Updated at 3:00 p.m.
More than 30 years after she left her native Philippines for a life in the United States, a 66-year-old pastor’s wife from Mount Prospect boarded an airplane to Manila Thursday afternoon after being deported by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Attempts to stop the deportation of Julita Bartolome by the offices of U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Evanston, and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. failed.
Now, the family plans to seek an immigrant visa — essentially applying for a green card from abroad — as well as a waiver so Bartolome can re-enter the United States after this deportation, said Bartolome's lawyer, Katherine Del Rosario.
Del Rosario said ICE confirmed that Bartolome’s flight, which departed Chicago at 12:25 p.m., is scheduled to land in Manila at 9:55 p.m.
Bartolome’s last hours in the U.S. were spent at an ICE facility in suburban Broadview. There, she spoke to her husband, stepson, and attorney one last time, through a window using a telephone receiver, before being taken away by ICE officers.
Bartolome — also known by her maiden name, Julita Rafael — came to the United States in 1988 as a domestic worker, but overstayed her visa. Until recently, Bartolome lacked access to a good lawyer and did not know how to navigate the immigration system, according to her attorney.
“This case is about a woman with no criminal history, and actually a very long history of benevolent volunteerism and involvement in her church and her community,” Del Rosario said. “She’s being sent back to a country that she hasn’t called home for 30 years.”
Del Rosario said she received an email Wednesday evening from an ICE officer denying the stay of removal. The officer indicated that Bartolome would be transferred from McHenry County Adult Correctional Facility, where she had been detained for over a month, to the detention center in Broadview.
Del Rosario said the ICE officer suggested that the family arrive at 8 a.m. on Thursday with Bartolome’s luggage, money, and other personal effects for her trip to the Philippines. The ICE officer added that the weight restriction is 40 pounds, and any overage would be subject to a fee from the airline, according to Del Rosario.
WBEZ e-mailed ICE to confirm the deportation late Wednesday evening. Spokesman Shawn Neudauer responded, “For reasons of operational security and public safety, ICE will not release details of our operations in advance and will only confirm a removal after it has occurred.”
Schakowsky’s spokesman Miguel Ayala said Wednesday that the congresswoman sent her first emergency letter asking for the stay of removal a few days ago. He added that the case is “just an illustration of the topsy-turvy priorities of this administration, to deport the 66-year-old wife of a pastor.”
The latest request for the stay of removal — the third one filed by the family — details how Bartolome’s deportation would affect her husband, Edgardo Bartolome, a custodian at Moody Bible Church who also is a pastor at Filipino Immanuel Baptist Church of Chicago, an immigrant church on the city’s Northwest Side.
According to Bartolome’s stepson, Aaron, Julita Bartolome helps her husband with all aspects of the church.
“They go together to minister to people, visit people in the hospital, counsel people, or lead Bible studies,” Aaron Bartolome said, pointing out that the church caters to a lot of women, making Julita’s role crucial. “And now my dad is planning to resign because he can’t do these things without her.”
Aaron Bartolome said late Wednesday that after hearing the news of his wife’s deportation, his father drove to the McHenry County facility in Woodstock, Ill., to videochat with Julita one last time and ask her what they needed to pack in her luggage. According to Aaron, Julita told her husband not to worry and said she was “concerned about my dad’s health, his appetite.”
Julita Bartolome lived in Florida until 2000, when she married Edgardo, a widowed father of two who lost his first wife to cancer. After overstaying her visa, she was granted voluntary departure and given 30 days to leave the country. Bartolome appealed the case, but a judge dismissed the appeal.
Del Rosario said Bartolome’s lawyer at the time did not notify her client that the appeal was dismissed and the removal was still in effect. During that period, she moved to Illinois and began her life here, helping to raise Edgardo’s children.
According to Del Rosario, the couple filed a family petition, called an I-130, in 2002, and it was approved. But because Bartolome had a removal order, she had to wait 10 years to receive a green card. The family had no money to hire a proper immigration attorney and thought that they had to refile the I-130 petition to apply for a green card.
They were called in for the I-130 interview by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which notified ICE. After the I-130 interview, Bartolome was arrested and taken into custody.
“Everything about her case is approvable except for the fact that she didn’t get the right advice from the right people at the right time,” Del Rosario said. “She tried her best for the last 20 years to gain legal status in the U.S.”
She added: “If [this administration] is not going to exercise discretion on a person like this, who would they exercise discretion for?”
Esther Yoon-Ji Kang is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her on Twitter @estheryjkang.