|I don't support illegal immigration, and I have some issues with blanket amnesty. That being said, I totally understand the impetus that would make someone sneak into our great country, and I think it should be easier to get in legally. This is an interesting series of articles from The Charlotte Observer. I will post the final article tomorrow when it is available. |
Posted on Sun, Sep. 24, 2006
What will happen to Kayla?
An expired auto tag and an arrest are about to tear her family apart
Graduation day, East Elementary School, Monroe. The fifth-graders arrive in the early evening, royalty on this June night, pointing and snickering at each other's ties and dresses. They stop when Kayla Ramírez appears, striking in a pink chiffon dress. "Look at you!" a friend squeals.
Kayla smiles shyly, then ducks into a giggling group nearby.
She is 11 years old, a top student, one of her school's best runners. She is someone her fifth-grade teacher calls "brilliant but unassuming," a pre-teen tomboy remarkably comfortable with herself, if not this particular dress.
It is the first Kayla has owned in three years. Her father, Raymundo, helped pick it out two weeks ago on a shopping trip. Kayla's aunt, Silvia, helped style her hair just an hour ago.
And Kayla's mother, Deysi? They haven't spoken on this important day.
Kayla doesn't remember the last time they talked.
They are two people, torn apart. Deysi Ramírez, an illegal immigrant mother stopped for a traffic violation and detained by authorities. Kayla, an American citizen born on U.S. soil, who like most children has little say about her future, yet now pays for an inconsistent U.S. immigration policy -- and for the mistakes that parents make.
An estimated 3.1 million children born in the U.S. have at least one parent living here illegally. Every day, legal experts say, families are split up when an illegal immigrant is arrested.
What will happen to Kayla?
On this graduation day, no one is sure whether her mother will end up in the U.S. or her homeland of Guatemala, where 75 percent of the population lives in poverty. No one knows yet what Deysi wants to do with her three children, especially the oldest, the one with the most visible promise, the one whom relatives have volunteered to keep here.
For now, Kayla stands in line at East Elementary, left of the stage, waiting for her name to be called. She looks across the snug auditorium for her father, for 9-year-old brother Sammy and 5-year-old sister Sandy. Raymundo stands with his camera and finds her.
He clicks. Applauds. Clicks. He wishes Deysi could be here.
After the diplomas are handed out, Kayla comes to the stage once more to give the graduation speech. She walks to the lectern, past a sign declaring the day's theme: "Oh, The Places You'll Go!" Kayla fidgets slightly.
"Hi," she begins.
She is 11 years old, an American girl, old enough to sense her world is changing, too young to know how much it already has.
"My name is Kayla Ramírez," she says. "And my year in fifth grade was awesome."
New country, new family
In the summer of 1994, Deysi Ramírez illegally crossed the Texas border at age 18, unaware she was one month pregnant with a girl she would name Kayla.Deysi (pronounced "day-see") had left Guatemala at the urging of her father. Family members believed Deysi's older brother Samuel, a police officer, was murdered by Guatemala's secret police for investigating corruption. His body was never found, only his bloody machete and hat. Later, after they moved seven hours away, someone shot into their house.
On Aug. 13, 1994 -- just three days after entering the U.S. -- Deysi joined another brother, who had been living in Monroe for two years after crossing the border illegally to find work. He had moved from California because he heard the town was small but offered plenty of jobs.
Within a month, Deysi found a job making cages for chickens, then later another job collecting eggs. It was the same kind of work she had done in Guatemala, except now she worked 40 hours a week for $200, instead of 14 hours a day, six days a week, for $20.
About the time she started working, Deysi discovered she was pregnant. She remembers being frightened at first -- how could she raise a child alone in a new country? She considered a roommate's offer to adopt the child.
But she began to love the baby growing inside her, and she dreamed immigrant's dreams for her child-to-be. As she balanced boxes on her swollen belly, Deysi thought about the education her child could receive in the U.S., opportunities she would never have found in Guatemala.
