Mother of Three Deported After Traffic Stop
On an inky black night in late May, 29-year-old Rosalinda C. was drifting on the Rio Grande in an inflatable raft, the only woman in a group of 41 migrants. Crossing the desert in the early hours, she nearly stepped on a rattlesnake – “you could only hear them,” she recalls – but kept moving ahead, only to be stopped by Border Patrol after two more days of walking. She spent 25 days in a detention center in Encino, Texas, and then was deported to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. Like some 15 percent of Border Patrol deportees, Rosalinda is a parent of US-born citizen children.
“If I try again, supposedly, I’ll get three months,” she told Human Rights Watch in Nuevo Laredo, referring to a warning given her by a Border Patrol officer. “It doesn’t make any difference to me. I’ve got to make it back to my kids,” she said, wiping a tear from her cheek.
Immigration crimes like illegal entry are the single biggest category of cases on the federal criminal docket nationwide, and sweep up large numbers of parents of US citizens.
The US has been home to Rosalinda for as long as she can remember. When she was just 4 years old and her brother Martín was 3, they left Matamoros, Mexico for Georgia. Her parents worked the fields for ten years, picking cucumber, squash, tomatoes, blueberries, peaches, and tobacco all over the south.
Pretty soon, Rosalinda was just plain Linda, speaking English and roaming the playground at her elementary school. She completed middle school but not high school. Eventually, the family began a new life in Corsicana, Texas, where Linda’s dad found work in construction. Her mother stayed home while her brother went to school. Linda married her sweetheart, Abel, who was also Mexican-born. A year later, their first child, Justin, was born in Dallas, where Abel was working in construction. Not long after came Anthony and Axel.
Linda’s peaceful world was rattled soon after Axel was born in 2015. Police stopped her father, Martín Sr., for a broken tail light – and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deported him. Back in Matamoros, Martín Sr. was crossing a street to enter a store when gunfire erupted. He was killed in the crossfire.
“I couldn’t even go to his funeral because I couldn’t risk crossing the border and getting separated from my kids,” Linda said. That same year, Abel and Linda’s marriage ended in an amicable divorce. Linda took the kids, moved in with her grieving mother, and went to work repairing phones at Samsung. She worked from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., took the boys out on Saturdays for walks, shopping, or to the movies, and on Sundays, when Abel had the boys, she and her mom cleaned house and did the laundry. The tattoo on Linda’s left arm shows a dove flying up from her mother’s name in cursive: Rosalaura.
Linda wishes she had been able to apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which, since 2012, has allowed some undocumented people who entered the United States as children to defer deportation and receive a work permit if they have finished high school. Linda has no criminal convictions that would disqualify her for DACA status; her brother, Martín, Jr., has it. But between the kids and work, Linda was too busy to finish her GED and apply.
On April 18, 2017, Linda and her mother were taking Justin to the doctor when the Dallas police stopped her Ford Explorer. “I don’t think I was speeding – I was with my mom and kid – but they said I was going 45 in a 40-mile-an-hour zone.” As Justin cried and begged – “please don’t take my mother!” – they arrested Linda for driving without a license.
After three days in Richardson County Jail – and 25 years of life in the United States – Linda was deported to a country she hadn’t seen since she was 4. “I’d never been deported before,” she said. “I didn’t know Mexico.” But an aunt in Monterrey took her in. For about six weeks, she spoke constantly by phone with her sons, who all missed her. She wanted to bring them down to join her. But Mexico wouldn’t work for her ex, Abel, who is starting a family with another woman, and Linda understands: Mexico and separation from their Dad wouldn’t be good for her American sons, either.
So she paid someone US$2,000 to help smuggle her over the border and on that May night, hiking in her sneakers through a rattlesnake-infested desert, she almost managed to rejoin her family.
When we saw her in Nuevo Laredo, she was buying a bus ticket to go again to her aunt’s in Monterrey. But only for a while, she insisted. Next time, she’s, confident, she will to make it back to her kids.