Sons of illegal immigrants, brothers bring diversity to Volusia Sheriff’s Office
(Daytona Beach News-Journal published on March 4, 2017)
By Patricio G. Balona
Two of them had on the green uniforms of the Volusia County Sheriff's Office. The third was in plain clothes but carried a detective's badge.
As if to add to the father's pride, a neighbor leaned over the fence and yelled, "Ahora que salgan los rateros verdad Don Panta?"
"Now let the burglars come out, right Don Panta?"
Pantaleon Galarza smiled. He recalled the hardships he and his late wife endured 38 years ago to deliver this opportunity for his children, but why dwell on the past when there was so much to celebrate?
The 65-year-old-Galarza bristled with pride as he looked at his boys. Roy Galarza, 33, is an investigator with the Volusia County Sheriff's Office, Daniel Galarza, 35, is a road patrol deputy in Deltona, and Billy Galarza, 24, was recently sworn in by Sheriff Mike Chitwood and works at the agency's evidence facility while training to be a patrol deputy.
The children of former illegal immigrants are the first from the migrant workers' community to become sheriff's deputies, said Marcos Crisanto, coordinator of the Florida Farmworker Association's office in Pierson.
"There are other people who have been successful in the migrant worker community, but as policias, they are the only ones," Crisanto said.
With tensions in the migrant community running high amid President Donald Trump's deportation threats, the Galarza brothers stand to increase community outreach and create more diversity in the agency, said Chitwood, who called the family "a great American story."
"The Galarza brothers are the telltale signs of American success," Chitwood said. "This father has given Volusia County three upstanding young men whose jobs are to enforce and uphold the law and the Constitution of the United States. ... Their parents came from Mexico looking for better lives, and their sons are now protecting lives and serving our community."
'LET'S GO FORWARD'
Pantaleon Galarza still remembers how close he came to giving up on the American dream.
He and his wife, Minerva, were making their way to the U.S. from Mexico across the desert of Acuna. Galarza had paid the people smugglers known as coyotes $1,500 to see his family safely across the desert, but the men abandoned the couple and their two small children after Minerva sprained her ankle and could not keep up.
After several days in the barren territory, they were short on food and water. He held his 3-year-old daughter in his arms. His 4-year-old son trudged along, tugging at his pants legging. The choice was obvious: turn back.
But his wife's determination was what Galarza needed to push forward even as she stood on a swollen foot and leaned on him for support. That moment, when they were all alone in that dark, desolate desert, the choice they made gave his family the future they would not have had back in Michoacán, Mexico.
"She said, 'Let's go forward. If la migra catches us, then we go back,'" Galarza recalled. "But when God grants you license, things work out miraculously."
Life was not much easier in Pierson.
In 1980, fern growers paid 12 cents for a bunch of cut fern. But it was enough to feed Galarza's hope of a better life for his children. He and Minerva had three more sons and two more daughters before Minerva died of cancer in May 2002.
The boys learned early the values of hard work and a good education. They joined their father in the ferneries in sixth and seventh grade. In summer, when most children were taking a break from school, the Galarzas spent their days alongside their father in fern fields earning extra money for clothes for the next school year.
"My dad and my mom, they always said they didn't want us to stay stuck in the fern fields in Pierson," Roy Galarza said.
Pantaleon Galarza said he wanted to break a tradition of peonage and hard labor, of which his family had been a part of in Mexico. He said his children had a chance at something different in America.
"Where I come from you start working from the time you are able to walk and talk running errands," Pantaleon Galarza said. "By 9, you are already planting corn or sesame and harvesting and struggling to survive. That's how it was."
Now legally in the U.S., Pantaleon Galarza still works cutting ferns — he now earns 30 cents a bunch — and he calls the job a "blessing" because the hard work pushed his children to success.
"I used to make them work Saturdays and Sundays," he said. "I ask them now if they are angry at me and they say, 'No, Papa, we are very grateful and we give you thanks.'"
Daniel Galarza was quick to agree.
"My dad used to tell us 'This is the best I can offer you,' " he recalled. "He said, 'If you guys don't want to be out here harvesting fern, get a good education.' "
`A SAFE COMMUNITY'
Roy Galarza was the first of the boys to go into law enforcement. After graduating from Taylor Middle-High School, he continued to cut fern to pay for police school at Daytona State College, driving from Seville to Daytona Beach for classes. He needed to cut a lot of fern at 30 cents a bunch to meet his police school bills and provide for his family. Then he got help from a Sheriff's Office sponsorship program, and his law enforcement career became real in 2003.
His inspiration? "My dad," said Roy Galarza. "He used to work in the (Mexican) military as a police officer and the patrol cars and blue lights have always intrigued me."
Daniel followed his brother, and eventually so did Billy. The other Galarza children also found success. The eldest son, Luis Galarza, is a clinical engineer program coordinator at Florida Hospital Medical Center in Ormond Beach. Among the daughters, Maria Jaimes is a bookkeeper with a shipping company; Marisol Rubio is an assistant principal at Taylor Middle-High; and Amy Shepherd is a lead ultrasound sonographer at Florida Hospital DeLand.
But having three brothers in the Sheriff's Office — which handles police functions through a contract with the city of Pierson — has a far-reaching impact on Northwest Volusia.
The migrant worker community has always feared law enforcement because of their immigrant status, and it's even worse under President Trump, said Crisanto, the farmworker leader. As children of migrant workers, the Galarza brothers give the community faith that the police will be fair.
"They know our culture, our lifestyle and know the language, benefits that can help better the relationship of our community with the Sheriff's Office," Crisanto said.
The Galarza brothers are a living contradiction to the president's labeling during the campaign of Mexicans as criminals, said Antonio Jaimes, a former fern cutter who was an assistant state attorney and now the legal counsel for the Volusia County Clerk of Courts. The Galarzas have demonstrated that immigrants can achieve success just like Anglos and anyone who is willing to work hard for a better life, said Jaimes, who is married to the brothers' sister, Maria.
"The Galarzas have parents with very little education or financial resources yet put themselves through school, the police academy and are now hired by the Volusia County Sheriff's Office," Jaimes said. "That in itself is a great accomplishment."
The success of the Mexican-American brothers also epitomizes the message that no matter what background you come from you can have great accomplishments, the sheriff said.
"Law enforcement is truly a family tradition, and the Galarzas have just started one of their own," Chitwood said. "The more minorities see or read about them, I am certain that they will look at law enforcement as a career choice."
Family and community lie at the heart of the brothers' motivation.
"My daughter changed my perspective," said Billy, the youngest brother. "I wanted the best for her, and I thought (by serving in the Sheriff's Office) I could help make her community safer."
Daniel Galarza agreed.
"There is no better feeling than working in the community where you live," Daniel Galarza said. "One day I want a raise a family here and when you think longevity, you want a safe county, a safe community."
It's an ambition that couldn't make his father happier.
Administrative offices: West Volusia 386-736-5961 Daytona Beach 386-254-4689 New Smyrna Beach 386-423-3352
Non-emergency dispatch numbers: DeLand 386-943-8276 Daytona Beach 386-239-8276 New Smyrna Beach 386-409-8276 Osteen 407-323-0151