Family Speaks Out After Indiana Restaurant Owner Detained By ICE

Mar 20, 2017

Credit Tyler Lake/Indiana Public Broadcasting

The family of a northern Indiana man is speaking out after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers detained him during a routine check-in last month.

Roberto Beristain owns a popular restaurant in St. Joseph County, has a driver’s license and pays taxes. He’s in custody because of an incident that happened more than 15 years ago.

Eddie’s Steak Shed is well-known in Northern Indiana. The small red building sits along a busy stretch of road in Granger. And people come here just as much for the friendly staff as they do for the steak.

“We feel like a big family,” says Paula Barnette, who’s worked at Eddie’s for several years.

She says this place hasn’t been the same over the past month. The patriarch of the business – and the family – is gone.

“How could this be?” Barnette says. “This man pays our checks, pays his taxes.” 

Roberto Beristain’s family says he came to the United States illegally from Mexico City in 1998 but had since gotten documentation to work here. He owns Eddie’s Steak Shack and traveled to Indianapolis with his wife Helen last month for his yearly check-in with immigration officials.

“They came outside, knocked on the window,” Helen says. “They said, ‘Are you Roberto’s wife?’ And, I said ‘Yes.’ And, they said, ‘Well, your husband is being detained because of a deportation 16 and a half years ago.’ And, I said, ‘That’s a joke.’ And, they said, ‘No, it’s true.’”

Trip To Niagra Falls In 2000 Causes Trouble

Helen says the incident the officers were referring to stems back to 2000. She and Roberto decided to take a trip to Niagara Falls but took the wrong route and found themselves crossing the border to Canada. Officers there detained Roberto when they discovered he was in the country illegally.

“We got a lawyer and got him on a bail for $1,500,” Helen says. “And they told him, ‘You have to leave voluntarily in a month.’”

But Helen says she was pregnant at the time and suffering from high blood pressure, so Roberto decided to stay.

Credit Tyler Lake/Indiana Public Broadcasting

Beristain Detained As Federal Government Changes Deportation Priorities

ICE Public Affairs Officer Gail Montenegro says in a statement, “when he failed to depart the United States by that time as required, his voluntary order reverted to a final order of removal.”

That meant ICE could deport him, but Helen says they allowed him to stay as long as he kept working and didn’t get into trouble.

But the Trump administration is changing the way the government prioritizes people for deportation, expanding its efforts beyond just those who face criminal charges.

Helen says she agrees with the President’s stance on the issue.

“We don’t want to have cartels here, you don’t want to have drugs in your high schools, you don’t want killers next to you,” Helen says. “You want to feel safe when you leave your house. I truly believe that. And, this is why I voted for Mr. Trump.”

But Helen doesn’t understand why her husband is among those being detained. She says he’s an upstanding business owner who’s in the process of applying for a green card – not a criminal.

Now his stepson Phil Kolliopoulos is trying to help keep the family business running, not knowing what the future holds.

“The worst thing … would be deportation,” Kolliopoulos says. “And, it’s hard to think about that. And, it’s hard too because he has a grandson and he can’t see him grow up.”

Roberto’s lawyer filed an application to keep him in the U.S. for at least the next 12 months. He’s also trying to reopen his case for citizenship. But it’s unclear when a decision will be made and the process is often lengthy.

For now, all his family can do is wait and hope immigration officials make a decision in Roberto’s favor. Helen visits him once a week at a detention facility in Wisconsin and says he wants nothing more than to come home.

“He’s trying to hold up,” Helen says. “He said, ‘I haven’t done anything wrong, I haven’t committed a crime. The only crime I’ve done is wanting to be in the United States.’”

If Roberto is deported, he could be barred from entering the United States for up to a decade.