Miguel Torres said his wife’s deportation didn’t come as a complete surprise. Glenda Cardenas Caballero was undocumented and had a order of deportation from 2005. He said the family had tried for years to find a way for her to stay.
“They tried to deport her three times," he said. "But then we continued doing the appeals. We’ve been always complying with every single detail.”
But it wasn't enough.
More than seven percent of children in public and private schools in the U.S. – millions of kids nationwide – live with a parent who is undocumented. That’s according to a Pew Research Center analysis of government data. These children live with constant insecurity and fear of separation, and the emotional consequences when a parent is deported.
In Caballero's case, it wasn’t until she was at the curb at the John F. Kennedy Airport that she learned she would actually have to leave. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers took her away, as her children watched.
Caballero is from San Pedro Sula, one of the most violent cities in Honduras - a country with one of the highest murder rates in the world. In 2005, when she was 24, she crossed the U.S. border illegally and met and married Miguel Torres, a U.S. citizen from Puerto Rico.
They moved to Waterbury with their two children. Caballero was able to get a work permit.
Things changed in early 2016 when the family was told she’d have to start reporting to ICE. Torres said they complied with these orders until summer of this year.
“The last week of July they came back to us and told us, ‘You have to buy a ticket for August the 8th. She have to leave the country,’" said Torres. After working with several attorneys, the family connected with New Haven immigration lawyer Glenn Formica.
“I stepped in at that point,” said Formica, “and filed an appeal of that decision and assumed that Glenda would be allowed more time.”
Early in the morning of August 8, with no word yet from the Board of Immigration Appeals, Formica advised the family to comply with the ICE order and go to the airport.
Torres drove into New York City with Caballero in the front seat of the car, and their children, 10 and 7 years old, in the back. Torres said they expected to come back with her that day. When they got to the airport, he said they were met at the curb by ICE officers.
“I got a little bit nervous. And I got a little bit upset," he said. "I told them not to touch her - that we were there voluntarily.”
Torres phoned Formica who immediately put in a call to the Board of Immigration Appeals. Then Formica spoke with the ICE officers. He told them there was still no decision, so she couldn’t get on this flight.
Minutes later, Formica got a call on the other phone line, saying the stay had been denied. “She ended up having to get on a plane without more than a few minutes notice on the stay denial,” he said.
And as this scene was unfolding, the children were watching. “They didn’t wanna even give us the chance to say goodbye as a family,” according to Torres. “At one point, I got very angry and I told her, ‘You go back and you say goodbye to the kids. You give them a hug, ‘cause you’re leaving. Ok? And you cannot just leave them just like that.’ So she went back, said goodbye to the kids and just left with the officers.”
In an email, ICE spokesman John Mohan confirmed that Glenda was deported in August. He said there’s no typical timeline for removals which are done on a case-by-case basis.
Torres became emotional as he described how the separation has affected his children.
“It's so overwhelming,” he said. “Both of them cry often-ly…nighttime. They say, ‘I want mommy. I need mommy.’ I have my 11-year-old daughter, which she was 10 years old at the moment of the departure. Well she’s been very depressed. She even told one of the teachers that she’s very friendly with, she wanted to commit suicide and that she had a plan. She had a plan to hang herself.”
He said school staff are doing all they can, but this has had a profound impact on his children. “They were both very happy kids,” he said. “No longer. They’re no longer happy kids.”
Torres said he’s explained that the family can’t move to Central America to be with their mom.
Then, he suggested to me that we speak directly with Glenda. So we called her in Honduras and talked via FaceTime.
Speaking in Spanish she said, “My daughter is depressed. The children’s grades have dropped. They hardly sleep, hardly eat, they’ve lost a lot of weight.” She told me, “They’ve destroyed my family.”
Lawyer Glenn Formica said he’s troubled by what appears to be a growing number of stay of deportation denials coming in at the last minute.
Had the family had more notice, he said the parents could have better prepared the kids, perhaps gotten professional help and involved school counselors, “so that it doesn’t come as this catastrophic event where you have a daughter sitting in the back seat of a car driving her mom to the airport, going, ‘Is Mom leaving today? Am I ever going to see my mom again?’ It's offensive that we have to wait until the curb of an airport to find out a decision from the Board of Immigration Appeals down in Virginia. That needs to change.”
Formica is currently pursuing humanitarian parole for Caballero, which would allow her to enter the U.S. for a period of time while her case is being processed. But he admitted, it's a long shot. In the vast majority of cases, deportees are barred from returning to the U.S. for 10 years.