Twenty-two years ago, at the age of fourteen, my husband Ray Jesus fled Guatemala on foot to save himself from being kidnapped or killed. His country was in the middle of a civil war, and the military had already killed tens of thousands of indigenous people just like Ray, including his eighteen-year-old brother-in-law. After living on the streets of Mexico for about a year, Ray made it all the way to the United States, where he applied for political asylum.
Ray was in the U.S. legally during the 1990s. In 1998, he made the mistake of changing his address without notifying the immigration courts. When he missed an important hearing on his case, he was ordered deported. Ray never received the deportation order at his new address.
Ray and I were married in 1999. I am an American-born citizen, and in 2004, with our third child on the way, we approached a lawyer to find out how I could sponsor Ray for citizenship. That’s when we found out about the deportation order. Our lawyer told us that Ray would need to return to Guatemala to apply for citizenship. On top of that, the whole process would cost about $7,000 and take up to two years. Even then, it wasn’t clear whether Ray would even be able to return since he had ignored the deportation order in 1999. He had also been charged with a DUI in 2000, hurting his chances even more.
As our family’ sole breadwinner, and with our third child on the way, Ray simply couldn’t leave for Guatemala. There was just no way we could make it work. So, he remained.
We got by like that for seven years. It all ended last August 11 when three officials from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement showed up at our home. They arrested Ray in front his three-year-old son, who still asks me why the bad guys in the white SUV took his daddy away.
Ray owned a contracting business. He had employees. He paid taxes. He spoke perfect English. Aside from the DUI twelve years ago, he always obeyed the law. He has a citizen wife and five American-born children—one of whom is disabled with autism.
Ray was very suddenly returned to the country he left twenty-two years ago with nothing but the clothes on his back. He lives there with his parents, in the house he grew up in. He’s working, but only earns about $7 per day—a typical wage in a country like Guatemala.
Our family lost everything the day Ray was deported. We no longer have an income because Ray always worked and I always stayed home to care for the kids. The cost of childcare for my autistic son would alone cost more than I could earn working outside of the home. We now survive on partial government assistance—food stamps, Medicaid, and subsidized housing—and the money I get from selling Ray’s tools.
Laws are made to protect, right? So I keep asking myself, what’s the point of laws that take away a loving husband, a dedicated father, a job-creator, a member of the community, and a taxpayer? Maybe some Americans are sleeping better knowing that there’s one less “illegal immigrant” in our country, but Ray’s children aren’t. They are struggling. I am struggling. Ray is struggling. We have no idea what our future holds.