From detention, an immigrant tells his story

David Soto
David Soto with his mother in front of the ICE building in Bloomington, moments after she bailed her sons out of ICE detention. David and his brother spent 41 days at the Ramsey County Jail.
MPR Photo/Sasha Aslanian

Editor's note: MPR's Sasha Aslanian was granted rare access to interview a detainee held by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement in the Ramsey County Jail. Excerpts from that interview became the basis for this commentary. You can read her full stories here.

By David Soto

My name is Nestor David Soto Flores and I'm currently in Ramsey County Jail. I'm 23.

I was in college at Dakota County Technical College. I was trying to get my graphic design associate's degree. I was about eight credits short of graduating, which I'm still going to finish once I get out of here.

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I was working as an interpreter [to put myself through school]. I'm not going to mention the companies, for their safety. I was doing mostly medical interpretations. I liked that job, I loved that job. It was a way I could help people.

I'm interpreting in here too. I'm reading over documents [other detainees] receive, if people got medical exams and want to see the doctor, I was helping as if I was working. It was good trying to help and they [the guards] appreciated my help.

People that get detained here, they say this is the worst county jail you could be at. We're never outside. I haven't seen the sun since the trip here and the trip to court.

You get three hours [out of your cell] in the morning and three hours in the evening. We're all immigrants but they think we're criminals.

The ICE raid

We had our rental house [in Burnsville], and opened the door like nothing. We didn't know they were ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement]. They were somewhat nice. The person that came in, he spoke Spanish. The person talked with my mom and told her the situation. We had a deportation order since 1998. Back in 1998, we were already here in Minnesota and the order of deportation came to California. How would we know? We were already here.

They wanted to take all of us. They wanted to take my mom too. [Note: David's father was already in custody and was deported two days before this interview.] My little brother was born here. Where's he going to go? We got no one else so they gave my mom a chance -- which I think was a blessing -- she's just under supervision but she's the one working outside, trying to help us out.

When I heard, "We're still taking you guys," my heart just dropped. I felt so bad. I was getting ready to go to work. I only had on my pants. I didn't have any socks. Just pants and a white shirt. They gave me a chance to put my shoes on. That's how they brought me. Straight out of bed. Eight in the morning. My brother was still in his pajamas. He was going to work too, but he works in construction, and has his own schedule.

Four ICE trucks came. Four agents, each had their own truck. Nice, nice Suburbans.

Brothers in jail

[My older brother's being held] downstairs in the cell block. I'm upstairs. When the downstairs people are socializing, the upstairs people are locked down, and vice versa. It's kind of hard communicating.

Coming in here, me and my brother got a lot closer. I was so grateful I was at least with my brother. I think part of the reason we are so strong is we're together. It's unfortunate for other people that's not the case. They got their families outside, their children, everyone suffering for them. Obviously they feel bad that their families are struggling to make ends meet. My brother, he's got two [U.S.-born] children, and one on the way. He's a little bummed out he can't see his children. I miss my nephews. I tell him, "Just hang in there. We're going to be out of here soon. They can't keep us here."

Shackled in court

[The day my brother and I went to court for a bond-reduction hearing] they gave us breakfast at 5 a.m. -- cereal, a little piece of bread, milk. About half an hour later they call us, "You're going to court." Cool. We think we're going to court right away. No, that's not the case. They take us to a holding cell and hold us two, three hours until ICE agents arrive. They bring up bags of chains, shackles and handcuffs. It's a little demeaning, I believe. They handcuff your hands, they wrap a chain around your waist, they shackle your legs. We're not gonna run. Where are we going to run? We're already in here.

When we were unloaded off the van [at detention court in Bloomington], we're still shackled. I was really nervous. One of the things about being in a place like this is you really find God. I was just praying and praying since they took us out of our cells and took us to court and hopeful that court was going to be good. They took us out of our room, handcuffed us again, took us out to the court, walked us in. I was shaking, shaking inside but at the same time I was hopeful. This is going to go good. We're one step closer to freedom.

Waking up in America

We came here [from Mexico] in 1990 or 1991 -- it's obviously a long time ago. [Our parents] brought us in as children. I was sleeping for most of the trip. Then we were in California. I think I was 5 or 6. I started kindergarten here. I lived in Orange, Calif. I moved [to Northfield, Minn.] in middle of third grade. My mom and dad both worked at factories, wherever they could get jobs. I'm grateful to them. I could never have any better parents than who I have right now.

My little brother was born in 1993 in California. He's not so little -- he's taller than my older brother and me. He's going to high school, and missing us, of course. I don't think he quite understands what we're going through.

My mom's afraid of coming here. They could pull a quick one on her and try to detain her. I haven't seen her since we've been in here. I've talked to her on the phone.

