Benjamin M. checked his phone constantly at the migrant reception center in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico - he had just been deported that August day, and was following the progress of his mother and wife, who were driving from Dallas to meet him.
“I have an amazing marriage and two beautiful kids,” said the 26-year-old, holding up a photo of his beaming family gathered around a birthday cake with one candle.
“Camille”, Benjamin’s US-citizen wife, would get to spend only a few hours with him in Nuevo Laredo, before returning to be with their two-year-old son and one-year-old daughter. But his mother, a legal resident of the United States, was planning to ride the bus with Benjamin to help keep him safe on the way to staying with relatives in Toluca, near Mexico City.
All of Benjamin’s seven brothers and sisters have legal status in the United States, whether as citizens or holders of visas or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival permits, and Benjamin, the youngest, was hoping, within a year, to get legal status, as Camille’s husband.
To him, Mexico felt like a foreign country.
When Benjamin was 11, his widowed mother moved him from Toluca to Dallas to be near the older children who had emigrated. He quickly learned English to escape bullying in elementary school, he said. By middle school, “I could defend myself with words,” he said, and in high school, he found his passion: the Reserve Officers Training Corp. “It was the best experience of my life,” he said. “I was always good at school, and I would never skateboard or hang out, I was just into school and ROTC.” He served on the color guard, the rifle team, and an award-winning physical training group. His best friend, a year older, joined the Marines after graduating, and Benjamin got recruited too. He trained with the Marines during senior year, and then came the biggest disappointment of his life: without legal status, he learned, he would not be able to join.
As his friend shipped out to California and then Japan, Benjamin spiraled into depression. He doesn’t know why he didn’t apply for DACA, except that he was “so down at being rejected [from the Marines].” For the first time, he started drinking. “My mom and my brothers kept telling me to stop, that there were other ways, but I was too depressed to hear them.”
In 2013, after a cook-out at a friend’s house, he said police stopped him for driving 10 miles-an-hour over the limit on a freeway and arrested him for driving while intoxicated. He paid the $750 fine and served a two-year probation, appearing for monthly drug and alcohol tests and completing classes. It was while he was on probation that he met and married Camille, and they started their family.
Benjamin worked as a glazier, installing glass at the Cowboys’ stadium in Frisco and at other commercial sites. His mother, who lived with them, helped out at home, and they all enjoyed dinners together, outings, and going to church. But when Camille was pregnant with their daughter, Benjamin hit another rough spot. “I was working from 4 a.m. to 9 p.m., sometimes 7 days a week, and my wife was on me for not spending time with them, so I was frustrated and tired.” For the first time since his probation, Benjamin stopped by a friend’s house in July 2016, and drank a beer “then another, and another,” he said, “and there you go.” Police stopped him for driving five miles over the limit on the freeway on the way home, and arrested him for another DWI.
Probation didn’t make sense this time, he said, as ICE was by now picking up lots of people at probation check-ins. He said he knew that people who are deported with sentences that they haven’t finished serving have a hard time returning to the US legally. So he took a lawyer’s advice to do the time. After three months in Tarrant County Jail, he was transferred to ICE detention in Johnson County Jail, where he said conditions were terrible. He sighed and wiped a tear when he spoke of a Chinese friend locked up there for more than a year who had no idea when he would be released or deported. “I feel really bad for him,” he said.
But Benjamin hopes he has a chance to return legally, though under current US law, he faces a 10-year bar to applying for a visa for having lived in the US without legal status for over a year. “I don’t want anything to stand in my way,” he said. “I have to go back.”