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Exiled for Family Unity

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My name is Melissa and I am 37 years old. I was born and raised in Michigan. I have a daughter from my first marriage that is 13 years old. Over two years ago I began to date a man who had been my friend for many years. His name is Onesimo, he is 40 years old and was born and raised in Mexico. In May 2011, we were married. Onesimo has been more of a father to my daughter than her biological father. He would pick her up from school, take her to cheerleading practice, and play softball with her in the yard. He is also an amazing husband. He cooks, cleans and helps with laundry. He knows when I’m feeling down and tells me jokes to cheer me up. In the U.S., he worked as a cook in a restaurant and was highly valued by his managers and co-workers.

On June 5, 2012, our lives were turned upside down when ICE officials showed up at our suburban home. We heard a knock on the door and my husband looked to see who it was. He told me there were police outside the house, but I thought he was joking. When he opened the door and the ICE official asked him his name, he responded truthfully. Then they proceeded to tell him that he would be coming with them. The next few hours are a complete blur for me. I was in shock and disbelief that in the United States of America the spouse of an American could be treated this way. My husband was put into chains around his waist and ankles attached to handcuffs around his wrists. He was marched out of our home in front of all of our neighbors and me. The ICE officials were all wearing bullet proof vests and were armed. I realized at some point that they had actually surrounded our home. There were 6 total officials in 3 separate vehicles that had come to pick up my husband. I cried and my legs turned to Jell-O. I collapsed on the floor. My husband tried to comfort me and tell me he would be okay, but I told him I didn’t know when or how I would ever see him again. Then he was gone. On one hand, I’m grateful that my daughter happened to be gone when this happened, so she didn’t have to be traumatized by the experience like I was.

One minute, my husband and I had been sitting in our living room, sharing some pasta and watching television. The next minute, I was left sitting alone, shaking on my couch. I wanted to talk to someone but couldn’t figure out what to say since I didn’t even really understand what had just happened. The officers had not left me with any way to contact my husband or even know where he was going. They gave me an 800 number that I could call on Monday morning to find out where he was being held. It was Friday evening at the time, and I couldn’t figure out how I was possibly going to get through the weekend without knowing where my husband was or if he was okay.

The next two months were a cluster of phone calls and meetings with attorneys, court appointments, and trying to dig up money for all of it. On top of the attorney fees, the costs for phone calls from jail are unbelievably high, sometimes as much as $25 for a 5 minute phone call. Additionally, the immigration court was in Detroit, over a 90 minute drive from my home. Each court hearing usually lasted less than 5 minutes, sometimes resulting in the Judge simply giving a new court date. Once, the Judge called out sick, but not until the attorney and I had already shown up in Detroit for the hearing, causing me to get charged for his time driving back and forth across the state.

My husband was ultimately held in a county jail in Monroe County, nearly a two hour drive from my home. Visits to the jail were only allowed once a week on the weekend, and could not last longer than 30 minutes. The immigrants who are picked up by ICE are housed in different jails all over the country, and are placed right in with all types of criminals, even though many of these immigrants have no criminal records. My husband was sick with some type of flu or infection for nearly two weeks while he was in jail. He was seen by a nurse once, but never given any treatment or allowed to see a doctor. In the end, he lost over 10 pounds during his two months in jail. To begin with he was a 5’10” man at 149 pounds, but came out of the jail at 138 pounds. His eyes were dark and sunken in and he had almost no energy.

As for me and my daughter, we both cried randomly and couldn’t sleep during the time he was in jail. I was almost completely useless at work as I could not concentrate on anything. These were hands down the worst two months of my life. It took all of my strength to get out of bed and shower and get ready for work every day. To try to be optimistic about the situation, my daughter made “Welcome Home” signs and bought balloons and party supplies to have a party for my husband once he came home. Little did we know, we would never get to have the party.

In the end, the best we were able to get granted for my husband by the immigration judge was voluntary departure from the United States. This was a better alternative to being formally deported, but still meant Onesimo would have to return to Mexico within two weeks time.

During the first two months after Onesimo returned to Mexico, my daughter and I were only slightly better off than we had been while he was being held in jail. We both still cried and agonized. We lost sleep, we couldn’t concentrate. It felt like the world was continuing on but had left us behind.

We decided as a family that my daughter and I would go to Mexico to join my husband while we waited out the Visa application process for him. I constantly get questions asking why he can’t just come back to the US right away since he is married to a US citizen. Unfortunately, since he had entered the US illegally and stayed more than 6 months, he would now be subject to a 10 year ban forcing him to stay outside the US during the 10 years as punishment. The detail that seems to have been missed when designing this archaic law is that it is now 2 US citizens – myself and my young daughter, who are being punished.

The 10 year ban is waivable, but the waiver requires proof of extreme and unusual hardship. Most people who have filed successful waivers use an immigration attorney, which costs anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 for a reputable attorney. Even still, many waivers are denied every year. Most successful waiver cases include a family member who has proof of a serious medical condition, which needs to be treated in the US. No one in our family has a serious medical condition, so I don’t see our chances at a successful waiver as being very high.

In the meantime, we are making the best of our situation in Nezahualcoyotl, a municipality of Mexico City. My daughter attends a school that costs $200 per month. It is the 300th ranked middle school in the country out of over 13,000 schools. Even so, the level of teaching and expectations are nowhere near what we experienced at my daughter’s moderately ranked school in the US. Not to mention, she has to do everything in Spanish, which is her 2nd language, so she is always at a disadvantage.

So far, the best work my husband has been able to find only earns him around $200 per month. I have a degree as an engineer, but in Mexico, they have laws that require them to hire Mexicans, except for unusual requirements. I have so far applied for hundreds of engineering jobs and have interviewed, but have not yet received a job offer. Currently I am working as a freelancer online, making about 15% of what I formerly earned in the US.

At least we are together as a family and that is what is most important to us. I have become more grateful than ever for being fortunate enough to be born in the US after seeing how people live in other countries. But in our current situation, I am beginning to fear that I may never be able to return to live in the US as one united family.

To stand with Melssia and Onesimo, text “Justice” or “justicia” to 69866 and learn more about how we can Keep Families Together.

 

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