Gloria Barrera is measuring her life in months. In the time she has left, she has just one wish: not to be deported to Mexico and die away from her family.
It is a plea the 54-year-old ovarian cancer patient and undocumented resident, a mother of three and grandmother of seven, is making to the United States government.
Her 20-year-old son, David, says the entire family is nervously waiting for immigration officials to let them know whether Barrera will be allowed to stay in the United States. “She’s nervous and worried. She has a lot of things on her mind, but I can tell she doesn’t want to get me worried,” he said.
Last week in Chicago, Barrera and her lawyer met with officials from US Customs and Immigration Enforcement to discuss her case, and the agency is expected to announce a decision this week.
“I want to die with dignity and with my family, in the company of my husband, my children and my grandchildren,” she told CNN affiliate WLS through an interpreter after the meeting.
Fred Tsao, an attorney at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, which advocates for immigrants rights while helping them integrate into society, says that even with Barrera’s medical condition, she faces an uphill battle with ICE.
“Seeking any kind of humanitarian relief is difficult and has been for many years,” he said.
“Unfortunately, the situation has gotten much worse with this administration. Many immigrants are now being told that the discretion they received previously will no longer be extended, and they should be preparing for their deportation. This includes many individuals who have been here for years and have ties to the community and have homes and friends. They are deeply rooted members of the community, but ICE doesn’t take that into consideration.”
Barrera’s life has been filled with hardship. She came to the United States in 1984 from Mexico and received permanent residency, but she was thrown into deportation proceedings in 2013 for misdemeanor theft of goods valued at less than $150. Her attorney says she was then taken to the US-Mexico border and deported. That’s when things took a terrible turn.
“The US took her down to the border in Texas and essentially sent her across. It wasn’t long after that when she was kidnapped,” attorney Chris Elmore said. Mexican smugglers tried to force her into a human trafficking ring, but she was eventually able to escape and return to the US.
But she was again detained by ICE from March 2013 until December 2014, when she was released on bond while her removal proceedings were pending, Elmore says.
Soon after, Barrera went to see a doctor for abdominal pain. She was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer that soon progressed to stage 4.
Elmore says the removal proceedings and appeals process was finalized in May with a final order of removal.
The American Cancer Society lists the five-year-survival rate for stage four ovarian cancer at 19%.
In August 2017, doctors told her she had 15 to 23 months, according to her attorney. “Given her medical condition, [ICE is] eligible to give a stay. She has a pretty significant medical condition.”
Elmore says Barrera’s cancer has begun to spread. “It was in remission, but it seems to be coming back.”
He says Barrera has three children who are all citizens as well as seven grandchildren who also have citizenship. She lives in suburban Chicago with her husband, who has permanent residency and a green card. “She’s just a very kind and generous woman who is a strong matriarch figure for her family,” Elmore said, adding that minor indiscretions in the past should not define her.
“I’m afraid of being deported and dying alone without my children and my husband,” Barrera told the Chicago Tribune. “I’m here asking for clemency and justice only so I could be able to die with my family.”
David Barrera says he’s just trying to stay focused while the family waits for a decision. “I’m [training] to be a police officer and make my mom proud,” he said.
Maria Torres, an organizer with PASO, an immigrant rights group in the Chicago area, stays in contact with Barrera and remains hopeful that ICE will let her live her final months in the US with her family. “I am optimistic that they will let her stay for humanitarian reasons,” she said.
PASO says Barrera has not been eligible for Medicaid or public benefits because she is no longer a permanent resident. It says Barrera has been paying for her medical treatment partly out of pocket, and with the assistance of a local hospital charity. She also uses benefits she received when she was a permanent resident before 2013.
David Barrera says he is very concerned about the medical treatment his mother would receive in Mexico, should ICE deny her request to stay. “I just feel as if their medical isn’t nearly as top-notch as the United States,” he said.
Barrera has filed an I-246 application for a stay of deportation or removal, and Elmore says ICE can grant a stay of up to one year, which may be much more time than Barrera has.
ICE spokeswoman Nicole Alberico said Thursday that she has no updates or information on Barrera’s case.
“The average life expectancy for this type of cancer is 15 to 23 months, and by the time she was diagnosed last August, it was already stage 3 and soon thereafter went stage 4. … She is likely already into that average time,” Elmore said.