Over on Tucson's near-north side, the Arizona Department of Public Safety was setting a trap.
The Panda Express was in a generic shopping plaza. It hardly seemed like a crime scene, but in a parking lot out back, the DPS cops set up a stakeout. The restaurant normally opened at 10:30 a.m. But that day most of the workers had arrived early, around 9:30. They had been told to expect a visitor from corporate, and they wanted the place to look as good as it could.
“We were waiting for our boss from California,” remembered Roselia Araceli Torres-Ruiz, 25, months later, after she got out of jail and detention. “Everybody was cleaning.” Araceli had been working at Panda five years at least, and she was “lead counter,” head of the women who dished up food from the buffet.
Araceli and her coworkers didn’t know yet that Panda Express had been actively cooperating with DPS for weeks. Or that they were under surveillance.
Darío Cruz-Diaz, 55, had gotten there at 8 a.m. to wash the big plate-glass windows. The rest of team “went in 20 minutes early,” Araceli said. “We were joking around, laughing. I went to the bank. I came back.”
Assistant store manager Omar Espino-Lara, 25, was in a good mood. He was just back from a corporate strategy session in Phoenix the day before, and he’d gotten the welcome news that sales this year were up. A father of four, he’d be working the 12-hour shift with Araceli. Rudy Garza-Salas, 38, on the job three years, had begun cooking in the open kitchen, stir-frying broccoli and grilling strips of chicken. Rosa Nohemi Gutierrez Parra, 28, was readying the heat trays on the line. A college graduate with a degree in chemistry, she was a tireless volunteer at Duffy Elementary School, where her 6-year-old son, Jorge, was in kindergarten. She’d been working at Panda just three months.
At precisely 10:30 a.m., “I opened the register, opened the store,” Araceli said. “I saw what I thought was my first customer.” She turned to the woman with a smile, but this was not somebody with a late-morning craving for crispy shrimp. It was a DPS agent, the advance guard of the workplace raid. Araceli cried at the memory. “It’s the last day I saw my team,” she said, wiping away tears.
Araceli trembled as she remembered her mounting fear. “I called my mother. I told her to take care of my daughter,” 3-year-old Giselle. “I said, ‘I don’t know what’s happening but I love you guys.’ I called my husband, told him there were police all over the store. Something was going on. It was not looking good.
“I told him I loved him, and to take care of the baby. I said, ‘I think it’s Immigration.’”
From The Death of Josseline: Immigration Stories from the Arizona-Mexico Borderlands, by Margaret Regan. Copyright © 2010. Excerpted with permission by Beacon Press.