Editor's note: Melissa has set up a GoFundMe for her fiance, Heriberto, to raise money to help bring him home. Please consider a donation!

by Melissa Quillen

It all started on my 19th birthday, on December 11th of last year. My fiancé, Heriberto, and I had had dinner at a Mexican restaurant. He left the mall to take leftovers back to the car, and several guys started harassing him in the parking lot. I’m not exactly sure what happened, but words were exchanged, and it got ugly. One of them told Heriberto, “I’ll be back for more.”

We were back in the mall shopping when that guy came back with 9 or 10 others. They started getting into it again, and a security guard showed up and got us outside. We just wanted to leave, to get out of there, but the other guys came out and it started again so I ran to get help and came back. When I came back they were attacking Heriberto. They had him on the ground between two cars, kicking and punching him.

Herberito after his beating

I tried to lay on top of Heriberto, to protect him, yelling as loud as I could. When he finally got up, he looked like he was going to pass out. He had two black eyes and his nose was broken. I sat him down and tried to get him to relax. Then the police showed up. They didn’t go after any of the other guys. The first thing they did was handcuff Heriberto. When I asked why, they said it was to calm him down – even though he was already calm. They put him in their car and said they were arresting him because he was intoxicated. I told him we only had a beer in the restaurant, and that Heriberto, who is 25 years old, is legally old enough to drink anyway. The policeman took Heriberto’s ID, and that’s when he probably realized Heriberto was undocumented.

We live in Sheffield, Alabama. I feel like I’ve known Heriberto forever. We met at the restaurant where we both work. We started out by being really good friends, then we began dating. He’s a very caring and kind person, and he’s also hilarious and makes me laugh. He’s generous, too. He’s the type of person who would give someone something if he needed it.

I’m a very closed person and I don’t like to go out a lot. I guess you could call me a homebody. Heriberto’s like that, too. We like the same things, the same styles. Our favorite thing to do is order pizza, stay home, and watch Netflix.

Melissa and Heriberto

Heriberto came to the US from a little town in Mexico when he was 17. He said there’s nothing there – no money, no jobs. His mother could barely feed him and his four siblings. He wanted to come here to make a better life so he could provide for his family back in Mexico. He’s been working at the restaurant here in Sheffield for four years.

When the police took Heriberto away, they first went to the hospital, but all they did was put a Band-aid on his nose. Then they took him to the local jail, where he spent 37 days. It was two and half days before I got to visit him, and then it was by video instead of in person. We were both crying. He was scared because he was worried about being taken by ICE.

After he finally had his court appearance, on January 16th, he called me and said he was going to be freed, and to come get him. He sounded happy.

I called the booking person – a woman – and she was hateful. I asked her what time Heriberto would be release and she said, “He’s not! He’s on an ICE hold!” I tried to ask her questions, but she said, “I don’t know – are you stupid or something?”

I learned from Heriberto’s attorney’s assistant that the ICE hold lasts 48 hours, and if they didn’t pick him up by then, he’d be freed. All that day – a Thursday – I kept calling him. At eight o’clock he was fine. Then sometime between 8:30 and 9 he stopped answering his phone. I tried to find him in the jail system, and it said “released.” Finally I talked to someone who confirmed that ICE had picked him up. I asked where he was being taken, and was told Etowah.

When I finally spoke to him he said they took him away in a white van. They drove past the restaurant where we worked – he said he could see my car parked in the lot.

He’s being transferred to Louisiana sometime this week. I was told he’d be able to see an immigration lawyer there, and get a $5,000 bond that had to be paid in cash. I contacted a lawyer, who told me to call him as soon as Heriberto arrives in Louisiana.

I usually speak to Heriberto twice a day, though not for very long. I visited him at Etowah, but only saw him by video. It’s better than nothing.

I ask him how it is there, but he hasn’t said anything bad. I think he’s worried about upsetting me. He says the Latinos take care of each other.

He’s pretty depressed now. His spirits are broken.

It’s so hard to talk about this. For my whole life I’ve looked for someone to love me the way Heriberto does—and he loves me so much. I’m not going to let anyone take him away from me. I hope we’ll be married one day, and have children. I’m confident we will get him out. But it’s heartbreaking.