'Who Will Feed My Wife and Son?'
The day “Alejandro S.” was deported to Mexico, his first concern was for his family back home.
Alejandro, a 49-year-old snow plow operator and landscaper, hurried to the phones at the Tamaulipas Institute for Migrants in Nuevo Laredo, and called his Colombian wife, “Anna” – who is also undocumented – and his 15-year-old US-citizen son, “Daniel.”
“I told Daniel, ‘You’re the man of the house now,’” Alejandro told Human Rights Watch researchers. “But I have to get back.”
Alejandro first entered the United States in 1998, flying from Mexico City to New York on a tourist visa. He found a well-paid job with a landscaping company in Waterbury, Connecticut.
Alejandro met Anna in Connecticut. They married, rented an apartment, and had Daniel in 2002. They lived what Alejandro described as a “totally American” life. “I was earning good money,” he said. “I paid a lot of taxes.”
Little Daniel loved following his father around at work, with a child-sized rake in his hands. They both loved building snowmen and forts from the mountains of snow Alejandro would pile up in the corners of parking lots. Anna and Alejandro spoke Spanish at home, but Daniel, once he started school, would answer them in English.
In 2005, Alejandro was charged with driving without a license. Someone saw him sitting in his car in front of his brother’s house in Waterbury, Connecticut, he said, and called the police. He didn’t have a license to show the officers who pulled up – it would be another 10 years before Connecticut started issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. That seemingly minor charge would come back to haunt him.
In 2015, a shopping mall security guard overheard Alejandro and Anna arguing in Spanish while looking for a parking space. Anna felt Alejandro was working too many hours, Alejandro remembered. The guard called the police, Alejandro said, and the officers found an open bottle of tequila in the car. Alejandro hadn’t been drinking, he said, and he passed all of the officers’ sobriety tests. But they took him to Waterbury Jail for an hour.
This is often all it takes – the briefest, most insignificant-seeming contact with law enforcement at any level can end with being handed over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and eventual deportation.
A judge released Alejandro on $1,000 bail, he said, and for two years, his hearings kept getting postponed. At the last one, on March 23 this year, the judge ordered Alejandro to attend a three-week Alcoholics Anonymous program. The day that Alejandro was going to start, an ICE agent took him into custody.
Once in immigration custody, an immigration judge noted Alejandro’s 12-year-old driving-without-a-license charge in addition to the open-alcohol-container charge, he said, and denied him bond while awaiting deportation.
In September, after two months in detention, ICE agents manacled Alejandro’s wrists and ankles to a chain around his waist for a five-day journey by bus and plane to Laredo, Texas, where his group of deportees finally crossed the bridge into Mexico. In the migrant center, he pantomimed trying to eat with his hands chained to his waist.
Anna has left her work at a fast-food restaurant, Alejandro said, because she is afraid of showing her face in public; she is getting house-cleaning jobs when she can. Alejandro stared at his hands. “Who will feed my wife and son?” he asked.