Shameful immigration policies separate loved ones
By Brent E. Beltrán
Love doesn’t recognize borders. It doesn’t know if the person you love has papers or if they have done time for youthful indiscretions. None of that matters to love because love transcends all. My cousin Alma, who grew up on 29th St. near K St. in Grant Hill, knows about this kind of love. She and her children live it every day.
My cousin fell in love with, and eventually married, her husband Juan. Him not having legal status to live in the US didn’t bother her whatsoever. She was in love and her heart didn’t care if the man she wanted to be with was allowed to be in this country legally or not.
Alma met Juan in Tijuana in 1997. They must’ve hit it off pretty good because within a few months she was pregnant with their first child. At the time Juan used a temporary crossing card that he had had since he was eleven years old to cross the border. But when he used it he was breaking the law because he had been previously deported after being convicted of burglary.
Juan used to be in a gang. He lived the typical, poor, working class barrio lifestyle and all of the negatives that comes with that. Joining a gang helped him cope. Readers can judge all they want but if you don’t live this reality you will never understand the pressures of joining a gang and the hardships of living in the barrio.
After being convicted he served about two years between 1995-1997. Upon release he was deported. The same year he was released he met my cousin and his life changed. Love has a way of changing people. And for Juan it was for the better. When he found out they were pregnant he knew he could never be the person that he was.
“He had to grow up quick because he was going to be a dad and role model for his son. He worked to be a better person. He didn’t want his son’s to go through what he went through,” wrote Alma in an email.
Even though Juan was living illegally in the US he still needed to provide for his growing family. He worked long hours for minimum wage doing construction.
“I stayed home with our son while Juan continued to work weekdays and weekends to provide for our little family,” she wrote. “We were on no assistance from the state. A year after having our son I became pregnant again with our second child who was born in September of 2000.”
Being in love and already having two children they decided to get married in Las Vegas in 2002. Two years later they decided to move there. Alma found a job as a medical biller and Juan continued working long hours in construction for low pay.
In 2008, Juan lost his job. With roles reversed Alma started working thirteen-hour days, six days a week and Juan stayed home to take care of the kids. While watching their children Juan would scour Craig’s List looking for odd jobs to do to help generate income for his family. He’d find work shoveling gravel or helping people move. He wanted to work for his family. He wanted to take care of those he loved.
In March of 2009 they decided to move to San Antonio, Texas. Alma’s mom Rosa and brother José lived there. Within two weeks both had a job. Alma worked, once again, as a medical biller and Juan got a job doing construction. A few years had passed and things were going really well. So well that they found out they were pregnant again, this time with a girl.
It was a happy time. Both had jobs that allowed them to take care of their growing family. The boys were doing well in school. They played sports like soccer and ran track. And their third, and final, child was on the way. They were living the American Dream.
Then came the nightmare.
“My phone rang at 6:17pm,” typed Alma with tears in her eyes as she remembered. “It is was Juan telling me, ‘Babe, they got me. They are sending me back.’”
“I asked, ‘who and what happened?’ And he said, ‘I have to go,’ and hung up the phone. I called for my boys, got in the car and drove to my mom’s house and cried. Yelling at my parents, ‘They got Juan! They are taking him away!’ My stepdad jumped out of his seat saying, ‘Who?’”
On June 30, 2012 Alma’s husband Juan was sitting in his truck at a job site waiting for his paycheck. A San Antonio police officer approached and asked him for his license, registration and proof of insurance. When Juan was unable to produce the documents asked for he was handcuffed and arrested. The officer then contacted Immigration Custom Enforcement (ICE) and found out Juan was arrested in 1997 and subsequently deported.
Later that night Juan calls again saying that he was in ICE custody.
Juan told Alma that “he was sitting in the truck waiting to get his check from his job. He called me to find out what I wanted him to pick up for dinner. He then turned on the car and put his seat belt on. An officer walked up to the truck telling Juan that there had been a lot of burglaries in the area. Juan told the officer this is where he works and that he’s just heading home. All I could do was cry and tell him that I love him. He told me he had to go but if I can please come to the ICE office and pick up his belongings.”
