Blog Archive

Monday, October 17, 2011

Coupeville mother of 5 seeks mercy for detained husband

By Jessie Stensland
October 16, 2011

By all accounts, Jaime Villicana-Campos is a wonderful husband and a beloved father to his children.

He held two physically demanding jobs and worked seven days a week to support his large family. He somehow still made time to spend with his little girls, especially 6-year-old Angelica who suffers from epilepsy. She is particularly close to her doting father and is known in the family as "Daddy's girl."

But because of the nation's sometimes vexing immigration laws, Villicana-Campos is sitting in a Tacoma federal detention facility. He was nabbed by immigration officials in June, a month before his fifth daughter was born. He still hasn't met baby Sophia.

In the meantime, his wife and five daughters languish without him in a Central Whidbey home that his brother-in-law rented for the family. His wife, Terra Villicana, is fighting for his freedom, but suffers from depression that's so debilitating that she had to be temporarily admitted to a psychiatric unit. Tears constantly stream down her cheeks as she discusses the untenable situation.

"This is beyond pain. This is torture," Terra said. "The hardest thing is to hear the kids cry at night. They just want their dad."

Jaime Villicana-Campos is married to an American citizen and has five children born in America. He has lived in America since he was 14. He worked hard and paid taxes. But still, he faces prison followed by deportation to Mexico because of a mistake he made in 1997.

Under federal law, Villicana-Campos can't become a citizen because he was convicted of a felony. His wife explains that he was hanging out with the wrong crowd when he was a young man in Skagit County. He drove some friends to what turned out to be a drug deal and was arrested by the police.

Villicana-Campos, who didn't speak English very well at the time, got some poor advice from an attorney. Terra said he was advised to plead guilty with the promise that he'd be sentenced to work ethics camp and then would be able to return home.

But instead, the Skagit County judge sentenced him to two years in prison. After he got out, he was deported to Mexico. As Terra explained, the other members of Villicana-Campos' family had become American citizens, but for some reason he was never naturalized.

Terra admits that her husband sneaked into the country twice. The first time was when he was 14. Then he again entered illegally after he was deported.

In a statement on the case, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement corroborates the details of Villicana-Campos' story, but adds that he was convicted of trafficking cocaine and methamphetamine. He was deported to Mexico "based on that aggravated felony conviction," according to ICE.

After returning to Skagit County, Villicana-Campos met Terra, who had grown up in Coupeville. They fell in love and were married in 1999. They had their first daughter, Jasmine, in 2001.

Jasmine now goes to Coupeville schools. Like her younger sisters, she's taken her father's absence hard and often cries herself to sleep, sometimes grasping her father's shirt.

"All I want is for my daddy to be home and for him to have his papers," she said. "If I could have that, I would be the happiest girl alive."

Terra said Angelica's seizures had been under control, but the stress of her father's absence has caused them to flare up. The doctors have had to increase her medication.

As Terra explained, immigration agents came to get Villicana-Campos at their home in Mount Vernon on June 23. They pounded on the door and claimed they were police officers. She answered the door and questioned them. They eventually admitted they were from immigration, but promised they just wanted to talk to her husband for a few minutes and then would leave. Terra was eight-months pregnant at the time and begged Villicana-Campos to hide, but he wanted to take responsibility for his actions. They took him away in handcuffs.

About a month later, July 28, Terra had her fifth baby while Villicana-Campos sat in federal detention. She said it's impossible to describe how difficult it was to have the little girl without her husband there.

"I'm miserable every day," she said. "It's so difficult to answer these kids' questions."

The statement from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, however, explains the government's case.

"On July 6, Mr. Villicana-Campos was released to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service after he was criminally charged with illegally re-entering the United States after deportation, a felony charge that carries a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison. Mr. Villacana-Campos remains in U.S. Marshals' custody at this time as he awaits sentencing following his conviction on the felony immigration charge," according to the statement.

While the family waits for answers, Terra has been fighting to bring her husband home. She's contacted attorneys, lawmakers, a civil rights group and even the White House. She's currently working with Sen. Patty Murray's office in hopes of helping her husband's case.

In addition, she's collected testimonials from people who know her husband. At the time of his arrest, he was a manager of a horse farm and also worked at a mobile home park for seniors. Terra said he was loved by the residents and was known for helping folks on his own time.

"They were crying because they miss him so much," she said.

Another one of her allies is Dr. Robert Prins, a well-known and respected OB/GYN physician in Anacortes. He delivered all five of her girls and has offered to help the family in any way he can. He described Villicana-Campos as "a fine father."

"I have known Terra now as you can see for over 10 years and she is a delightful young lady," Prins wrote in a letter of support. "She has taken great care of her children, loves her husband and has been an asset to our community and it is a real tragedy that immigration has what I would consider to be blinders on with regards to the circumstances here. I fully understand the issues of illegal immigration and am in agreement with the general attitude and approach, but this seems like a very exceptional circumstance and those of us in the community who know and love Terra, would very much like to see this resolved in her favor."

While immigration laws are rigid, there is some hope for Villicana-Campos. His fate is largely in the hands of judges. His attorney has petitioned the Skagit County Superior Court to have the conviction vacated because he wasn't properly advised about deportation. If the attorney is successful, it would open up a road to citizenship.

Villicana-Campos already pleaded guilty in federal court to entering the country illegally. His sentencing hearing is set for Dec. 8. He's facing a maximum of 20 years in prison, but Terra prays the judge will recognize the exceptional circumstances and have mercy. She plans to bring Sophia to meet her father.

"These children just need their dad," she said. "He's an amazing, wonderful, wonderful dad and it just doesn't make any sense that they are keeping him away from his kids."