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.