Emmanuel—father of three, devoted husband, business owner, and Phoenix resident for 13 years—was recently deported back to his native Mexico, a country that is no longer home, and far from the life and family he has created. Now, his family is shattered and he is desperately trying to figure out how to reunite with them.
Hailing from a small town in central Mexico, Emmanuel could not find work to support his parents and himself in 2006 after graduating from high school, so he decided to migrate to the U.S. He landed in Phoenix, where he had a friend, and quickly found work as a painter. The following year, he met Sandra, who he would marry, and the year after that, they learned Sandra was pregnant.
They were settling into family life, awaiting the arrival of their first child, when Emmanuel was picked up for driving without a license and deported back to Mexico. Committed to being present for the birth, he successfully returned to Phoenix. With two business partners, he started a painting business known for its quality and integrity, and over the years, he and Sandra had two more children.
On September 20, Emmanuel dropped off his youngest daughter at her pre-school, his usual routine, but when continuing on to work, he was pulled over by the police and arrested for driving without a license and being in the country without documentation. Though his record was otherwise spotless, his previous deportation indicated that he had re-entered the U.S. without authorization, and Emmanuel was sentenced to 45 days in detention. In addition, the lawyer Sandra engaged was unable to arrange a bond that would allow Emmanuel to prepare a thorough immigration case outside of detention. On November 1, he was returned to Mexico, still wearing the canvas painters’ pants he was picked up in.
The deportation has been predictably devastating for Emmanuel and his family—emotionally, psychologically, financially—but it’s the children’s fear, worries, confusion, and sense of abandonment that are most heartbreaking of all. They can’t fully understand why their father no longer lives at home or why they can’t visit him in Mexico. Jonathan, the oldest at 10, feels a duty beyond his years, promising to care for his sisters and mom until Emmanuel can come home. He’s decided to sell his go-kart, a treasured gift from his dad, in the hope that it will help reunite them faster. And he misses Sundays spent together; now the weekend is a depressing reminder of Emmanuel’s absence.
Alison, who turned eight the week after her father was apprehended, had been planning her birthday party for months, but those plans were cancelled—too much sorrow and no spare funds. When Emmanuel called Alison from detention to sing “Happy Birthday,” she broke down in tears. She, too, thinks about ways to earn money to bring her father home, and, as the academic achiever in the family, is hard at work on a project for a school district contest, determined to win the $3,000 grand prize.
Five-year-old Briana understands even less than her siblings do. She now has frequent tantrums and meltdowns. She hates going to preschool in the mornings—something she used to enjoy—because she says it should be her papa taking her.
Sandra, of course, bears the difficult burden of trying to care for her children and keep them from despair, even as she is suffering the deep loss of her husband’s daily support. Often a stay-at-home parent in the past, she is looking work to compensate for the loss of income, a challenge due to her unauthorized status and the prospect of being picked up herself. To make ends meet and pay lawyer’s fees, she has sold much of the family’s furniture and their car.
Emmanuel plans to fight his case from Mexico, but if that fails, he says he’d rather be in a U.S. prison where his kids can visit than a country away. If he is able to get back to the U.S., he vows never to do anything that might draw the attention of local or immigration officers, including driving. Reflecting on the painful aftermath of his deportation, Emmanuel says, “I would give all the money in the world, all the freedom in the world, to spend just 20 minutes with my kids again, hug them, and tell them how much I love them.” With so many obstacles before him, that love and connections keep Emmanuel’s hope for reunification and sense of purpose alive.