There, the government pays for school only until the sixth grade, and many families can't afford education after that, leading to a 30 percent adult illiteracy rate. It's a socioeconomic spiral familiar to many Latin American countries -- no money means no education, which means no money. In Guatemala, an estimated 9 million people live below the poverty line.
Deysi wasn't sure whether she'd have a boy or girl, so she bought yellow baby clothes with the money she earned. She also began wiring about $200 a month to her mother, who bought a stove and refrigerator for the first time.
At three months' pregnant, Deysi found a job at a wood factory in Monroe, counting and hoisting slabs of pine and cedar. At first, she didn't like the man who trained her at work. He sold cocaine, Deysi remembers, and he looked like a gang member with his long hair and earrings. But as the two spent more time together, Deysi found Raymundo to be thoughtful and kind.
Ray had come to Monroe from California, where he had joined a gang after crossing the border from his homeland of Mexico in the early 1990s. He told Deysi that at 18, he quit the gang after taking part in an armed robbery of a liquor store. Ray said he was given probation and placed in an anti-gang program.
Deysi told Ray she wasn't impressed with his macho image and that he should stop selling drugs. He told her he did.
(Extensive checks show no arrest records under Raymundo's name in California. It's unclear if he was treated as a juvenile by California authorities. Juvenile records are not public. A records check in North Carolina shows traffic offenses, including DWI.)
After Kayla was born, Deysi and Ray became close friends, going out as often as four times a week. Ray invited her to the movies or to eat Chinese food, her favorite. He carried Kayla on his shoulders and bought her clothes and shoes when they went to the mall.
Deysi wanted a steady relationship with a nurturing man. She wanted to avoid the mistakes her mother had made, staying with a man who hit her often and cheated on her.
Several months into their friendship, Deysi told Ray she was moving in with someone.
Ray got upset.
Do you love him? he asked.
No, she said. He'll give me and Kayla some stability.
Why are you going to live with someone you don't love?
What do you care?
Well, Ray said, I love you.
Asylum sought and lost
In April 1996, Deysi and Kayla moved with Ray into a one-bedroom apartment in Monroe. Like Deysi's parents, they never married, but they called each other husband and wife. Ray called Kayla his daughter.
During that move, however, Deysi failed to notify the post office about her change of address. She neglected, too, to file form AR-11, which would have informed the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service that she was moving.
Two years before, Deysi had applied for a work permit and asylum, hoping she could stay in the U.S. legally because of the danger she faced in Guatemala. At her new address, Deysi never received the notice for the asylum interview at which she could have pleaded her case. She didn't receive notification of a court hearing for having missed that first interview. She never followed up when the paperwork didn't arrive.
When Deysi didn't appear for the court hearing, on Feb. 5, 1998, an immigration judge in Atlanta ordered that she be removed from the U.S. A warrant was issued for her arrest. Unknown to her, Deysi was a fugitive.
By then, a second child, Samuel, was about a year old, and Kayla was almost 3. Soon, the little girl began to fulfill her mother's hopes for her at school.
In kindergarten, Kayla's teachers saw an eager learner who also took time to help others. In first grade, teachers would report she had a wonderful imagination, that when asked to write, she would go on for pages. One teacher told Deysi that Kayla had asked to sit at the front of the class. I want to listen to everything you say, the little girl told her.
At home, Kayla kept a fuzzy blue folder with the words "All Star" printed on the cover. In it were all of Kayla's awards -- for being an accelerated reader, an outstanding speller, exceptional writer, top math student.
In November 2000, Deysi and Ray had another daughter, Sandy. That year, Deysi watched a TV report on immigrants who got their papers in order. Deysi, who had let her work permit expire, contacted an attorney to go over her legal options.
The attorney told her she faced a deportation order.
Deysi didn't know what to do. She and Ray wanted their kids to graduate from high school and continue a life here. She wanted Kayla's blue folder, with all her accomplishments, to overflow.
