Servando Lomeli, photo courtesy Damyhana Lomeli
Damyhana Lomeli lives in an average looking home in an average looking subdivision in Creswell, Oregon. The walls have classic motivational stencils: “live, laugh, love” and “home, memories, laughter.” Pictures around the house show a happy family. The family’s rambunctious pitbull and regal cat greet visitors sweetly.
Damyhana Lomeli and her family are distraught and desperate. Her husband Servando Lomeli Ramirez, who originally came to the U.S. illegally as a 16-year-old, is being held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Tacoma, Washington.
ICE has indicated to his wife that Servando Lomeli’s deportation is imminent. She worries that it will happen as soon as May 9, and she has no idea what she’ll do without her husband and the household's sole breadwinner.
Servando Lomeli is facing deportation for illegal reentry after he was deported for a crime he says he didn't commit, one that has since been vacated from his record. According to Damyhana Lomeli, he reentered to take care of his son whose mother neglected their child and struggled with drug abuse. Servando Lomeli has held the same job at a local manufacturing company for over 20 years and has received support from the community who call him a loyal father and trustworthy worker.
The couple has been married since 2013. Today, Damyhana is on the phone with Servando, who makes expensive collect calls every day from the ICE’s detention center in Tacoma. He speaks mostly Spanish in a hushed voice. “I am fighting for my family,” Servando Lomeli says, “my kids, my wife and my pets are all I have.”
He provides the sole income for his household, which includes his wife and two sons ages 15 and 17. Servando Lomeli is 43 years old. Both of his sons have struggled with developmental and behavioral disabilities. He has sole custody of both of his children, who are estranged from their respective mothers.
Lomeli’s initial deportation in 2002
Servando Lomeli was deported by ICE in 2002 for a crime that was vacated and removed from his record in 2015 by the Lane County Circuit Court. He was previously held by ICE in 2013 and 2016 and received temporary relief from removal each time because of the circumstances of his case and the importance of his presence to his family.
Servando Lomeli is from Tecoman in the Colima state of Mexico. The U.S. State Department restricts the travel of government personnel in the area and advises that “U.S. citizens should defer non-essential travel to this border region, including the city of Tecoman.” In 1991 Servando fled the area, which is infamous for cartel violence and methamphetamine production.
In 2001, the mother of Servando’s eldest son, who was just an infant then, called police and said that he had physically abused her. Servando Lomeli was arrested and charged with two counts of felony assault.
The accuser and a friend who was present have somewhat divergent versions of what happened though each say he struck her as she defended herself with a knife. Each also allege that there was a history of abuse, though no previous charges had been filed.
Servando Lomeli says that he slapped his ex once after she slashed at him twice with the knife. He says that the argument ensued after he came home from work to find his child neglected and the mother on drugs. Both he and his current wife say that he is not abusive.
Though Servando has maintained his innocence, he took the advice of his court appointed lawyer and pled guilty in exchange for a reduced sentence. After serving time in jail he was deported by ICE to Mexico in 2002. After one failed border crossing attempt, he reentered the United States illegally in 2003.
'A sympathetic case'
Eugene-based immigration attorney Raquel Hecht provided legal assistance to Servando Lomeli in 2013 and later in 2016 when ICE took him into custody based on his illegal reentry. Servando was granted stays of deportation each time because of the hardships that would be incurred on his family and his child’s status as a victim of a crime. Since his release in 2013, Servando Lomeli has had to do monthly check-ins with ICE.
Hecht took issue with the latest statement ICE provided to the family that said that Servando’s file had been reviewed, that there was nothing wrong with his 2002 deportation order and that they will continue with deportation proceedings for Servando. Hecht says, “I don’t agree that there’s no defect, he is eligible for relief that he didn’t get.”
“It’s a sympathetic case because he’s a good man and doesn’t deserve anything that happened to him,” Hecht says. She says that he should be able to contest his deportation because the cause for him being deported in the first place has now been dismissed. “He should have the chance to argue his case to a judge.”
“Servando is somebody they should be leaving alone,” Hecht says. “He has no actual crimes, in fact his kids have been victims.”
An attorney at ICE said that she was unable to speak about the case and referred Eugene Weekly to the public affairs office. ICE's public affairs office did not answer or return a call and message during stated business hours before this story was uploaded.
Neglect of Lomeli’s son
Servando Lomeli reentered the United States in 2003. Since his re-entry Servando has not had any run-ins with law enforcement and returned to his job at a local manufacturing company. He came back to the U.S. because he worried for the safety of his son. These fears proved to be founded when the mother was charged with neglect later that year. Lomeli has two sons with different mothers, his current wife, Damyhana Lomeli, is not the biological mother of either one.
In 2003, police responded to a call that Servando Lomeli’s son, who was 3 at the time and living with his ex, was wandering around the neighborhood wearing only a diaper. Neighbors said that seeing him outside unsupervised was not uncommon and that they had called because he was close to traffic, and they were afraid he might get hurt.
When police arrived on the scene they saw the 3-year-old boy standing by the back door of the home. Upon entering the house through an unlocked door the police made contact with the boy’s mom.