The following Monday my cousin drove to the ICE office to pick up her husband’s stuff. Wondering the entire time what were they going to do with her husband.
Pregnant with two teenage sons and without the love of her life for the first time since 1997 my cousin scrambled to figure out what she could do to help her husband and their children. But there really wasn’t much she could do for Juan. She spoke to many immigration lawyers. All of them willing to take on the case for thousands of dollars with no guarantees that Juan would be released on this side of the US/Mexico border.
Months rolled on as Juan languished in an immigration detention center. Sometime in November of 2013 was the first time Juan was able to hold his daughter and hug his boys in over a year. They spent two hours with him that day with many a tear shed.
Alma and the kids would visit Juan as often as they could sharing all of the life he had missed. Finally, on December 18 he stood in front of a federal judge and pleaded guilty to entering the US without permission. He was given two years time in a federal prison and would be deported upon release.
While locked up Juan missed so many things in the life of his family. He missed his daughter’s birth, her first steps, her first words, her baptism and her first birthday. He missed his son Juanito getting promoted from 8th to 9th grade and his first day of high school. He missed his son’s soccer games. Juan loved watching them play his favorite sport. Their son Gus will be graduating this June and he’ll miss that as well.
Most of all Juan’s sons miss him. They miss talking to their dad about boy stuff. There are things they’d prefer to talk to dad than mom about. Over the phone or on visitor’s day they would take the time to ask dad those things. But it’s not the same as if he was free. As if he was there with them.
At the end of this month my cousin’s husband Juan will be deported back to Mexico. They don’t know where he will be sent. All they know is that one day he will be in Texas and the next day he will be gone. Separated from the loves of his life. Separated by a line in the desert. Separated by legal status.
Juan’s case is not an anomaly or an aberration. It is not a new phenomenon. There are thousands of Juan’s who have been deported and separated from their loved ones. Thousands.
Some may say, so what? He came here illegally. He committed a crime. He went to jail and he deserves to be deported. And people can think what they want. But at what point does a human being who has changed their life around, who takes care of their family, who loves, get a second chance? Are second chances possible in America? Especially for someone who has a wife and children who are citizens? For someone who wants their family to realize the American Dream?
This country’s immigration policies are shameful. Thousands of families have been and are continuing to be torn apart. It must stop. Humane immigration reform must be enacted so that love can be reunited.
After Juan is deported Alma will do all that she can to set him up in the nearest border town to San Antonio. She and the kids will visit often. They won’t move to Mexico though. Alma has a good job and the kids don’t speak Spanish. It’ll be hard but they will endure. They have no option. They are in love.
Alma and Juan have the kind of love that can not be broken by borders, legal status or even hundreds of miles. Theirs is the kind that will linger on no matter what. Now if only those in the three branches of government knew what that kind of love was about.
David brown says
So what is your recommendation to solve this? Open Boarders? Are you still mad about the Mexican American War? While I agree that our immigration policy is a disaster, what are the options. As sad as their situation may be, they have made their bed and now they have to lie in it.
It would be much preferable to me if those who hire undocumented workers were punished severely,but that is not going to happen because the business that exploits these people for profit have a powerful lobby. One option is to have a guest worker policy like Canada’s. Were the companies that hire these people pay for transportation, housing and other necessities.
Brent E. Beltrán says
A blanket amnesty for all undocumented people in the US would be my preference.
And yes, I’m still mad about the US/Mexico War and the treatment of those of Mexican descent in this country and the failure of the US to abide by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
Anna Daniels says
This particular family has a wife and mother who is an American citizen, and three children who are all American citizens. Are we, as a country, incapable of crafting legislation that would re-unite the myriad families in a similar situation? The answer is of course “no, we are not incapable of crafting sensible legislation.”
That is hardly re-litigating the Mexican American War.
Will Falk says
Great article, Brent. This is a gut-wrenching time in your family, no doubt. I’m sorry that some think it’s ok to undermine your words and your emotions by asking you to solve this.