As they saw it, there was little to debate. They decided to remain what they already were, two illegal immigrant parents with citizen children -- one of 1.5 million such families in the U.S., always a moment from fracture.
Are you legal or illegal?
On Sunday afternoon, March 26, 2006, Deysi and Ray visited relatives at his sister's house before leaving for Ray's soccer game. Their three children preferred the video version of the sport on their aunt's PlayStation, so they stayed behind.Ray, 31, and Deysi, 30, had played with their soccer teams -- and each won -- the day before. Ray's team won again Sunday.
It was, he remembers thinking, a perfect weekend.
Before heading home, they planned to stop by Ray's brother's house to celebrate his son's birth. Deysi pulled onto U.S. 74 near the Monroe Mall and headed east. It was a little after 6 p.m.
As Ray leaned over to loosen his cleats and take off his shinguards, he heard Deysi say, Oh, I didn't see you.
Ray looked in the rearview mirror. He spotted a gray N.C. Highway Patrol car. Trooper C.M. Trouille had noticed the tag on their 1995 Plymouth Voyager had been expired for a month. He flashed his blue lights.
Stay calm, Deysi remembers thinking. She had been stopped twice before for traffic violations. Each time, she'd been given a ticket for having no driver's license, then allowed to drive away. A week before this stop, she finally got her license.
The trooper approached. He introduced himself. He told them the Voyager's tags were expired.
Deysi looked at Ray. Did you know? she asked.
No, he replied.
Trouille took Deysi's license and the van's registration back to his vehicle. He appreciated that Deysi had spoken English to him. Some of the Hispanics he stopped didn't, even if he suspected they could.
Trouille had been a state trooper for a little more than a year. He was 29 and from Catawba County, and like his fellow troopers, he was accustomed to dealing with Latinos, legal or not.
Of the 70 or so traffic tickets Trouille wrote in an ordinary week, about 10 were issued to illegal immigrants. He could target more if he wanted to, just by going to the right parts of Union County. On one holiday license check at nearby Cane Creek Park, troopers were stunned when they gave tickets to about 25 illegal immigrants in just 90 minutes.
Many immigrants, when asked, would tell Trouille right away they were illegal. The next step was his choice. He could call U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but unless the traffic violation was egregious -- or fraudulent documents were involved -- no one from ICE would likely come out. ICE was overwhelmed with more hardened criminals.
He typed Deysi's information into his computer.
Quickly, an alert popped up.
"Administration warrant," it said.
And: "Extradition out of U.S."
Trouille called his station to confirm that the warrant was still valid. An officer paged ICE, which confirmed that it was. There would be no discretion for Trouille in this case.
The trooper walked back to the Voyager. He asked a question that echoed in Ray's chest.
Are you legal or illegal?
Ray hung his head.
Trouille asked again.
Deysi wanted more time to think. She remembers wanting to lie, but she thought that would invite more problems.
Illegal, Deysi replied.
Illegal, Ray replied.
Trouille walked to his vehicle and got a call on his personal cell phone. He remembers it was ICE special agent Richard Bernholz, who wanted to make sure that Deysi was, in fact, Deysi. He told Trouille to ask Deysi her father's name, her mother's name.
Trouille objected; a valid driver's license was enough to take anyone else in. Plus, he wanted to arrest Ray, too. "Why not get a two-for-one?" he remembers thinking.
ICE was not interested in Ray.
Trouille reluctantly handed Deysi his cell phone. Yes, Deysi told the official, she knew she was a fugitive and wanted for deportation. Yes, she understood what all this meant.
Deysi gave the phone back to the trooper, who asked her to get out of the car. He handcuffed her, led her back to his vehicle, put her in the front seat.
Ray timidly got out and approached the cruiser. Trouille drove away.
Ray didn't know if Deysi saw him. He didn't know where she was going. He called his niece in town. Another trooper, who had pulled up during the stop, had seized the Voyager, which was in Deysi's name. Ray would need a ride.