According to the officer’s report, upon entering the house they observed “clothes, shoes, beer bottles, cigarettes, dirt, old food, and bugs” on the floor. As they were speaking with the mother the officers saw the child, “walk to the kitchen and start to eat old, rotten food off of the floor.” The officers had to stop the child several times from eating the rotten food.
Upon further inspection of the house, officers found a plastic bottle that the mother admitted was used for smoking methamphetamine and said she smokes methamphetamine when the child is in the house and that another man had smoked meth in the house on that same day. She said she had last used methamphetamine the day before.
After this incident the child, Lomeli’s eldest son, entered state custody.
Prior charges against Lomeli dismissed
The domestic violence charges against Servando Lomeli were vacated by a Lane County Circuit Court Judge in 2016. Court documents state that the charges were dismissed because: “The state of the evidence is such that the material element of the crime cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The attorney who helped Servando get the charges dismissed is Richard Brissenden. Brissenden is currently a Florence Municipal Court Judge, and for nearly 30 years he has worked on cases of domestic violence. Brissenden has served on the Lane County Domestic Violence Council for seventeen years.
Brissenden says the conviction was vacated because Servando Lomeli was not properly represented and made aware of his rights and because “the evidence was not very strong in this case.” He also sees Servando’s returning to the United States as an act of compassion for his developmentally disabled son who was living with a mother struggling with drug addiction. “It says a lot to his credit that he came back to take care of his family,” Brissenden says.
After a few years working and staying out of trouble, Servando Lomeli was able to reunite with his sons.
Servando got full legal custody of his eldest son in 2009 and of his younger son in 2011. The only time he has not been their caretaker since is when he was detained by ICE. In both of these instances the family struggled to get by in his absence.
When he was detained for two months last summer his wife and children were left homeless without his income which they depend on. Servando’s wife has several disabilities that prevent her from working according to documents from physicians included in his immigration case file.
Support from school, church community and family
While the claims made by his accuser in the 2001 assault case paint Servando Lomeli in a negative light, statements from school officials, community members, his sons and his longtime employer depict Servando as a dedicated father and upstanding citizen. Statements from his immigration case file also describe Servando as a dedicated father, man of faith and reliable worker.
When Servando was detained by ICE in 2013, the special education teacher for his younger son at Douglas Gardens Elementary in Springfield wrote a letter describing Servando as an engaged dad who attended all of his son’s meetings and conferences and actively engaged to help his son overcome his behavioral obstacles.
In the statement Rachelle Depner points out the growth of Lomeli’s younger son since he had been in Servando Lomeli’s care. She also states her concern that “the absence of his father is likely going to cause a great emotional hardship” for the son. She writes, “Servando’s support has been an asset in helping [his son] make progress in behavior and academics.”
As part of Lomeli’s 2016 application for a U-nonimmigrant visa, the pastor of Lomeli’s church had high praise for Servando Lomeli’s character. He describes Servando as a “good man, devoted husband, and father,.” He also describes Servando as a “selfless, humble and a man of strong faith.” In the statement the pastor of his Eugene church says Servando, “is a man of good moral character and does not deserve to be torn from his family.”
In a letter handwritten in 2013 that starts with “Dear United States,” Servando Lomeli’s eldest son, who was 13 at the time and has been diagnosed as autistic, pleads for his dad to be released from ICE custody. In the letter his son writes about how he misses his dad and needs him to take of their family. He writes, “For the first time since I was a little kid my life finally seemed normal like everybody elses.”
In the letter he asks, “Why does a piece of paper got to ruin my life! I am very scared and confused and want my dad. He is the only one who takes care of me and I need him here. Please, he is the best and I love him.”
During the same detention Lomeli’s younger son wrote, “I miss my dad very much. I cry for him every night. I am scared.”
Longtime employer supports Lomeli
While his kids obviously love their dad, his employers, who have known him since he was a teenager, respect him and value the role he plays in their company.
“Servando has worked for us for more than 20 years” says his employer, who prefers to only give her last name, Parmenter, to protect her company. “We would like to see hard-working people like him have a clear pathway to citizenship,” she says, “it’s inhumane to take him away from his kids and family that depend on him.”
The company says that they do not knowingly hire undocumented immigrants and also states that all of their employees pay income taxes. Eugene Weekly has seen a copy of a 1040 form showing that Servando Lomeli has paid income taxes.
“I’m 100 percent for people who are doing bad things like hurting people and selling drugs being deported,” Parmenter says. She says that many of the immigrants who work for the company, “are just hard working people that contribute to our society.”
She says that over the two decades she has known Servando Lomeli she has known him to be a reliable no-nonsense guy who is dedicated to his family and an asset to her company.
“It needs to be out there how much immigrants contribute,” Parmenter says. She adds that many of her Latino employees are hard-working and honest and more reliably pass the drug tests that her company requires.
An uncertain future
Damyhana Lomeli is at or near the point of tears whenever she talks about her husband and her fears of him being deported. She has had a checkered past and struggled with legal problems, health issues and addiction. Damyhana admits, “I’m no angel.”
But for her and for Servando’s children, he has been the one stable and reliable thing in their life. “He saved me,” she says, “he’s always tried to get me to do the right thing.”
“I am so scared right now,” Damyhana Lomeli says, “I have no idea what we will do without him.”
Update: Damyhana Lomeli tells EW that Servando is coming home today, May 12. For an updated version of this story go here.