October 22, 2009

Deportation takes father away from his two small children

Alberto is from Escuintla, a city south of Guatemala City, where he grew up with his grandparents. When he was eight years old, his mother left Guatemala for Miami. One year later, Alberto’s father was killed in Peten, Guatemala’s northernmost state.

Alberto’s father was driving a truck and was attacked, robbed, and killed. I asked Alberto if this had anything to do with the war that was going on at the time, and he told me he didn’t know. He was only nine years old, and wasn’t told much about the incident.

Alberto’s mother became the sole provider for him, and sent money from Miami to his grandparents to raise him. Alberto’s mother paid for him to study at a private, bilingual school, in the hopes that he would learn English, as they planned for him to travel to the US one day. Alberto’s grandparents earned a living selling used clothes from the United States.

When Alberto was 16, his girlfriend got pregnant, and Alberto left high school to get a job to support his newborn daughter. He only finished the eighth grade of high school, but was able to get a job in a beer bottling plant, and later, in recycling.

When he was 20 years old, in the year 2000, he decided to set out for the United States. His motives for going there were two-fold. He wanted the opportunity to earn more money for himself and his daughter. And, he wanted to see his family in the US. His mother and two siblings were in the US, and he had not seen them since they left. As they were undocumented, they feared traveling back to Guatemala. Alberto set out on his trip across Mexico, through the Arizona mountains, and made it to Miami, where his mother and siblings were.

In Miami, Alberto started out mowing lawns, but quickly found a more stable job in a recycling plant. He started out on the floor, sorting, but, once he learned how to operate the heavy equipment, was able to get better jobs. At his last job in the US, he was earning $16.50 an hour – twice the daily minimum wage in Guatemala.

Little by little, Alberto made a life for himself in the US. He married a Cuban woman, and, in 2006, they had their first baby together. In 2007, their second was born. Alberto now had a family to care for, and focused his energy on working and enjoying time with his family. His wife was a legal permanent resident of the US, but not a citizen. They never looked into applying for Alberto’s legalization; they were busy trying to make ends meet and care for a growing family.

In the summer of 2009, Alberto’s mother fell ill. He went to the hospital to see her as soon as he could get a day off of work. As he was pulling into the hospital parking lot, a man talking on his cell phone hit his car. Alberto got out of the car and saw that, although his car was damaged, the other car was not. He tried to explain to the man, in his limited English, that it was not necessary to get the insurance companies involved. Alberto did not have a driver’s license, and knew that he would get into trouble if the police arrived.

As Alberto was explaining this to the other driver, the hospital security guard showed up and began to ask Alberto for his registration and insurance papers. Alberto gave them to him, and as they were going over the details of what had happened, the Miami-Dade police came on the scene. The police officer asked Alberto for an ID, and he gave him his consular card. The police officer asked him if he was in the country legally. Alberto told him he was not. The police officer called Border Patrol, and they came and took Alberto into custody.

Alberto was in immigration detention for 72 days. His mother was fatally ill. She died while he was detained. Immigration agents allowed him 45 minutes to pay his final respects. Ten days later, he was deported to Guatemala.

Back in the US, Alberto’s wife moved in with another man once he was deported. She sold the trailer they had bought together, and only sent him $100 of the money from the sale. Alberto is concerned for the safety of his children. He is worried that his wife is drinking too much, and is concerned that she has moved in with another man. At the time of our interview, Alberto’s cousin had the children in Miami, and Alberto was in the process of figuring out how he could get the children to Guatemala with him. As his wife is unwilling to sign the papers to allow the children to travel to Guatemala, it may be very difficult for Alberto to regain custody of his children.

Alberto’s deportation took him away from a lucrative job in the US. However, his greatest sorrow is that his deportation may mean he will never see his children again.


  1. Randal Maurice JelksOctober 22, 2009 at 4:36 PM

    Have you read Edwidge Dandicat's Brother I Am Dying?
    This story reminds me of her beautifully written and haunting memoir. Keep doing what you are doing.

  2. Randal,
    I have read it, as well as several of her other books. She is a one of my favorite writers! The story of her uncle is such a tragedy.

    Thanks for your encouragement! I am working on finishing up my interviews here in Guatemala.

  3. There is a definite need for immigration reform. And it is my opinion that in the cases where undocumented immigrants are parents of U.S. citizens that they be given some special consideration. What good does it do to society at large separating families as it has been happeneing for quite some time now?

  4. RiPPa: The US is way behind the curve on this one. In the EU, countries are obliged to consider the impact of deportations on family life. (Amazingly, in the UK, a Bolivian was granted relief from deportation because of his cat!!). That is a bit extreme, but it shows how some countries take family life seriously. Another example of how "family values" have a very specific meaning in the US context.

  5. I just stumbled across this blog, and can't wait to read more. Immigrants are treated in the most dehumanizing of ways, and having their stories told is important. The ignorance of everyday joe-american is astonishing to me.

    I will marry my fiance in three weeks, who took a Voluntary Departure after being in the US for 12 years -- smuggled in by older family members at age 14 with papers claiming he was 18, so that all of his wages could be returned to his (literally) starving family in Guatemala. These people could have NEVER found their way from rural Guatemala (let alone been able to afford it), through Mexico, across the boarder and to Michigan without some "assistance" from people interested in their cheap labor. It is reprehensible how Immigration turns a blind eye to this.

    I don't know what my future holds, and I am not looking forward to a fight with Immigration (and the immense cost associated with that), but I must follow my heart. I am just so blessed to have my family & good friends supporting me, and coming to Guatemala to celebrate the joy & happiness that this man has brought into my life.