Tomas Contreras

In early 2007, Tomas Contreras set off home to Madison after a family visit to Mexico. It was a trip he’d made many times before. This time, a new computer system at the border turned up old police records, showing an arrest and a $250 fine back in 1989. That fine should have been the end of it, but a 1996 law meant the incident could now be reclassified as a deportable offense. He was taken into custody and a nightmare began…

“I came to Wisconsin first in 1980, but have been legally in the U.S. since September 1964. We came with our documents in our hands. They were given to us at the border. Now, I have several businesses here. I employ 70 people year-round and up to 250 through out the year.”

“In December, I went to Mexico to visit family. Coming back I was brought in for investigation by ICE and I was sent to a detention center. I was detained until March 30, 81 days total.”

“These places are not jails, they are detention centers. They don’t spend money on these people. People are beaten, people are raped. I was beaten. I was tied up and moved to segregation. After I was out of segregation from one place, I started speaking up again in another one and the same thing happened.”

“There are a lot of people. They are catching them by the hundreds. And 99% of them get deported. The other percent are released by a pardon. Once you get a pardon you are on probation for the rest of your life. Anything you do, you get thrown back, no questions asked.”

“I was a lucky person I had a lot of support from Wisconsin, I had support from political people here, from my neighbors, from my friends – even people who didn’t know me were supporting me. I didn’t come out with probation or through a pardon, I came out with nothing, clean.”

“I am going to keep speaking out for these people.”

This post is also available in: Spanish