Nighttime worries

Sometimes I have a hard time sleeping. Just worries. So many thoughts race around my head. A lot of worries. "What's going on out there? How's my friends? How's my family? My mom has to pay my car payment. I'm not there. She has to pay it for me."

Sometimes I'm just thinking "I got court soon. I wonder how it's going to happen?" All you can do is read and think. I focus on reading the Bible until I'm tired enough to sleep. I put the blanket over my head because it's cold, but also the lights [are always on]. They can always see you in your cell. I cover my whole head so it's dark.

My mom lost her house. She couldn't afford it on her own. She's living with a friend of hers. Her and my little brother are in a two-bedroom apartment. We lost a lot. We lost a lot of our things. That's OK. Money isn't everything. As long as we stay together and keep having faith I know we're going to be OK.

I'm looking forward to getting back out there and getting my life back. We'll be OK. It had to happen sometime. We had to face the situation of us being here illegally. We couldn't be here forever like this. I just didn't expect it to come like that. It was bad timing. That's what hurt the most. It was bad timing when this happened.

The way I pictured it, we were going to go there, get a lawyer, fill out the applications, go through a lawyer, have them work at it. We'd still be outside, working, doing our thing. That's the way we planned it. Telling them, "We've been here so long" and we'd tell them the reasons. That's the way we pictured it. I wasn't expecting to be arrested. This is the first and last time I'm going to be in jail.


This is still the country I want to live in. I got no hate against America, against immigration. I know they're doing their jobs. Some of the ways they go about doing their business you get a little angry. You can't express yourself or they'll turn against you.

Most families come here, they're humble. If there were no problems in Mexico, obviously they wouldn't come here. There are certain people that come here, you could say, they ruin it for everyone. They come here to cause trouble and ruin it for every other family that comes here to work for the right reason.

[I haven't been back to Mexico] since I moved here, not for the 17 years. Partly for the fear. I don't want to go and come back the way they brought us here. If I go, I want to go the right way. I want to be able to take an airplane there and back. I do want to. I got family there. I've been here most of my life. I've made my life here. I don't think I could get used to Mexico now. I guess it's what they [ICE] decide. If they decide for me to get deported, I can't complain. I gotta follow what they're doing.

Signing deportation orders

The longer you're in here, the more desperate you'll get, and sign your deportation order.

Right away [they asked us to sign]. We said "no." We said we want to wait for our lawyer. The way I look at it, they hustle you to sign things you don't want to sign. Lucky for us we're informed, educated. I can read English. My brother and I knew, we've been here that long, they can't get rid of us that easily.

The agents are reasonable, they're doing their job. They keep people here so it makes it harder for them outside. Obviously if you had a good job, you lose it, you're here, your family struggles financially while you're in here, just frustrated and desperate. Some people just sign it.

When I get out of here, I'm going to try to get my job back. I'll worry about that when I get out. I'm determined to regain what I lost. I'm not giving up that easy.

Big dreams for the citizen brother

My lack of citizenship is holding me back so much. If I had everything the way it's supposed to be, I know I have the potential to make a lot more money than what I make. When I went to college, I couldn't get financial aid. I could have gotten a full ride, but because of my status, I paid for it myself with help from my parents.

[My younger brother is] staying at school. Quitting school and working could help right now, but not in the future. I told him more than ever to stay in school and get a good education. "Brother man! You got the chance. You could get a full ride. Just stay in school." He's a little hard-headed when it comes to school. It's OK. He'll be the first guy in my family to go to a university. I just went to a technical college. I couldn't afford the U of M even though I would have loved to go to the U of M.

Raising bond money

It's $6,000 [each] for me and my brother. If it was just me or my brother, $6,000, we probably could have found that from the savings we had, but since it's for both of us -- $12,000 -- that makes it hard. That's a lot of money. I'm aware we get that back at the end. My mom's out there begging, trying to borrow the money, working hard so me and my brother can get out.

My mom is a Mary Kay lady. She's good at it. You have to have a good attitude, and liven people up. How is she going to liven people up with the situation she's going through? She's sad. She's depressed. She misses my dad. I give her a lot of love. She misses us. What can we do besides make phone calls to her?

Fortunately, I've got good friends trying to help. One of my friends offered my mom and my brother to go stay with them. But my mom doesn't want to do that. They offered me, "David, when you get out, go stay with us, you lost a lot of things." Probably when I get out of here that's what I'll do: stay with a friend, get back on my feet.

Editor's note: Four days after these words were recorded at Ramsey County Jail, David Soto's mother bailed her two sons out of ICE custody for $12,000. In addition, they have been placed on the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program, which requires them to wear electronic ankle bracelets. Their attorney estimates it will take a year to get a final outcome in their case. Only 12 percent of the people who fight their deportation win.