Deysi was headed for the Union County jail, where she would be booked on traffic citations and held until ICE arrived. In the car, she was quiet, except for one soft sentence to Trouille.
I have children here, she said.
|Posted on Mon, Sep. 25, 2006|
Anguish arises out of threat of deportation
A jailed mother wrestles with decision that will shape her daughter's future
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Kayla Ramírez knew something was wrong.
Where's the car?
It was March 26, a Sunday evening. Ten-year old Kayla was at her aunt's house in Monroe, playing video games with her cousins. Her father, Ray, had just stepped in the front door. Her mother, Deysi, wasn't with him.
Less than an hour before, Ray and Deysi -- his partner of 10 years -- were driving back from a soccer match in Monroe. A state trooper stopped them for an expired tag, and Deysi was jailed for being in the U.S. illegally. Eight years before, a warrant had been issued for her arrest after she failed to follow through on paperwork requesting asylum.
Now, Ray wasn't sure what to tell his three children. He didn't know where Deysi was going -- or what would become of their family.
He decided not to tell the children for now.
Your mother had a family emergency in Guatemala, he said.
The younger children, 9-year-old Sammy and 5-year old Sandy, didn't understand, but they accepted their father's word. Kayla asked why her mother left without a suitcase. Why didn't she say goodbye?
Later, Ray took her aside. He hoped she was old enough to know. She soon would have to be, he remembers thinking.
Your mother's been arrested, he said.
Two years before, Kayla had seen a TV report on illegal immigrants. Do you have papers? she asked her mother then. No, Deysi said, but she promised to be careful.
Now her mother was in jail.
Why did she let herself be caught? Kayla remembers thinking.
At school the next day, her friends were surprised to see her sitting alone, head down, in the cafeteria. She was crying. My mother's gone, she told them. Don't tell anyone.
A long shot
Two weeks had passed since her arrest, and Deysi Ramírez believed she soon would be released. When she prayed, she told God she wasn't a bad person. She was a volunteer at school and a soccer coach. She and Ray had raised three children, provided for them, wanted a better life for them, as parents do.But Deysi knew she was here illegally.
Now her attorney, Joan Larson, sat on the other side of the Plexiglas at the Mecklenburg County Jail, where she had been transferred.
Your children want me to tell you they love you, Larson said.
Deysi tried to hold herself together.
Larson, too, had to steel herself for this moment. For the past year, she worked in Charlotte as an attorney representing immigrants. It was a job that offered great joy or terrible sadness. You either got residency for an illegal immigrant, or you watched that client get deported.
Larson had previously been a U.S. immigration official in Houston. She knew the government concentrated its immigration enforcement on felons and terrorists. But if someone like Deysi appeared on the radar with a deportation warrant, officials would act on it.
She had filed for a stay of deportation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, noting that Deysi's son needed minor eye surgery. Medical pleas can be grounds for ICE to halt a deportation, but Larson knew this one was not urgent enough.
She was direct with Deysi.
It's a long shot, she said.
Their only chance was to file a writ of habeas corpus -- essentially a lawsuit saying ICE was holding her wrongly -- then argue her case in federal court.
She explained that they would be hoping mostly for mercy from the court, and that Deysi would have to wait six more months -- or longer -- for the case to be heard.
Deysi didn't need time to think. She didn't have the money to pursue the case. She would rather be in Guatemala than here in jail.
No, she told Larson, then she began to weep.
Future on hold
On April 13, Deysi was taken to Etowah County Detention Center in northeast Alabama, where each day, 300 illegal immigrants fill the jail cells reserved for them by the U.S. government.
The prison is one of more than a dozen contract facilities that ICE officials use as regional hubs to process the 160,000 men, women and children deported each year.
To Deysi, Etowah offered some peace.
She was no longer alone in a Mecklenburg County jail cell, surrounded by the general prison population. Here she had three cellmates, two from Mexico and one from Honduras.
