Marta Rodriguez walked out the front door of the Baltimore Immigration and Customs Enforcement field office and everyone cheered.
The crowd of 100 or so friends, family, church members, and organizers–holding signs with phrases like “sanctuary for all,” “keep families together” and “we stand with Marta”–had accompanied her to her ICE check-in earlier this morning, because they weren’t sure if she was coming back.
Rodriguez, a mother of six who is undocumented but has a work permit, has been coming to this office at 31 Hopkins Plaza for nine years, usually alone, for her twice-yearly check-in with ICE. The visits have always been routine formalities. But the last time she came, on March 29, one of the ICE officers told her she should bring a plane ticket to Honduras for her next check-in, her husband German Cedillo told me while we waited outside.
“These have been routine check-ins,” said Jennifer Amuzie, an organizer with the D.C.-based group Sanctuary DMV. But since the Trump administration has expanded the pool of people it is targeting for deportation, more people are worried about what will happen when they show up.
“ICE is sort of reaching for low-hanging fruit,” Amuzie said, “people who are compliant, who show up to their check-ins regularly. That’s when you see these check-ins sort of turn into something else, into detention and danger.”
Originally from Honduras, Rodriguez has worked as a nanny and housekeeper for various families in the D.C. area and lived in New Carrollton, Maryland for the past 10 years.
“She essentially taught us how to be parents,” said John Hughes, who has employed Marta since 2014, first as a full-time nanny for his two sons, and now as a housekeeper.
“She follows the law, she owns a home, she pays her taxes,” Hughes continued. “Previously ICE has not seen her as a threat or as a priority for deportation.”
Earlier in the morning her youngest son, German Rodriguez, stood with his hands in his pockets, staring straight at the austere gray 17-story government building where his mother was inside, wondering if she was ever going to come out.
It was dead silent when Rodriguez walked inside the building about an hour before, the only noises a slight breeze and the rushing water in the fountain behind.
Two of Rodriguez’s children went inside with their mother.
“I was pretty nervous because we saw some officers with cuffs,” said Rodriguez’s son, Angel Antonio Cruz-Rodriguez, who went into the building with his mother and his sister, Yessenia Cedillo-Rodriguez.
They waited for about 40 minutes for her appointment, but she was only in the ICE office for about five to 10 minutes, said Cruz-Rodriguez.
“She walked out with a smile,” said Cedillo-Rodriguez, “so we knew.”
Some pastors had gathered to pray for Rodriquez on the steps of the building, and a security guard came out, talking into a walkie-talkie and yelling at people to get off the steps.
“There’s about a hundred of them,” the security guard said into her cell phone.
While it’s hard to say whether today’s gathering had any effect on Marta’s case, demonstrations like these show that the community will stand behind other immigrants like Marta, said Sharon Stanley-Rea, director of refugee and immigration ministries for Disciples Home Missions, a D.C.-based ministry organization.
“What we know is that today, as we look at this building, there are many others in addition to Marta who are in [there], whose cases are likewise important, whose families are loving, and whose families’ hearts are aching,” she said.
Rodriguez’s case is particularly poignant, Stanley-Rea said, because she immigrated to the United States because of her son Osman, who is severely disabled and needs constant medical attention, and she couldn’t earn enough money in Honduras to pay for the care he needed. Every month she sends $600 back to Honduras to help with his care.
“She came here simply to help her son survive,” Stanley-Rea said.
Sanctuary DMV, which started about a year and half ago, is based in D.C. but regularly accompanies people to their check-ins at the Baltimore ICE field office. ICE has no office in D.C., and the Baltimore office is in charge of all of Maryland.
The organization gets about two requests per week from people asking to be accompanied to their ICE check-ins, and so far they’ve been able to accommodate all of them with a roster of over 400 volunteers, according to organizer Brandon Wu.
Rodriguez has to return for another check-in on July 9*, and it’s not clear what will happen then.
“We’re just so glad that she’s here,” Cedillo-Rodriguez, her daughter, said, “and even though it’s just two months and we’re not guaranteed something better, that’s two months where we can enjoy more time with her.”
Once outside, Rodriguez tearfully hugged her friends and family and spoke to all her supporters in Spanish, amidst joyous chants of “si se puede,” which translates roughly to “It can be done.”
“Marta’s a very strong person,” Hughes said, adding, “They’re all wonderful people.”
“We’ve all been holding our breath,” said Cynthia Lapp, a pastor at Hyattsville Mennonite Church, after the news of Rodriguez’s safe return spread. “It’s time to exhale.”
While today was a victory for Rodriguez, Sanctuary DMV is fighting for other cases as well. Two weeks ago, Amuzie said, they accompanied a man named Prince Gbohoutou and his wife to his check-in, and he never came out.
“That was a shocking turnout,” Amuzie said.
Gbohoutou is currently in a jail in Glen Burnie, according to an online petition being circulated by the organization.
“People are essentially being disappeared when they walk in alone and are placed in detention,” Amuzie said. “So when all of us show up to accompany in a situation like this, it says: This is a person who will be missed. This is a member of our community who is loved. And we aren’t going to turn away.”
Sanctuary DMV organizers say they plan to accompany Rodriguez to her next check-in on July 19.
“We’ll be back here standing with her, for as long as it takes,” said Amuzie.
Cruz-Rodriguez, who is 24, recently moved back home to New Carrollton to be closer to his mom.
“Family belongs together,” he said. “Nobody wants to see family apart.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story said Rodriguez’s next check in is July 19. It is July 9. Baltimore Fishbowl regrets the error.