Jennifer Martinez (back right holding youngest child) with her other three children crying as their father is taken to Mexico in a bus from a deportation center in Broadview, Ill. March 23, 2012. (Courtesy Voces de la Frontera)

Families torn apart by immigration hope to be reunited

For the 11 million undocumented immigrants and their families who live in the United States, the senators’ and President Barack Obama‘s plan for immigration reform is a window of hope they can be reunited with their loved ones after years of heartache. Since nothing has been passed yet, they still await their fate.

“As a mom, it’s a heartbreaking,” says Jennifer Martinez, breaking into tears.

The 33-year-old lost her husband and father of her four children about a year ago to deportation. She says it’s been a constant struggle. Martinez used to be a stay-at-home mom, dedicating all of her time to her kids, while her husband worked full-time at a restaurant to support them. Now, she works two jobs, as a receptionist from 8:30am to 1pm and a nurse from 2pm to 2am, and she says if she’s lucky, she gets to see her kids about an hour a day.

“Instead of asking for toys, they ask if they can have their dad back,” says Martinez. “My 6-year-old suffers from anxiety. She thinks I might not come get her. I have to take a half hour to reassure them that I’m coming home. Their dad went to work and never came home.”

Martinez fell in love with her husband when they worked at his aunt’s restaurant – they were both 16. Now she barely has time to talk to him on the phone, and he’s making the equivalent of about $26 a week making doors and windows about an hour outside Mexico City.

“There’s no guarantee that he’ll ever be able to come home again,” she sobs. “He has a 10-year bar — so for 10 years there’s nothing we can do. The most frustrating part is that he is not a criminal — not even a traffic ticket. Only criminals can see a judge — my husband who isn’t a criminal, can’t even see a judge [for a hearing].”

Jazmin Zaragoza is a 19-year-old who lived without her mom since age 11 due to deportation. They crossed the Mexico-U.S. border together when she was 5. It was her mom’s second time getting caught trying to join her husband in the states after he had an accident at work. Her mom was sent to Mexico and Zaragoza got a green card, as the official said it wasn’t her decision to come here.

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She remembers the good days, eight years ago, when they would all have dinner together.

“Every Saturday, we would go to McDonald’s for breakfast,” says Zaragoza. “Now my dad is at work all day. We hardly see each other. We don’t have dinner together.”

She says her brothers, who are American citizens because they were born in the U.S., unlike her, who had to apply for citizenship via a green card, opted to stay with their mother in Morelia, Mexico, because they were so young when she was deported. Zaragoza originally went to live with her mom too, but felt an incessant drive to return to her dad in Tulsa, Okla. to continue her education.

“It makes me feel bad as the oldest sister,” says Zaragoza, who is a sophomore in college and has plans to study law after this experience. “I’m receiving the education they deserve [too].”

She says her brothers Daniel, 13, and Steven, 10, already forgot how to speak English and don’t want to come back to a country they consider bad for separating their family.

“My mom needs pills for depression and anxiety, and my dad had to see a therapist,” she says of her parents, whose 20th wedding anniversary just passed. “Even now, he has depression and anxiety — he can’t sleep at night.”

Angelo, an undocumented immigrant who prefers not to use his last name, immigrated to New York City from Puebla, Mexico when he was only 14. Today, he is 37, and the founder of an award-winning non-profit organization that helps thousands of Latino students who are struggling in school be able to go to college.

He says he came here by himself, became homeless and worked in the basement of a supermarket, but because of the kindness of a stranger was able to attend college.

“It gave me the opportunity to help other students go to college,” says Angelo, who is hoping for more opportunities with immigration reform. “It would help me be able to vote… being undocumented, you’re always afraid… [It’s] also traumatic to the children… because their parents are undocumented, they’re feeling left out…”

Angelo says for 23 years, he has not been able to see his sick mother, and he does not know if he will ever have the opportunity to see her alive. The only consolation is that he is able to help his community in his new home.

“Whenever I see the smile of a child who is able to go to college, that’s my million dollar paycheck,” says Angelo, who after more than two decades paying U.S. taxes and being part of the culture considers himself a “U.S. citizen without a status.”  “We follow the rules. [Many] are great examples and great citizens but lack the status. Many of the children of immigrants have lost their mother’s language and adopted the U.S. language but are still undocumented.”

Like Angelo, Martinez, the mother of four who can only hope for her husband’s return home, also hopes for a more complete comprehensive immigration reform.

“They need to understand the faces of all the kids, wives — our lives our completely destroyed,” she says. “[The pathway to become a citizen] needs to be in black and white… there are so many gray areas.”

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