The four women spent most of their time on Deysi's top bunk, which afforded a narrow view to the outside. They counted cars that passed and rated the looks of prison guards. They comforted whoever was crying at the moment about family left behind.
Deysi talked to Ray and the children once a week. Ray's family had thrown a birthday party for Kayla, who turned 11 five days after Deysi arrived in Etowah. Deysi sent her a letter and wished her a happy birthday by phone. I'm sorry I can't be there, she said. Kayla started crying.
For now, Deysi and Ray had decided to put the future on hold until she arrived in Guatemala. There, without prison officials recording conversations, they could talk about Deysi crossing the U.S. border again.
Another alternative was sending the children to Guatemala. The two youngest, Sandy and Sammy, didn't read or write in Spanish, but they were young enough to adjust. Then there was Kayla, who was fluent in Spanish and raised in a Latino household, but had never known anything but life in North Carolina.
She also had promise here. While in Etowah, Deysi had received a letter from Kayla saying she'd been selected as one of the best students in Union County. It was what Deysi had dreamed of after she crossed the border, pregnant, almost 12 years ago.
Here, Deysi had hoped that Kayla, a U.S. citizen by birth, could graduate from high school and maybe earn a scholarship. In Guatemala, the government doesn't pay for education past sixth grade, and Deysi wouldn't be able to afford a good school.
How, she thought, could I do that to my daughter?
|Posted on Tue, Sep. 26, 2006|
HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT
A daughter thrust into a mother's role
Up at 6 to dress siblings for school, girl, 11, adjusts to mom's absence
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The mornings began at 6, when the alarm buzzed and 11-year-old Kayla Ramírez tossed on some clothes. In the next 15 minutes, she dressed 5-year-old sister Sandy, dressed 9-year-old brother Sammy, made sure they had their lunches, then led them out the door.
Another day in Monroe.
Kayla's mother, Deysi, had been gone a month since being stopped in March for a traffic violation. Kayla's father, Ray, had told her Deysi was in jail and likely would be deported.
Kayla knew, too, that her life was changing.
At home, she remembers feeling overwhelmed. Kayla had never been responsible for a 9-year-old and a 5-year-old. She grumbled to her father about the extra work, but she watched him and made note of his advice: If you yell at them about things, they won't learn.
Her schedule quickly became elastic. Mornings started earlier. Days ended only after the dishes were done and she'd helped Sandy shower and Sammy with his homework. Often, she fell asleep after midnight, her MP3 still playing, her arm wrapped around her favorite stuffed animal, Smoky the cat.
At East Elementary School, at least, Kayla could be a full-time fifth-grade girl.
She studied ratios and wrote book reports, although teachers encouraged her to read more.
She was young enough to draw hearts and crosses on her notebooks, young enough to be thrilled about wearing the yellow hall monitor's sash -- her prize for a winning D.A.R.E. essay. She was old enough to be scolded by a teacher for wearing a halter top.
Kayla was one of 21 students in Carmen Campbell's fifth-grade class. All but two were black or Latino, an almost even split. Kayla was one of few who effortlessly crossed the race line, spending most of her time with three black girls. "My homies," she called them. They created dance routines and made up hip-hop lyrics.
Fifth-grade graduation was less than six weeks away, but the four girls let daydreams carry them further. They decided they'd live in a five-bedroom house -- the extra room for a guest, of course. They'd have parties and go to the mall. There would be Jacuzzis, they imagined, enough for everyone.
Suitcase packed with love
The children were never sure when Ray would get home. He worked 10-hour days, sometimes more, then picked them up at his sister's and a friend's house. Then it was home for a late meal, then to the kitchen again to make lunch for the next day.Ray had adjusted, with Kayla's help, to domestic tasks -- although the house seemed messier than when Deysi was home. He learned, too, to become more authoritative with the children, a role that was hers.
