Translated from Isaias Alverado's article in Univision.
|Rafael Valdez, Elizabeth "Joy" Valdez and their two children|
(c) Valdez Family
Now, she is stewardess of an airline in the United States and flies to Zacatecas as soon as she finishes her shift. She tries to spend as much time as possible with Rafael and her two daughters, Catalina, 5 years old, and Maya, 10. After three or four days, Elizabeth returns to the plane. Her absence because of work can last up to 10 days.
"I made the decision to move here because it was important to be with my family," says Elizabeth in a telephone interview with Univision Noticias from Zacatecas. "When I had the girls in the United States and Rafael was here, he did not see them so often. It was very difficult. I thought it was important that they were with their parents, being together as family as much as possible."
Rafael's case stresses two points: One, Rafael says that Americans who have had their spouses expelled from the U.S. have suffered terribly because of the biggest scandal that the Immigration and Customs Service (ICE) has faced in recent months in Seattle, Washington.
Two, Rafael was a victim of deportation by [ICE prosecutor] Raphael Sanchez, who was accused of stealing the identity of immigrants to defraud credit card companies.
Chief Counsel [the office of ICE Prosecution] admits that between October 2013 and October 2017 Sánchez improperly used the information of at least seven immigrants.
Paul Cook, attorney for Rafael Valdez, believes that his client was also a victim of fraud and that is why he is asking for his case to be reopened. "Rafael must be allowed to return to the United States, granted asylum and his case must be reviewed under due process," Cook warned, recalling that he spoke directly with Sánchez to show him why his client had to remain with his family. "
I told [Sanchez], 'You can not deport Rafael because he's a father, he's a worker. They arrested him for a small incident.' And Sanchez said: 'I'm sorry, there's nothing I can do to help you,'" the lawyer said.
Finally, Rafael, was convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol, and was expelled to Mexico in September 2013.
"I feel like they deported me."
Elizabeth was born in Washington State 43 years ago. She's done everything possible to keep her daughters from feeling estranged from their father. When they deported Rafael to Mexico, the girls were only 10 months and 5 years old. They lived a few weeks with him in Zacatecas, despite the fact that the youngest child stopped being breastfed.
"I feel like they deported me and my daughters too. It's traumatic," says Elizabeth, who in March 2015 found a job as a flight attendant on SkyWest. Now, she's based in Los Angeles, which brings her closer to her family in Mexico. But one time she was stationed in Illinois and Colorado.
According to Elizabeth, the Obama administration put her between a rock and a hard place. "I had no other choice but to be with my family and leave the United States," she says.
With regards to the accusations against Sanchez, who deported her husband, Elizabeth hopes that the exposure of the charges against him can help others who have been separated from their families because of deportation. "I hope it's not too late for us and for others, for the cases to be fixed," she said. For Cook, the victims of this case are the daughters of this couple who got married in 2006. "The government put these girls in the dilemma of having a father in Mexico or being left without him in the U.S. It's not fair to make them choose between having parents or living in the U.S. as American citizens," he said.
From the city to the countryside
When Elizabeth works across the Mexican border, Rafael, 42, takes care of her daughters. On his spare time, when the girls are in school, he works in his carpentry workshop, which is also their home. He makes doors and furniture for their neighbors. And in the harvest season, he also sows corn in the lands he inherited from his father.
"It's hard to be in this situation because my daughters miss their mom. It's a decision that the government took lightly," says Rafael, who immigrated to the US for the first time in 1996, although he stayed to live permanently since 2003, that was until his deportation in 2013.
He says that at one time he worked three jobs to better his family. His luck changed in 1999, when Rafael was stopped for driving drunk. Things worsened in 2009, when a police traffic stop led to ICE deporting him.
"I deserve another opportunity. We all deserve it," he reflects, adding that he has returned to a city that has changed over the past decade; now there are shootings and murders. It was not like that before.
"At random, shootings can be heard here. I do not go out. I only leave to go my daughters' school and to the house. I lock myself in here [the rest of the time]," he said.
However, he still believes that her daughters are better off in Mexico: "It's no longer about having two happy parents. The children don't care if we are here or there," he says.
His wife agrees that their united family can succeed anywhere. Yet, she still hasn't adapted to her new home. The neighbors do not talk to her, and she does not want to make new friends without knowing more about them.
"When I arrived, I was scared," recalls Elizabeth. Now she knows that violent incidents in Mexico do not always occur everywhere. "We take precautions. We are aware of what is happening around us. We do not drive at night. We do not visit places we do not know".
The children and spouses of deportation
There is not a precise figure on how many Americans have a deported spouses. But a study published by American Families United (AFU) in September 2017 concludes that at least 350,000 US citizens (a conservative estimate) are married to people who face "serious problems" with immigration authorities. This is between 8% and 15% of 4.4 million born and naturalized Americans whose partners were born abroad.
Most of these couples live in California (between 70,000 and 131,000 couples), Texas (between 40,000 and 75,000), Florida (between 30,000 and 57,000) and New York (between 27,000 and 50,000).
"American citizens should not be forced to choose between their marriage and their country," said Kim Anderson, president of AFU.
In contrast, a report of the American Immigration Council published last May indicates that more than eight million citizens live with at least one member of the family who is undocumented.
The largest class [affected by deportation] is made up of children under 18 years of age. It is estimated that 4.1 million children have at least one undocumented father and 5.9 million have an undocumented relative.
The analysis stresses that the deportations of American relatives have "serious physical, emotional, development and economic repercussions in the children who are left behind". After the arrest and deportation of a parent, these children are more likely to have mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety and severe psychological distress.