I am sorry for this horrible time in the life of you and your family. Stay strong.
I’m not Mexican and I’m still mad about the Mexican War. I’m still mad about the dozens of people murdered by CBP every year. I’m still mad about the millions of people starving because of American domination in Mexico and Central and South America and around the world.
“they have made their bed and now they have to lie in it”
Do not blame the victims. Please do not say that to a family who is suffering like this ever again.
And it is not on the shoulders of members of oppressed classes to suggest solutions to colonization. It is the responsibility of the oppressors to end the repression.
Here’s my recommendation: Knock down the walls and fences at the border, burn the check points, imprison every CBP agent who has killed someone at the border and every politician and CEO who made this possible.
Brent E. Beltrán says
I feel for my cousin. Though her mom and her brother live in San Anto the rest of her family lives here in SD. She could use our love and hugs.
Evey Kozo says
Absolute amnesty for all undocumented immigrants,
although seems like a good moral idea,
does not make sense economically.
It won’t work until the border can be sealed 100% and/or
tourists who come over on tourist visas are held accountable
to return to their countries of origin.
You cannot defy the laws of economics,
the more low wage workers that enter our system,
cause the wage levels to fall. And the rate of decrease of wages will be accelerated
if more legal low wage workers continue to flow into the legal system.
And Obama won’t enact complete immigration policy alone(executive orders),
to protect the democratic ticket for the 2014
and 2016 elections.
Beyond immigration policy, the Democrats have a MORE important agenda.
To get more liberal justices on the Supreme Court, which means waiting,
waiting till there is a new and open spot to put a liberal-leaning justice to replace
a conservative one. To do this, Democrats must stay in power and in the majority.
This means, getting votes, and not angering the working class.
If he acts alone and ticks off the majority of the voting people,
without consensus, they will respond by putting in
a Republican-controlled president, Senate and House,
which would be even more damaging to the Latino electorate.
So, Obama is trying to get the US population on his side,
which means a majority Democratic Senate and a Democratic House
is required to pass immigration legislation, or get bipartisan engagement.
In the case of this family,
our system is a complete failure.
All of the family has U.S. citizenship for the exception of Juan.
He no longer commiserated in gang activity and had a good, clean
record for more than 10 years.
However, this case is a clash of temporal politics.
That cop had no right to pull over Juan in the first place.
What was the cause? That cop profiled Juan, and purposefully caused problems
for this man, who was simply just sitting in his car.
Not loitering on the sidewalk.
There should be a lawsuit against the city where Juan was arrested.
What was the cause for apprehending him?
The Republicans in Texas have a huge problem right now,
which they will try to curb via deporting people or deporting the illegal parents.
Their white population will be a minority in the next decade or two.
This means, Texas will change from a Red voting state, to purple,
and then eventually to Blue, if the Republicans continue
their anti-immigration/deportation policies.
I am so saddened by the story of my cousin, Alma.
However, they are stuck in a cross-fire on different sides of ideological firing lines.
Juan eventually will make it back to the States, legally.
It will take some time.
The saddest realization is this,
because they are not millionaires,
with a bottomless pit of money,
they cannot buy their way to legal status,
the way other internationals wanting legal status are making
their way here to the States.
How is this justified?
David brown says
Whoa, just for the record, the topics that we agree on vastly out number the issues that we disagree. (Actually, that is not directed at you Brian, but those who rose to the defense of your article.) Since when is asking a question an attack? For anything to be resolved there needs to be civil debate. I for one, am not in any position to change or challenge the US Immigration policies as messed up as they are. But if a cogent and rational argument is presented I will do my best to support it.
First of all I did not attack the victims. I feel for the children, who are entirely innocent in this matter. I merely point out that their parents made decisions in their lives and decisions have consequences.
I agree the the border patrol is a non-accountable agency that needs to be addressed, that Barrio Logan has been undeserved for far too long and many other topics. I disagree that amnesty is an option, it was wrong when the devil(Reagan) enacted it in the 80’s and it is not a good idea now.
