Since their deportations, life has been “difficult” for two men who will now spend Father’s Day alone without their families. Max Villatoro and Brigido Acosta Luis spoke out about how their lives have drastically changed after being deported during a video chat hosted by the immigrant advocacy group America’s Voice.
Immigration officials deported Max Villatoro, who is a pastor, to Honduras earlier this year. At the time, he received 25,000 signed petitions on his behalf. Villatoro was considered a “high priority” for deportation for a nearly two-decade-old drunk driving conviction.
Brigido Acosta Luis entered the United States on a valid tourist visa, but was deported through an “expedited removal order” in 2002. He came back into the country, but was again deported to Mexico in 2013. Acosta Luis was considered a high priority deportation since he had already been deported once in the past. At least 12 activists were arrested when they attempted to block his bus as immigration officials were set to deport him back to Mexico at the time.
As Acosta Luis’ U.S.-citizen son Anthony explained in the video chat, life has “dramatically changed” for his family. For example, he and his sisters now attend weekly therapy sessions. Acosta Luis and his wife, Maria Perez, keep in touch using Skype, a video technology that Perez admits that she hates. Perez wrote in an op-ed last year, “Through tears and tinted windows, I told my husband that I loved him, that I wasn’t going to stop fighting and that I was going to bring him back.”
“It’s not just the person who’s being deported that’s being punished,” Perez pointed out on the call. “It’s the families, the children, the wife who’s expected to continue on with life and pay all the bills and take the kids to school and keep working at the same time. Most of us are U.S. citizens.”
“My life is there,” Villatoro said, having called Iowa his home for 20 years. “I’m a stranger here [in Honduras].”
Villatoro added, “We’ve always been together, my family. We don’t even take vacations separately. You can imagine how difficult it’ll be for me this Father’s Day…. My little one, Eileen is just seven years old. She draw a picture of the family together and she says that ‘one of the things that I wanted is that I wish to be with my dad. If I have to ask something, I wish to be with my dad.’ I look okay. Inside, it’s really hard.”
Acosta Luis gave advice to Villatoro, telling him that the road ahead may be difficult. “I know you just got deported two, three months ago,” Acosta Luis said. “At the beginning, I thought this would be really easy and that it would take no more than six months, but look at me, it’s been almost two years since they deported me. One day, God is going to make a miracle.”
There are many more immigrant parents like Villatoro and Acosta Luis who are separated from their children by deportation. A 2011 Colorlines report found “at least 5,100 children whose parents are detained or deported are currently in foster care around the United States.”
Under the Obama administration, Secure Communities — a program that allowed local authorities to hold suspected undocumented immigrants in custody while awaiting transfer to federal immigration enforcement officials — will now be replaced by the Priority Enforcement Program. The new program aims at targeting criminal immigrants and “will focus on immigrants who fit the profile of those that are at the top of the list for deportation and will work with the Department of Justice to deport federal criminals who are imprisoned,” NBC News reported. The publication also reported that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) “must ask to be notified of pending release of immigrants they have in custody.”
But there are many critics of the new program, which they believe is no different from Secure Communities. In March, law enforcement officials arrested more than 2,000 convicted criminal immigrants during a week-long raid, but nearly half of those people were individuals whose most serious crimes were misdemeanors. Some of those immigrants finished their criminal sentences years ago and have since turned their lives around. As ThinkProgress reported at the time, at least two of those immigrants had already served out their decades-old crimes, only to be put into deportation proceedings anyway.