Gerardo Garcia Cota Kumeyaay Tribal Member Caught in Legal Maze WHEN I.C.E. FREEZES OVER


Geraldo Garcia Cota Photograph

      Why is this man smiling? After four months of misery inside the Otay Detention Center/ICE Gerardo Garcia Cota has reason to break into a broad grin after he was finally released into the warm embrace of his friend, mentor and spiritual partner David Pettigrew. Prayers, patience and legal savvy are now at work to permanently free an innocent man from the clutches of the US immigration authorities. While social unrest continues to flare up in Baltimore, Ferguson, New York and Oakland because of police conduct, quite a different backdrop unfolds daily addressing the entropy at our international border with Mexico. Gerardo’s messy border tale starts with his tribal roots that tie him to a heritage that dates back 1,500 years. He descends from Tecate Kumiai Indians, the prehistoric relatives of Kumeyaay.

      The anthropological significance of Gerarado’s family’s ancestry has been the focus of an academic study at San Diego State University as well as a documentary on PBS. Born in Tecate, Mexico 32 years ago Gerardo was brought to the United States at the age of four where he naturally underwent Americanization. He lived in Escondido, finished High School and became employed. Four years agoacarinwhichhewasa passenger was stopped by the Border Patrol. When asked his citizenship Gerardo responded that he was a Kumeyaay citizen. Because he was born in Mexico the Border Patrol Agent deported him to Mexico in spite of the fact he has a birthright and ties to the Kumeyaay Nation. Gerardo languished on the Mexican side of the border for four years without access to medical attention which he requires due to a stroke he suffered at age fourteen. During his four Gerardo Garcia Cota released in front of Federal buildings at 9:15pm on 4-28-15 into the hands of his friend, mentor and spiritual partner David Pettigrew. years of exile Gerardo exhausted all bureaucratic avenues in his effort to return to the US, his family and his previous life. Like countless thousands before him he was ensnared in the tangled web of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which, after the Mexican- American War ended in 1848, established a border between the two countries but divided the Kumeyaay Nation into two separate entities.

      In January of this year Gerardo Garcia Cota, tired of being a pawn, decided to take his destiny into his own hands. With documentation declaring his tribal identity and eager to secure his rights he walked across the border crossing in Tijuana determined to explain his legal rights to the immigration authorities. The border agent, unschooled in the intricacies of Gerardo’s unique situation, had him apprehended and placed in federal custody at the Otay Immigration Facility. At this point Gerardo’s most effective weapon became prayer and has remained his default plan throughout his ordeal. Utilizing his limited access to a phone in the facility he reached out to the Sycuan Band of Kumeyaay in the hope of finding a friendly ally to stand up for him. To his everlasting gratitude he was comforted by Judith Meeks and Yvonne Payne who assured him that they would do all they could to assist him. This assurance was a blessing to Gerardo and gave him the resolve to continue his quest. Eventually, as word of his crisis spread, concerned friends and stake holders came to his rescue. Primary among the social first responders was David Pettigrew, a longtime family friend and spiritual partner. They have known each other since Gerardo was a child and both attended the same church. Enrique Morones of Border Angels quickly jumped in offering legal references and assistance. David Pettigrew, informed that Gerardo would finally be released on Friday, April 28th on his Own Recognizance, was there to give Gerardo a big bear hug.

     This is not the end of Gerardo’s story as meetings and judicial hearings are scheduled over the next several weeks. Indian Voices will be there to write about this intriguing tale and continue to cover the retaking of Turtle Island!