Deported After Years Spent Saving for a Home

Ruben Rojas was close to fulfilling his dream of buying his first house. But, in less than 10 hours, his dream crumbled.

On June 7, around 7 p.m., a group of police officers showed up at his apartment and arrested him. Ruben still remembers that he opened the door thinking that it was his wife knocking. He never suspected the authorities were looking for him. When the officers said he was being arrested for theft, Rojas was in disbelief. From whom? What?

The details were revealed little by little. One of his clients, “a documented paisano,” as Ruben described him, accused him of theft after the client refused to pay the full $3,500 Ruben charged him for a construction job.

Ruben Rojas speaks with Human Rights Watch researchers at the Instituto Tamaulipeco in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.  © 2017 Human Rights Watch

“When I finished the job, he did not want to pay me. He gave me $1,500 and then, out of nowhere, he asked for my electrical technician license, Ruben told Human Rights Watch at a migrant reception center in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.

“We had a verbal confrontation, but I thought that the issue would resolve itself. This happened around 9 in the morning and by the evening, I was facing deportation,” Ruben said while removing photographs and papers from a black backpack where he keeps the only belongings that he could take with him after 22 years in the United States.

Originally from Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico, Rubens says he was known in his neighborhood of East L.A. for his good work as an electrical technician and his affordable prices.

“I charged the paisas [other Mexicans] very little. I just wanted to buy my house. My wife is documented and we were about to buy it,” he said. He still cannot fathom that he is at this center, more than 1,300 miles away from his children, Jhona, 17, and Jessenia, 22.

After the theft accusation, Ruben spent one month behind bars in the Los Angeles County jail. A criminal record check showed no indication of a conviction. He was then transferred to the Adelanto Detention Center in Adelanto, California, where he spent 15 days.

“The deportation officer asked me to sign my voluntary departure. Years back I had used drugs and that’s why they told me, ‘If you do not sign, we will deport you anyway.’ I never spoke to any immigration lawyers,” he explained. Nearly all drug convictions make it extremely difficult for undocumented immigrants to avoid deportation.

When Rojas migrated to the US in 1989, he was just a teenager. He came fleeing poverty along with his partner, Aura, with whom he worked to raise their children and fulfill the dream of owning their own house.

“Now I feel as if I came here [to Mexico] without papers. I am filled with despair. I do not have anything to do here. My life is in California. Whenever I buy a bottle of soda and they tell me that it costs 10 pesos, I think, how much is that in dollars? 15 cents? 10 cents? I don’t know.”