But his life was still a difficult equation to solve, with full-time work, plus finding extra hours to save money, plus driving three children to school and day care. Plus, he felt alone.
He had not let anyone see him angry about her arrest, and relatives criticized him for not showing emotion. Maybe, Ray remembers thinking, I'll let it out when I see Deysi again.
When would that be? He wasn't sure.
At the end of April, Deysi called him at his sister's house from the jail in Alabama. She had a list of items she needed for prison and her eventual trip to Guatemala: bathroom supplies, stamps and envelopes, several changes of clothing. She told him the jail had a 40-pound limit on the suitcase.
How, he wondered, do you pack 12 years into something that size?
He began with a letter.
Hi baby, I hope you're doing really well. I just wanted to tell you that everything is great.
He wanted the letter to be concise. He wanted Deysi to see in every word that he was strong -- although he felt far from it.
He hated the thought of Deysi in prison. Why is it a crime, he remembers thinking, to leave your country and seek a better life for your family? If someone should be in prison, it should be him, he remembers thinking. He had made the bigger mistakes in his life.
Put your heart into this, because this is only a test that we have to overcome together.
He made sure Sandy and Sammy were asleep before he started packing. He placed a black nylon suitcase on the living room floor. He and Kayla made several trips to the bedroom as they packed, slowly, in silence.
He included pictures of the children, Deysi's favorite perfumes, and a teddy bear drawing he traced from a Valentine's Day card. Kayla held up a blue-and-white soccer jersey of Cruz Azul, the family's favorite Mexican team.
She'll like this one, Kayla said.
But Ray already knew what Deysi wanted most.
Her children, with her.
|Posted on Wed, Sep. 27, 2006|
A bittersweet homecoming as hope fades
Deported mother knows Guatemala lacks comforts her kids enjoy in U.S.
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The journey to Guatemala began with a bus ride, from jail in Etowah County, Alabama, to federal court in Atlanta. It was May 9, and Deysi Ramírez had spent 46 days in prison. Soon, she would be free in her homeland.
Twelve years ago, she had come to the U.S. the way millions of immigrants had before her, with bus rides from Guatemala through Mexico, then two days of walking, a swim across the Rio Grande, an arranged car ride to some train tracks, an arranged train ride into Texas.
Now she was being deported.
In Atlanta, she signed U.S. and Guatemalan travel documents, and a Guatemalan consul interviewed her to confirm she was a citizen there. The next night, Deysi's arms and legs were shackled, and she rode another bus seven hours to Louisiana. There, four women and 104 men boarded a Justice Prisoner Alien Transfer flight at 8 a.m. It was one of about a dozen such flights that leave the U.S. every week.
Before takeoff, a man approached her. He had gang symbols tattooed on his arm and neck, Deysi remembers. What's up, sweet thing! he said.
Deysi looked out the window.
She remembers thinking of her partner, Ray, back in Monroe, and about their children. Only Kayla, the oldest at 11, understood where her mother was going, and why. Kayla wondered what this would mean to their family.
Will we move to Guatemala? she asked Ray.
I don't know, he said.
If we go to Guatemala, can we all come back to the U.S.?
No, Ray said.
Kayla, along with 9-year-old Sammy and 5-year-old Sandy, were U.S. citizens. Deysi and Ray were illegal immigrants. Until now, Deysi had contemplated simply crossing back to the U.S. and getting a ride to North Carolina. But on the day she left Etowah, a federal judge told her she would be jailed for years if caught in the U.S. again.
Soon, she would have a new option to consider.
Not like Monroe
At the Guatemala City airport, Deysi noticed a man following her. She walked faster, scared that he was trying to rob her. Hey, what's your name? the man asked.Deysi turned.
Her brother, Natanael, was a skinny 12-year-old when she last saw him. He was 25 now, with lean muscles and long sideburns.
They took three beat-up buses to reach San Juan Sacatepéquez, near the village where Deysi's family lived. The last bus stopped in front of a landfill, leaving them a half-mile walk along a rutted dirt road littered with lazy dogs.
