STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
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"We're going to be separated from my dad." A family's final days together before deportation


President Donald Trump said he wanted to go after “bad hombres,”but his immigration policies affect more than just those who are here and have committed crimes. Undocumented immigrants with no criminal history are also being deported. That's the case with a Michigan father of four who's been told he has to leave the country by the end of the month. 

It's cold and gray and rainy the day I visit Javier and his family. We're not using their real names because Javier's wife is undocumented. The dreariness outside matches the mood in the house. The baby of the family is the only one who doesn’t seem to notice how somber everything is. She's an energetic three-year-old who zooms around the family room with her My Little Pony figures and can rattle off her favorite birthday party piñatas on the fly.

It's safe to say she doesn’t really understand what’s happening; she doesn’t get that her dad is going to walk out of this house for good on April 27 and most likely never come back.

But her oldest sister gets it, all too well. 

Mia is an 18-year-old college student who's fluent in both English and Spanish. Her parents only speak Spanish, so she's been the one who helps her dad communicate with his immigration lawyer. When the lawyer found out Javier was going to have to leave the country for good, it was Mia who got the call first.

"Yeah I remember, it was a Thursday. I was at work, and his lawyer called me," she explains. The lawyer "just basically told us [my dad] had to leave, that there was nothing we could do. Legally, we've exhausted all of our options." 

"I was in his arms, he was just telling me 'it's going to be OK, it's going to be ok.' But he has to tell me that, he's my dad. He doesn't want me suffering. But I knew, like, it's not going to be okay, we're going to be separated from my dad. Nothing can be okay from that."

Mia came with her parents from Mexico when she was almost four and has lived in Detroit ever since. She signed up for DACA, President Barack Obama’s deferred action program, which allows her to go to school and work without fear of being deported.

Her parents came to the U.S. 14 years ago on a tourist visa, and never left. Mia's mom tells me she’s on a path toward a green card. Javier, the dad, never tried to get his papers.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)has had Javier on their radar for a couple years. He had a mandatory check-in with ICE last year, and they let him stay in the country. They said he wasn’t a priority, according to the attorney who tried to help the family. But when he went back in January, they told him his time was up and he had to get a plane ticket back to Mexico by the end of April. We reached out to ICE for comment on the situation but they did not respond in time for publication.

"We knew at any time this was going to happen," says Javier. "We are here without papers and we’re not from here." Still, knowing that it could happen at any time didn’t make it any easier when they got the news.

"I walked through the door and started crying and ran to my dad and started hugging him," says Mia, wiping away tears. "I was in his arms, he was just telling me 'It's going to be OK, it's going to be OK.' But he has to tell me that, he's my dad. He doesn't want me suffering. But I knew, like, it's not going to be OK, we're going to be separated from my dad. Nothing can be okay from that."

She tugs at the tissue in her hands, passes the box of tissues to her younger sister, 12-year old Lucero.

They don’t really want to talk about what happens after their dad leaves. So Lucero and her little brother, 9-year-old David, talk about the two weeks they have left with their dad, and what they want to do with him.

"I’d like go to a mall and hang out," says Lucero. "Probably play fight before he leaves. Like, we pretend to punch each other, but he says my punches are starting to hurt," she says, laughing.

David tugs at his hair and says, softly, that he wants to "play football together and play soccer, and jump on the trampoline together. It's fun when we jump together." 

Mia agrees, though she has school and work to deal with, too. "I can't just take a pause from it to cherish the last couple days we have left."

Yes, says their dad, we'll just "follow the normal routine." He's not much of a talker, he leaves that to his kids, but his eyes speak volumes. They look tired and sad, and he seems resigned. Resigned, but not bitter.

"We are at peace because we don’t gain anything by worrying," explains Javier. "Worrying is not good. Of course, we are better here than in Mexico, [but] whatever God wants that’s what will be."

What will be for now is he’ll go back to Mexico, and his wife will stay here with their four kids.

I ask him if coming to America was worth it. He says yes. His kids have a better life here. They speak English, they’re doing well in school, and he paid cash for a house last year using money he earned landscaping, so they have their own home.

There’s no telling when or if he’ll ever see his whole family together in one place again after this month, so for now the plan is to talk every day on the phone and on Facebook. 

Jennifer is a reporter with Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project. She previously covered arts and culture for the station, and worked as a producer for WFUV in the Bronx.
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