NASHVILLE—Juana Villegas pushed her son out into the world while she was shackled to a hospital bed.
Seven years on, Gael sometimes asks, “Mom, why were you crying?” as he looks through old newspaper clippings that recount some of the details. “What happened?”
Sometimes Villegas will let herself talk about it, about holding him with one arm as the other was handcuffed to a hospital bed, under the suspicious gaze of a police officer. Gael knows as much as a little boy can possibly know about such circumstances. But he doesn’t quite understand why his mom was treated like a dangerous criminal.
Juana Villegas saw red and blue lights in her truck’s rearview mirror. What had she done? Her mind raced with possible reasons for being pulled over. Did she forget a turn signal? She wasn’t speeding. Was one of her taillights out? She didn’t blow a stop sign. Her windows weren’t tinted. The police cruiser was driving from the opposite direction. What did the officer see?
It was an 89-degree July day in 2008 on a South Nashville residential block when Villegas was pulled over for “careless driving.” The officer saw something that warranted a traffic stop. Her three children were restless, having just spent some of their precious summer day in a prenatal clinic with their mom, who was nine months pregnant, just a few days shy of giving birth. Her children are Americans. She was an undocumented Mexican immigrant who had been living in the U.S. since 1994. Davidson County, which encompasses the Nashville metro area, was a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement 287(g) jurisdiction, which effectively meant any undocumented immigrant could be deported for a minor traffic violation.