Most who lived in the village, Comunidad de Ruiz, were Indians of Mayan descent. Women sold tortillas, vegetables and live geese and chickens at the marketplace, while men cultivated roses and chrysanthemums on sloping hills. The village smelled like smoke because people cooked outside; few had electric stoves. Garbage trucks didn't service the town, so residents tossed their trash into piles along sidewalks and cliffs.
When Deysi reached the gate of her family's home, she saw the back of a woman. Argelia, her mother, was across the yard, washing clothes by hand.
Natanael called out. Argelia turned. Deysi walked to her. Their eyes filled with tears. I'm sorry I've been gone so long, Deysi whispered.
Mother and daughter had their first meal together in 12 years, and they talked into the night. Deysi showed her pictures of her grandchildren.
I can't wait to see them, Argelia said.
Deysi said nothing.
Major adjustments expected
"Ray, is that you?"
Deysi stood in a barren yard, trying to get better cell phone reception. Behind her was her family's three-bedroom house, built with cinder blocks and covered by a tin roof that baked its occupants when the sun came out.
Justiniano, Deysi's late father, had built the house with money that Deysi and another brother had sent from North Carolina. Deysi's arrival meant seven people, including three children, shared the cramped home.
"I can't hear you."
It was Kayla.
"Hi, honey, how are you?" Deysi said. "They're giving you an award tomorrow? I'm proud of you."
Next were Sammy and Sandy, who still didn't know why their mother was in Guatemala. When Sandy asked what she was doing there, Deysi cheerfully replied, "Talking with you!"
Tears streaked her cheeks.
Deysi was struggling. She was bored after only a few days, and she missed things she had forgotten were luxuries in her village. Instead of flushable toilets and running water, here she turned a makeshift handle and cranked up a bucket of water from a well about 200 feet deep. She had difficulty imagining her children doing the same.
Certainly, this village would be an adjustment for them all. In Monroe, they had settled into a comfortable life, with health insurance and a 401(k) through work, with public education from the taxes they paid, with pizza as a treat every weekend.
Here, her Guatemalan family was among the 75 percent in the country who lived in poverty, thanks in part to a 36-year civil war that displaced almost 1 million people. Schools were free only until the sixth grade, and affordable health care in their village came only from Christian missionaries, who offered it free with a sermon. In Argelia's home, money came from Natanael's 26-year-old wife, Leticia, who worked seven days a week at Pollo Campero, a popular, fast-food chicken restaurant. Leticia's pay: 1,400 quetzales a month, about $175.
Deysi decided not to get a job yet. If the children joined her from Monroe, Ray wanted her to concentrate on finding a school. He could send money until he eventually joined them there.
Ray also wanted Deysi to keep an eye on the children. He worried about what international agencies had warned for years -- that children were known to disappear in Guatemala, stolen for unauthorized adoptions.
There was an alternative: Deysi's brother had called from Monroe. He was worried about Kayla going to Guatemala.
She's doing so well in school here, he told Deysi.
I can keep her.
Deysi had another idea. She missed her family -- and the life they had in Monroe. She decided to tell Ray she was willing to risk jail. She was ready to hire a coyote at the border.
She wanted to risk crossing illegally again.
|Posted on Thu, Sep. 28, 2006|
A mother's desire to reunite family risks a daughter's future
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What should they do with the children?
For weeks, they had avoided the question, then whispered about it in phone conversations, then let it begin to come between them.
It was late May. Deysi Ramírez was restless in Guatemala. She missed Ray and her three children in Monroe. She longed for simple things -- running water, a stereo, a microwave oven.
Only two weeks had passed since she had been deported for failing to follow through on U.S. asylum paperwork. She wanted to cross the border illegally again.
Too risky, said Ray. Better to be in Guatemala -- away from her children temporarily -- than in a U.S. jail, as a judge had promised if she were caught again.
