Policy Watch Investigates

Quest for cable could lead to deportation for undocumented mother

Lorena Yañez-Mata signed up for cable services from Time Warner Cable last summer, not aware that the decision would thrust her into deportation proceedings that stand to separate her from her 7-year-old daughter.

I would have never come here if I knew,” Yañez said, in Spanish, at a rally Tuesday.

She spoke outside the same Burlington store where she was arrested after paying $150.77 for cable and providing a false Social Security number to Time Warner staff.

Her daughter stood quietly next to her, holding a sign reading, “I need my mommy home.”

A dozen members and supporters of the N.C. Dream Team, a group of young immigrant activists that organized the demonstration, pulled out cell phones to call officials at the U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan’s office and ask that Yañez’s deportation be stopped. They also want Time Warner to contact Hagan and immigration officials directly to lend their support to Yañez as well.

It’s because of what happened here (at Time Warner) that she’s in this situation,” said Jose Rico, an N.C. Dream Team member. “She did nothing wrong, she just wanted cable.”

Yañez, 27, has her final deportation hearing Thursday in Charlotte in front of an immigration judge.

UPDATE: The deportation proceedings were dismissed late Wednesday after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security indicated it did not want pursue deporting Yanez. However, the Alamance County District Attorney Pat Nadolski said he wants to reinstate the criminal charges his office dismissed two days ago, saying the dismissal was “in error.” Read more here.

When Yañez arrived at the Time Warner store on July 30, a Time Warner employee and off-duty police officer working security flagged Yañez’s cable application and questioned whether the Social Security card she provided was real, according to a police report of the incident. The off-duty officer contacted Social Security officials and then passed his findings on to an on-duty officer, who arrested Yañez and charged her with a felony county obtaining property under false pretenses.

Yañez was placed in deportation proceedings after jailers at the Alamance County Jail, who screen for immigration status of incoming inmates, discovered she was not in the country legally.

(Since her July arrest, the U.S. Department of Justice has restricted immigration checks in the jail after accusing Alamance Sheriff Terry Johnson used his office to racially profile and violate the civil rights of Latino residents.)

The off-duty officer, Andrew Barker, no longer provides security for Time Warner, and the criminal charges of obtaining property under false presentence were dropped Tuesday by Alamance prosecutors.

Both Yañez and her attorney, Ann Marie Dooley, said Yañez told Time Warner staff when signing up for cable over the phone that she did not have a legitimate Social Security number. Yañez said a Time Warner representative told her to use the false one she uses for work purposes and to come into the store to finalize the application.

There are a lot of questions” about why Yañez was targeted, Dooley said. “Right now, we’re just trying to help Lorena.”

Time Warner Cable issued a statement saying it does not routinely turn over customer’s information to law enforcement.

It is not our policy to share this kind of information with law enforcement and this action was not following any Time Warner Cable procedure or direction given from any Time Warner Cable employee,” wrote TWC spokesman Scott Pryzwansky. “TWC did not refer Ms. Yañez-Mata to either the county prosecutor or Homeland Security and did not request prosecution.  TWC has no interest in charges being brought against Ms. Yañez-Mata.”  

Burlington police indicated they, too, don’t target immigrants to determine if they’re living in the country under the proper immigration documents, said Asst. Police Chief Chris Verdeck.

In this situation, police were called by a Time Warner Cable representative, and asked to investigate, he said.

It’s not something that we go out looking for,” Vendeck said.

Yañez’s daughter has had a hard time comprehending what the family is facing, Yañez said at Tuesday’s rally. She’s asked her mom if she’ll be arrested, and thinks that the family just needs to pay the police in order to be allowed to stay together.

She asks if the police officers are going to take me away again,” Yañez said.

As for the cable service Yañez signed up and paid for, she initially ran into problems when seeking a refund of her $150.77.

The company said it would give it to her – but only if she provided her Social Security number.

The N.C. Dream Team has a petition in support of Lorena Yañez-Mata on its website, www.ncdreamteam.org.

Questions? Comments? Reporter Sarah Ovaska can be reached at (919) 861-1463 or sarah@ncpolicywatch.com.

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