Will Faulk I was merely asking for his opinion regarding the situation. In so far as colonization is concerned. Was the genocide perpetrated against the indigenous populations of the America’s by the Europeans okay with you or just the US? (ie French, English, Spanish and Portuguese) By the way, I fully acknowledge that the US has a lot of blood on its hands regarding it policies regarding it policies toward Central and South America.
Patricia Beltran says
It’s a heartbreaking story.
To Eva, Obama can’t enact any policy without the approval from Congress unless in the case of war and even then it would be difficult because of the Branches of Power are getting tired of the amount of power that progressively has be given to the President, devaluing their own positions. To push a policy with “Immigration” on the subject line is a whole other issue because everybody has a different opinion on this matter and to find a middle ground that allows contentment all around would be a in itself a miracle. That is not to say that I don’t think there is not a solution or that it should stop being worked on. I agree with your recommendation for a solution and that is that Washington is full of Democrat and Republican parties and it should be a mixtures that includes Liberals and other unpopular/unknown parties. This is the only way for the law to evolve and brainstorming to progress to a solution.
One of the things that sadness me most is the lack of leniency in this case by the judicial system. There are handful of criminals that are given chance after chance for repetitive crimes and they are off the hook or provided amnesty for their wrong doings. One would think that with just a conservative and stringent judicial system and outlook, the criminals showing a lack of rehabilitation wouldn’t be reward and yet they are. But in this case of Mr. Lombera’s, his dedication towards his family and courage to not be a dead beat father and take responsibility for his family would display that he was fully rehabilitated and yet it would appear that his good doings weren’t weighed in not only with the decision to give him 2 years in prison but then not to consider him to apply for some type of citizenship.
Additionally, when families like this are separated, it is detrimental to growth of the children involved as well as the husband and wife. The repercussions of that are about to begin and that is also something not considered when the government makes this type of decision. The objective of the immigration system is stressed that it does want to keep families together, this is the reason visas are given to families of people that are foreign that are working/living in the U.S.
To state as a prior commentator did that a quick fix solution would be for Mrs. Lombera and her children to move to Mexico; that is a fallacy. Yes, the children would learn Spanish and adapt but at what costs. Mexico is a very different world and Mr. and Mrs. Lombera do not have the credentials that meet Mexico’s standards. How would they make an income that is comparible to what is being made in Texas. This will bring them down in class level which seems silly to state but if you have ever been to Mexico, tyou would understand that class levels are more than apparent there. Additionally, there would be an incurred cost to send the children to school because education is not free for kids. Mrs. Lombera will also not have the rights and privileges in Mexico that she has a woman here. Women are not at an equal stature to men in Mexico and although women in the United States don’t make the equivalent of a man here, a woman can maintain a reasonable income and live off of it. It Mexico, she will be at the poverty level.
Until a solution is found, Alma will have to fight for her husband with Washington and live apart from him.
God bless the Lomberas and good luck!
Jesus Lombera says
All arguments can be considered valid when it comes down to situations like this. Separated families because of a past history lifestyle that was not suitable to the “normal” society we live in. Yet apparently no one seems to make mistakes in the lives. Its easy to judge but its not easy to comprehend that where ever youre born into its the lifestyle to you seem to accomodate in. No one takes the time to analyze why people lives turn out to be bad or good, successful or unsuccessful, they are just so easy to judge the person. All the way from the “top” (Government) to the “bottom” any person you know around you. One thing is for sure, at the end of the day no one will be able to separate my brothers family but God himself. Just understand there are cases out there that should be viewed more than once and really see that people do change for the better, before deciding to affect lives like my nephews and niece’s. La familia Lombera siempre estara unida, los amo a todos! Alma, Juan, Juanito, Agustin y Victoria.
A temporary solution is for her to find work in a border town and commute. I did this with my wife before she was able to apply for a visa. Crossing each day from Tijuana to San Diego is a lot of time but we had all the evenings and weekends together.