully watched and monitored, and that’s not happening,” Cristian told TSL.

Students at the Claremont Colleges have also been sharing his family’s story, which has been covered by The New York Times, Vice, the Yale Daily News and other outlets.

ICE told the Romero family that Tania received an ICE removal order in 2008, but she never received a notice to appear in court, Cristian said.

ICE could not immediately be reached for comment.

“And if she is deported to Honduras, my mother would certainly face a decline in health, if not death.” – Cristian Jose Padilla Romero PO ’18

While in the detention center, Tania filed for a motion to re-open her case, her son said. But a judge rejected the motion Oct. 17, and the family found out about a week later. 

She’s currently trying to get her case reconsidered. But Cristian’s become increasingly worried, because on Wednesday, ICE asked for her Honduran travel documents — a step toward deporting her, he said.

“She’s more vulnerable than ever for deportation,” he said. 

Cristian said his grandparents live in Honduras, but that returning to her home country would be detrimental to his mother’s wellbeing.

“We fear that her physical health is declining at an alarming rate,” he wrote in the petition. “And if she is deported to Honduras, my mother would certainly face a decline in health, if not death.”

The petition Cristian began Tuesday afternoon, which asks ICE to halt her deportation and release her to receive medical treatment, has gathered more than 21,000 signatures as of Thursday night. Cristian is also urging people to call ICE and ask for his mother’s release.

Cristian, 24, studied Latin American Studies at Pomona College and is now getting his doctorate in history at Yale University.

“[My mother is] the reason I’m in the place I’m in now,” he told TSL.

Cristian said he came to the U.S. when he was 7 years old after his mother arrived beforehand. He’s an undocumented immigrant but protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and has three older sisters who entered the U.S. at different times.

Cristian called his mom “the bedrock of our family, the glue that keeps us all together.”

He was able to get in contact with his congressional representative, Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Ga., delaying his mother’s potential deportation until at least this weekend as McBath is scheduled to speak to ICE on Friday.

The GoFundMe campaign supporting Tania’s legal and medical fees has received almost $25,000 as of Thursday.

Cristian’s girlfriend, Anayansi Alatorre Romo PO ’20, was driving from Chicago to California with Cristian when they received the call that Tania had been arrested. 

“Of course, like what was happening was breaking his heart and like tearing them apart, but like the strength of his mom, you can see it clearly in him,” Alatorre Romo said about Cristian. “… the resilience is present in him and all of his sisters too, all three of them.”

Though Alatorre Romo and Cristian aren’t married, she calls Tania “suegra,” which means mother-in-law in Spanish. Alatorre Romo spent time with her over this past summer when Alatorre Romo taught in Atlanta. When Alatorre Romo struggled with mental health, she turned to Tania for support. 

“[Tania’s] such a positive light,” she said. When Alatorre Romo’s own mother had a cancer scare, Tania became her support system, even though the two mothers had only met once. 

“It just hurts a lot … especially knowing the impact on the younger kids,” Alatorre Romo said. After Tania’s youngest grandchild was born, she would often burst into the house and yell, “Leandro!”, smothering him with kisses and love, Alatorre Romo said.

Alatorre Romo has started posting flyers around the Claremont Colleges and surrounding areas to raise awareness about Tania’s situation.

The Immigrant Rights Coalition in Claremont has also been tabling to get students to sign the petition and call ICE, according to the group’s Facebook page.

Shayok Chakraborty PO ’19 said he worked with Cristian while organizing around immigration in Claremont.

Chakraborty and Cristian met through the Know Your Rights Collective, which was formed after President Donald Trump was elected in 2016. They worked together to hold a DACA rally as well as events with workshops and legal resources for undocumented immigrants.

“Cristian was always there,” Chakraborty said. “I’ve seen him around, and I’ve seen him put out for people.”

This story was last updated Nov. 1 at 2:04 a.m.

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