October 29, 2009

Deported for hitting a dead person, a successful businessman sees his life wrecked

Melvin was born in 1968 in Zone 6 of Guatemala City, in Barrio San Antonio. His mother abandoned him, and he grew up with his father and grandmother. When he was three, his father traveled to the US, leaving him with his grandmother. At age twelve, his grandmother left, leaving him with his aunt. At age 15, he dropped out of school and began working to support himself. When Melvin was 18, his father finally was able to take him to the US legally.

Melvin went to Arlington, Virginia to live with his father and stepmother. In Virginia, Melvin worked in hotel maintenance for a few years before he found a better-paying job doing floors in residences. He worked in that business from about 1990 to 1995. In 1996, his boss encouraged him to set up his own flooring business. It worked out very well for Melvin, and he eventually was making up to $15,000 a week. In 1998, he re-married. He and his wife had two children. The first was born in 1999, and the second in 2001. They had a house, several cars, a successful business, and took frequent vacations. Life was good for Melvin and his family.

In 2005, his past came to haunt him and his life would never be the same again. Ten years earlier, in 1995, Melvin had trouble with the law – the one time in his life that he had trouble. Melvin was driving down the highway with a friend of his. They saw a man lying in the street, and Melvin backed up to see what had happened. The car behind him put on the high beams, and Melvin couldn’t see where he was going. He rolled over the man he had seen laying in the highway. Melvin was scared, and took off. A bad decision, he admits.

The next day, the police came to his house. He was charged with a hit and run and involuntary manslaughter. It turned out that the man was already deceased when Melvin rolled over him, and the involuntary manslaughter charge was dropped. For the hit and run, he was given a six year sentence. He served one year, and the remaining five years were suspended.

When Melvin was released from prison, he figured his past was behind him. He had done his time and had not been in trouble with the law since. He got married, had two kids, and was running a successful business. He was a legal permanent resident of the United States, and never expected immigration agents to bother him.

In June 2005, ICE agents came knocking on his door. They took Melvin into custody and told him he was to be deported to Guatemala. Melvin could not believe his life was crashing down like this. Melvin and his wife spent $15,000 on lawyers, trying everything they could. It did not work, and Melvin was sent to Guatemala.

He found an uncle to take him in who lived in Zona 4 de Mixco, a fairly dangerous neighborhood. However, Melvin soon had problems there. Melvin’s biggest problem is that he has tattoos all over his arms and one on his neck. Melvin got them because he liked them, and a friend he knew offered to do them for him. What Melvin did not know is that the spider tattooed on his neck and the spider webs tattooed on his elbows are considered symbols of the gang “18” in Guatemala. One day, on his way home, members of a rival gang spotted him and shot at him. Luckily, he ducked. Unfortunately, his uncle took a bullet for him. His uncle’s injury was not fatal, but the family decided to move out of that area.

They moved to Melvin’s father’s half-way constructed house in Santa Catalina, a much safer part of the city. Once the house was finished and Melvin was settled in, his wife and children moved to Guatemala City. She sold the house, and they had $200,000 in savings – enough to set up here in Guatemala.

Unfortunately, it turned out that the life changes put stress on their marriage. After about a year and a half, they decided to divorce, and Melvin’s wife went back to the US with the kids. In the US, she works in a gas station and lives with her mother. Their children’s lives have changed drastically as a result of Melvin’s deportation.

Back in Guatemala, Melvin works in a call center. He earns enough to get by, but barely makes in a month what he used to earn in a day. He is fortunate that he has a car and just goes back and forth from his house to his job. He is scared to walk around on the streets because of his visible tattoos. He is a target for police and gang members alike. He told me that if he is killed here, no one will ever find out. They will see his tattoos, presume he is a gang member, and no one will ever care to investigate.


  1. i haven't read all the interview posts, but it seems like a lot of them are people who went to the US as children/youth and were there for many years and then got deported after some run in with the police. I wonder why you haven't encountered more of those who are deported after a raid in chicken factories, etc.- like the 350 or so who were arrested in that raid in Iowa. I would think most of those people would have emigrated more recently, have spent less time in the US and not have assimilated/learned English. just wondering why there aren't more with stories like these among those you have interviewed. of course, all the stories are interesting! i especially like your observation about the irony of deporting those "stealing jobs" to go work in call centers in their own countries!

  2. Alison: Great question. One of the reasons is that my work focuses on Guatemala City. Most of the people that work in meatpacking plants are from the provinces of Guatemala. In the raid in Iowa, for example, they were primarily Maya-speaking indigenous people from a couple of villages in the highlands.

    Another reason is that I have focused mostly on people who have lived more than one year in the US. They account for only about 25% of deportees, but the experiences are very different from those caught at the border.

    Thanks for reading and commenting!