(Photo Courtesy of Grace Grande)


Q&A: Grace Grande reveals her experience of ICE detainment and seeking asylum

Grace Grande shares her story of I.C.E. detainment after leaving the Philippines and coming to the U.S., involving her tumultuous journey to seek asylum and protect her children from harm.
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/castillelee/" target="_self">Castille Lee</a>

Castille Lee

February 23, 2023

The call for asylum, according to Grace Grande is, “I declare that I’m scared for my life.”

Grace Grande, age 50, was once held in a detention center that revolutionized her life. She left the Philippines and got detained at the airport for 11 hours after arriving in the United States. More than a month later, she was arrested by I.C.E. police officers and sent to an immigration detention center in California. “The very first thing I asked God is the morning of July 4, that was when I asked God, and I told him I would give my life to him. Don’t ever give the boys to the father [ex-husband of Grande],” said Grande.

I.C.E or the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement placed Grace Grande in an immigration detention center for 6 months and 10 days with the inability to take care of her two children. “Ironically, I was in jail, but I felt free. I surrendered my life to God, forgave the person who did that to me, and released everything to God,” Grande said. She was released from the immigration detention facility on January 8, 2008. After she was released, she did not work immediately because it took one year for her work permit to be approved. At first, she began with two to three jobs, starting as a caregiver. Currently, Grande is a payroll manager in a construction company. However, she is seeking asylum because she has a criminal case that her husband orchestrated in the Philippines. Although the immigration judge closed her case, she would be considered a criminal if Grande chooses to travel outside the country because the U.S. government and the Philippines have agreed that she can be deported if she decides to flee to another country.

How long have you been living in the U.S. and in what country were you born? 

I came here with the boys in May 2007 from the Philippines, and it has been 15 years. I was 34 to 35 years old when I left the Philippines.

What motivated you to immigrate to the U.S.? 

I originally had no intention of immigrating to the U.S. I just wanted to get away from the father of my kids and spend time with my family. However, it all changed when I arrived in Hawaii. I was framed by my ex-husband. He orchestrated my arrest and wanted me to go back to the Philippines. I left him because I was living out of fear for my life, and I was married to him for 10 years. I, who used to be one of his mistresses, was mentally and verbally abused by him. It was also difficult to get out of that toxic relationship because he was a congressman with power, money, and affairs with women. 

Did you come by yourself or with your family?

I came with my two boys, who were 8 and 9 years old. Currently, they are 22 and 24 years old. The children are under DACA (Deferred for Action Child Arrivals) and are protected by this organization. They cannot be deported, and they have to renew their permit every 2 years.

Do you have any children that were born in the U.S.? If yes, did your children go to school here?

Both of my kids were born in the Philippines. My oldest graduated Cum Laude with BS in neurobiology at UC Irvine. My older son is finishing his associate in accounting at El Camino College and will get his BS at Cal State Long Beach.

Regarding your children, what happened during the custody trial between you and your ex-husband? 

My kids were ordered to be seized by the police and I had to get in front of the judge. I was begging the woman that is the lawyer representing my ex-husband to not take her children. Luckily, I had a court order to get the kids, and this occurred a few weeks after they got out, and I knew that God would not allow it. The next day, there was a court hearing. Fortunately, the judge was empathetic and furious that the father’s lawyer was trying to take custody of the kids. Nevertheless, I continued to pray for this man and that God will continue to bless and know the Lord. He got cancer and other issues later on in his life.

Were there significant cultural differences when entering the U.S.?

Actually, no. Because the Philippines has English as a second language, I went to international schools there. My kids grew up in exclusive schools that were primarily for English speakers. There was not a huge cultural difference for me. The only difference is that America is far away from the Philippines. I also watched a bunch of American shows, but it’s interesting because, in America, you have to do everything yourself.

Why do you think I.C.E. detained you?

It was all orchestrated by the father of my kids. My husband created a criminal case in the Philippines because he was a powerful man in that country.

In your opinion, why do you think the government supports detaining immigrants? 

I think ICE does have the right to detain if they are undocumented. If you enter the country illegally, you pose a threat. Every 2 years, we have to go through biometrics and this for fingerprinting and background checks. It is understandable because they are doing their job of protecting their citizens. There is nothing wrong, but the other part is that they must research that person. I came here with a tourist visa, but my ex-husband sent lies. That’s why I got detained in Hawaii in May 2017, and I was detained in the airport for 11 hours. My boys said, “I know who did this. My dad.”

What are the pros and cons of allowing undocumented immigrants into the U.S.?

I believe that the country and its citizens should be protected first and foremost. Letting undocumented people in will not be at all beneficial. I am not judging every illegal person who comes here because I know some of them just want a better life. However, many of them are doing illegal things, and I met many of them in detention.

Do you believe that race and gender are significant factors in how an individual can assimilate into society, and why? 

No, I don’t think it plays a factor. As an Asian woman, it took me a month to transition into American society. I don’t have any issues with assimilating despite my gender and race.

How does your experience with I.C.E. shape your point of view? 

I know ICE was simply just doing their jobs.

Did the government (or I.C.E.) consider your motivations when you were trying to enter the U.S.?

I believe that they did consider my motivations. However, based on my case, it is complicated.

What are your hopes for the future?

For me, I am content with my life. Lord, if you give me someone maybe one day to marry, then yes. If not, I will still be happy. For my kids, I want them to be successful. I am physically and financially stable and I live by faith, not by sight. God never fails and always keeps his promises.

What would you like for others to remember based on your story? 

Be very grateful. It’s a blessing that many people did not go through in their lifetimes. The blessing for me is that I have my family. I have my sisters and brother-in-law, so when I got arrested, I was not fearful of my kids when they were alone because I knew my sister will care about them. And my sister would lay her life for them.

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