Ray was right, Deysi knew.
And so, they had to decide.
Five-year-old Sandy was young and spirited, they thought, and she would adjust to Guatemala. Sammy, who was 9, was struggling in school, on his way to failing third grade in Monroe. Both would go live with their mother, Deysi and Ray agreed.
Then there was Kayla. She was 11, a top student, an achiever in most everything she did. Her last day of school was two weeks away, and her latest fifth-grade report card was glowing, as always. "She will continue to achieve academic excellence," her teacher wrote.
Kayla could stay in Monroe if Deysi and Ray wanted, because like her siblings, she was a U.S. citizen.
The decision, Deysi remembers thinking, came down to this: What is love?
Is it keeping your family together? Or letting your child go so she can flourish?
A chance to stay
Leave Kayla with me, said Ray's sister.Silvia lived in Union County, in a middle-class neighborhood with an American husband and a family.
She had been in the U.S. for two decades, first on a work permit, then as a permanent resident after she married. She was now studying to become a U.S. citizen.
Silvia had done well in her adopted country. She trained new employees for Tyson Foods, and she worked part time for an insurance company. On the weekends, she had a profitable booth at the flea market, selling soccer apparel and quinceañera dresses that she traveled to Mexico at least twice a year to get.
Here, Silvia thought, was opportunity. Kayla could have a bright future if she stayed, starred in school, went to college. What kind of future would Kayla have in Guatemala?
Silvia thought it disrespectful to ask Deysi such questions -- but she whispered into Ray's ear: Our younger sister was deported two years ago. She took the kids to Mexico for a year, and they all came back. Why couldn't Deysi do the same?
If you make Kayla leave, Silvia warned, you're going to cry tears of blood.
The consequences feared
Leave Kayla here, Ray thought.
But he couldn't bring himself to say it to Deysi.
Instead, he hinted at his feelings, talking to her about the quality of schools in Guatemala, about how well Kayla was doing here. Privately, he worried about more.
He wondered how an 11-year-old American girl could adjust to the poverty of Deysi's village. Even the littlest things would be jarring. Here, Kayla could walk barefoot into a room to shower, to go to the bathroom. In Guatemala, she'd have to go outside, through the mud, to an outhouse.
Ray thought Kayla could adapt, but she was strong-willed, even stubborn. Would she grow frustrated with her new life?
But this decision, Ray thought, was Deysi's to make. In Latin American culture, mothers are revered and make most decisions involving children. Ray didn't want to stand between a mother and her daughter.
He knew, most of all, that Deysi missed her children.
He knew she was worried that they weren't missing her.
He didn't tell her that Sandy had started calling Silvia "mom."
Family and love
By June, Deysi and Ray were fighting more often. Deysi had been gone from Monroe more than two months, and distance was wearing down their trust.When Deysi's cell phone stopped working, Ray thought she was avoiding his calls. Friends told him that if the children went to Guatemala, Deysi would forget about him.
No, Deysi said.
Ray provided her with a love she never saw between her parents. That love, that family, was the most important thing to her.
Deysi cringed, though, when she thought about the education Kayla might receive in San Juan Sacatepéquez. It was unusual for any teacher to have a college degree, and many children dropped out of sixth grade to help their family financially. Even a one-time scholarship offer from the government in 2003 didn't stop children from leaving school to work with explosive chemicals in the area's fireworks factories.
Deysi searched for bilingual schools, the closest of which was a 15-minute bus ride away. The school cost 300 quetzales, or almost $40, for registration, then half that each month for tuition. Deysi didn't know if she could afford it.
She thought about her childhood, her brief education, how she had to get a job at 14 years old. Still, she recalled growing up happy. Poverty doesn't bring you down, she remembers thinking.
She couldn't abandon her children.
She told Kayla, Forgive me for what I'm about to do.
She told her to start teaching Sammy and Sandy how to read and write in Spanish.