Maxima Guerrero Photo courtesy of Máxima Guerrero

“It’s just something that shouldn’t have happened in the first place.”

During the last weekend in May, more than 300 people were arrested in Phoenix while protesting against racial injustice.

Many were processed and released within a day, soon returning to their normal lives. But for some, the arrest meant much more.

Máxima Guerrero, youth director of the nonprofit Puente Human Rights Movement, attended a protest as a legal observer and was heading home when she was arrested May 31.

Despite no charges being filed against her, Guerrero’s status as an undocumented immigrant, enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, caused her further troubles with Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE).

Because of the arrest, the 30-year-old faced possible deportation to Mexico, a place she moved away from when she was only 5 years old. She was also forced to wear an ankle monitor.

On Wednesday, more than 20 days after the arrest, Guerrero’s attorney Ray Ybarra Maldonado finally got Guerrero’s monitor removed and immigration case dropped.

“It’s sad in this country where you have to hope that someone’s going to do the right thing and get excited when that happens,” Ybarra Maldonado told The Copper Courier.

Guerrero said while she was “super glad” about the final outcome, she was also frustrated by the unfairness of how things played out.

“I feel a sense like [ICE] wanted me to thank them,” she told The Copper Courier. “I am thankful that the case is terminated … but at the same time, this is what needs to be done because that’s what’s right.”

“It’s just something that shouldn’t have happened in the first place,” she added.


An Unexpected Arrest


The legal trouble began when Guerrero went out to the Phoenix protests against the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

As she was in a car driving away around 2 a.m. on May 31, police barricaded the roads. Officers yelled at her and the driver to get out of the car and back up into an officer to be handcuffed. 

From there, she was taken with a large group of other protesters to a police precinct where they were processed for about 10 hours. Then, it was on to the Fourth Avenue Jail. 


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At the jail, Guerrero was given a mask but was packed into a cell with about 25 women and no room to safely distance to prevent COVID-19 spread. 

She had a hearing while in jail in which a judge found there was no probable cause for her arrest. This was a similar outcome for many other protesters––police officers had apparently copied and pasted the same statement for many of those they arrested that night. 

But while the other women with Guerrero were released shortly after the hearing, she sat in a cell for an additional two hours, still yet to face Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). 


A Police/ICE Partnership


Guerrero began working in community organizing in 2010, when she advocated for the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, legislation that would have granted immigrants who entered the country as minors temporary legal residency status and the right to work. 

The bill’s failure to pass in Congress led then-President Barack Obama to issue an executive order creating the DACA program, which essentially performed the same actions but was more tenuous since it had not been passed as law. 

Guerrero received her DACA status in 2013, when she was 22. 

Guerrero also worked to help elect Sheriff Paul Penzone, a Democrat who replaced Republican Joe Arpaio, an Arizona figure with a long history of racist immigration and criminal justice policies. 

Despite his promise to fix what Arpaio left behind, Penzone has still allowed ICE to have a presence in Fourth Avenue Jail. 

“When you first get there and you’re being taken through an intake, ICE is one of the people who is there,” Guerrero explained. “And they ask for your Social Security number, they ask you where you’re born … so for me, what came up was being a DACA recipient, so that triggered an immigration hold.” 

Ybarra Maldonado said this quick action without full knowledge of the situation is a problem.


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“From day one, [Guerrero] should have never been arrested, [and] ICE should never have been in the Fourth Avenue Jail to arrest her and start this craziness anyways,” he said. “It just shows the manifest injustice that occurs by having ICE in a local jail.”

Guerrero also said she believes the jail’s partnership with ICE leads to certain people being detained for longer. 

“One of the things that Penzone says is that he will not hold anyone once they’re released from jail, and he will not have anyone basically kept for ICE to take their time to arrive at the jails,” she said. 

But despite the other women who had their hearing along with her being released, Guerrero waited in a cell for two more hours. 

The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office told The Copper Courier its policy on not performing “courtesy holds” has not changed.

“There are a myriad of factors that can contribute to inmates being released at different times,” a spokeswoman wrote in an email. “Releases are processed in the order they are received from the courts. We cannot speak for the court and the work that goes into processing release orders and the work that needs to be done on their end prior to clearing an individual for release.”  


Avoiding Eloy


When Guerrero was finally released, she was transferred to an ICE office where they told her she would likely be sent to the prison in Eloy. 

This scared Guerrero because she had heard on the news how prisons had become places for COVID-19 outbreaks, and she worried that if she went there she would get sick. She also worried that from there, she would be deported. 

But luckily, Guerrero had been able to contact friends before her arrest to let them know what was going on. While she was detained, her network of support had already kicked into gear, organizing for her release. 


RELATED: Being a Dreamer Is Traumatic. But I Turned Fear Into Action.


According to The Arizona Republic, at least two state legislators, a state senator, three Latino Phoenix City Council members and more than a dozen other Arizona leaders sent letters to Penzone, the Phoenix police chief, and the Phoenix mayor urging for Guerrero’s release. Members of the community also called and emailed local officials in support. 

Finally, she was released on her own recognizance with the ankle monitor. 

“I can’t believe that that actually happened,” she said. “If it hadn’t been for that organizing component when I was inside, maybe I would be in Eloy right now.” 


Lack of Due Process


Guerrero said almost being deported while having done nothing criminal was a confusing and frustrating experience.

While Phoenix police told The Copper Courier a charge of unlawful assembly was forwarded to the city prosecutor’s office, Ybarra Maldonado was able to confirm with them Wednesday that no charges would be filed.

“I’m … just confused at the lack of due process that someone is able to have going through this system. Because … it makes no sense that I was even arrested, and there’s no probable cause and yet I’m still at the hands of ICE at this point in time,” Guerrero said before the case had been dropped.

Ybarra Maldonado agreed that Guerrero’s case highlights structural problems within law enforcement.


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“It shows the dysfunction between the two systems––the criminal system and the immigration system,” he said. “They don’t really talk to each other than to confuse and frustrate people’s lives.”

For Guerrero, the experience she underwent in the criminal justice system reinforced why she fights for what she does. 

“It just brings me back to the fact that ICE continues to be in Fourth Avenue,” she said. “Phoenix PD, or any police department, arrest the wrong person, arrest people on the wrong charge. They make mistakes, too. But even if they try to correct their mistakes, they’re still sending people to immigration, and having people going to a detention center, deporting people, because Penzone decides to keep ICE inside Fourth Ave.”


DACA Ruling a Win


But despite the stress of the past few weeks, Guerrero is still focused on her organizing efforts.

The Supreme Court’s ruling last week keeping DACA intact means one fewer issue on her to-do list. 

“When it first came out … overall I felt this sense of relief, overall in general, one less thing that I have to organize against,” she said. 

However, she said, “I never thought I’d hear this decision wearing an ankle monitor and essentially organizing against my own deportation.”

The Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration’s justification for ending the DACA program was “arbitrary and capricious.” 


RELATED: DACA Recipients Celebrate Supreme Court Decision


His decision to do so was also unpopular with the public, even his own base––a majority of people who voted for him in 2016 said in a recent poll they support protecting immigrants who came to the United States as children. 

Because of Trump’s unpredictable nature, Guerrero said she’s staying on her toes in case there’s another effort to end the program. 

“We have DACA, we can keep it, but you never know if something else is going to be brought up,” she said.