Tuesday, March 18, 2014


Revved-up deportations leave behind single moms

"The work site was raided by immigration agents, and he was arrested," Matias, 37, recalls.

 "He didn't have immigration papers and they eventually deported him.

It was terrible for us. My older son was 10 at the time and started having trouble at school. The younger one was 2 1/2 and he just couldn't understand.

He still doesn't understand. My husband calls to speak with them when he can, but they still miss their father."

Deportations and single moms:  Luisa Berduo, right, with her children, Daily Roblero, 16, left, and Edwin Roblero, 15, center, at their home in West Palm Beach, Fla., on March 2, 2014. Berduo's husband, Tomas Roblero, was deported to Guatemala four years ago, greatly reducing the family's income.:  Luisa Berduo, right, with her children, Daily Roblero, 16, left, and Edwin Roblero, 15, center, at their home in West Palm Beach, Fla., on March 2, 2014. Berduo's husband, Tomas Roblero, was deported to Guatemala four years ago, greatly reducing the family's income.
Luisa Berduo, right, with her children, Daily Roblero, 16, left, and Edwin Roblero, 15, center, at their home in West Palm Beach, Fla., on March 2, 2014. Berduo's husband, Tomas Roblero, was deported to Guatemala four years ago, greatly reducing the family's income.

Matias is one of thousands of immigrant women nationwide who are now single parents because their husbands or partners, who were undocumented, have been deported. Men spend more time outside their homes and are more likely to cross paths with immigration agents than women.

Many of those deported came to the U.S. between the 1990s and 2007 before the Great Recession. During those years, many U.S. employers, interested in cheap labor, hired undocumented workers, mostly men. They also encouraged those workers to call home and find other relatives or friends who wanted work in the U.S. Some of those workers married women already here, but in time so many men left Mexican and Central American villages that women from those countries eventually came as well. They started families and it is estimated that at least 4.5 million children born in the U.S. have at least one undocumented parent vulnerable to deportation.

Over the years the number of deportations grew, as did pressure for immigration reform. That legislation is stalled in Congress, but deportations have continued at an unprecedented rate during the first five years of the administration of President Barack Obama — a total of 1.94 million. The George W. Bush administration deported 2 million persons but over eight years, a slower pace.

Critics of Obama, including Republican lawmakers and some agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), have said he is not removing enough immigrants who are here illegally. Last fiscal year, 368,644 people were deported, more than 1,000 per day. But that was less than the 419,000 deported the year before.

The administration says it concentrates these days on deporting immigrants guilty of serious crimes or repeat immigration violations and that 55 percent of those deported now match that description. Immigrant advocates say that still leaves tens of thousands of people every year who are not criminals, but are still deported. Some of them are stopped for minor offenses, such as driving without a license.

Immigration activists are increasingly pressuring Obama to use his executive powers to end deportations of non-criminal undocumented immigrants, a move that would protect millions. In 2012, the administration used those powers to grant temporary reprieve from deportation to young people brought to the U.S. before the age 16 — a group known as Dreamers. As of September, 588,000 had applied for such protection, a relatively small portion of the 11 million to 12 million people in the country illegally. Last week, the president ordered a review of deportation practices.

West Palm Beach immigration activist Aileen Josephs is one who insists Obama has the power to end the deportations of non-criminals and is angry with him for not doing so. Obama insists that until Congress acts he is required to follow immigration law as it stands now.

Late last year he told immigration advocates to "use our democratic processes to achieve the same goal that you want to achieve. It requires us lobbying and getting it done."

But the prospects for change this election year are poor. Last month House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said it was unlikely immigration reform would pass this year. And GOP Congressman Lamar Smith of Texas, a leading hard-liner on immigration policy, recently said that Obama halting deportations "would further poison the well" and inhibit any compromise on immigration reform with Democrats down the line.

Such talk exasperates Josephs.

"The last five years will be known in our U.S. history as a time when millions of families were torn apart as a result of congressional inaction on immigration reform and an administration that chose to enforce a broken immigration system at all costs," she says.

Matias received her green card in 1999 after she married a legal resident. She says he later became abusive and she divorced him, eventually settling down with fellow Guatemalan Herman Godinez, who served as father to her older son Luis, now 12, and with whom she had her son Santiago, now 5. Godinez was undocumented.

She and the boys live in a rented mobile home for $850 per month. She works full time cleaning houses and part time at a CVS pharmacy, a total of 60 hours per week. She says that apart from sending her children to local schools, Medicaid coverage is the only government assistance she receives.

"There are many immigrant women in the same position as me," she says. "Some of them speak Indian dialects, they don't even speak Spanish. They clean houses, prepare and sell food. They don't go to the government for anything because they are afraid they will be asked for papers. They live like many Latin families here — day to day. "

Micaela Martin, an outreach worker for the Guatemala Maya Center in Lake Worth, agrees many women in Palm Beach County are in that position.

"The men were supporting the families and once they are deported it becomes very difficult for the women," she says. "They have trouble affording the clothes and food they need for their kids. They can't pay the electricity bill. They go to churches and other programs for help."

"And since the men often were in charge of discipline, sometimes the kids get rebellious," she says. "The mothers have trouble keeping control of them. These kids are almost all born in the U.S. They are American citizens."

Luisa Berduo, 42, also from Guatemala, shares a small house in West Palm Beach with relatives. She, her daughter Daily, 16, and her son, Edwin, 15, sleep in one bedroom. Her husband, Tomas Robledo, was deported in 2010.

"We were going to church, St. John Fisher," she says referring to a Catholic church in West Palm Beach. "We were part of a special ministry and we were on our way to help the priest. My husband was driving when we were stopped by immigration agents. He didn't have a license because it's impossible to get a license if you don't have your immigration papers. He had been deported once before, in 2004. They saw that and they deported him again. When it happened, my daughter cried and cried and she wouldn't eat. That was four years ago. Since then I am both mother and father."

An attorney eventually helped Berduo get a government work permit. She works for a company that cleans the county jail, a strange position for a person once illegally in the country. She also cleans houses for private clients and works Sundays at a Chinese restaurant. She says she takes nothing from the government.

"I make what we need from the sweat of my brow," she says. "I never had a chance to study. I can't read. If I had gone to school, I could be a secretary or a nurse maybe. I'm working cleaning bathrooms today, so that my kids can get ahead. Their future is the engine of my life."

Father Mario Castaneda, pastor of St. John Fisher, says he still feels bad when he thinks of that family.

"They were coming to church that day because I invited them to participate," he says. "They were such a beautiful family, so full of love. The father, Tomas, is such a good man. In these situations where the fathers are deported the mothers have to work so much that they are not in the house as much as they should be to be with the children. Now those kids are like orphans."
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