Deportation Looms, and a Father Prepares to Say Goodbye

Deportation Looms, and a Father Prepares to Say Goodbye

Originally published by The NY Times

Just hours stood between Jorge Zaldivar and his meeting with immigration officials, and so once again his family gathered to say goodbye.

Nearly a million people in the United States have received deportation orders but have managed to stay in the country anyway, often hanging on through postponements granted to them at check-ins with immigration officials. For years, those appointments were largely routine, and most people went in expecting to receive another temporary reprieve.

That changed when the Trump administration said it would expand deportation priorities to include anyone who had crossed the border illegally. And in the last two years, in households across the country, the dinner before a check-in has turned into a grim ritual, with families never sure whether or not this meal is the last they share together.

The Zaldivar children — Francysco, 8, Aanahny, 10, Dyego, 14, Yolanda, 20, and Josefyna, 23 — all United States citizens, have lived in a cycle of check-ins and court dates for most of their lives. Their father crossed into the country illegally in 1997 and has been trying to gain legal residency through his wife, Christina, also a citizen, for more than a decade.

That has failed, and the Zaldivars said goodbye to their father on June 7, 2017, on July 5, 2017, and on Jan. 10, 2018, and then four more times last year. In late February, The New York Times followed them on the night before Mr. Zaldivar’s latest immigration appointment.

Ms. Zaldivar, 39, who is of Navajo and Southern Ute descent, never expected to be in this position. She married her husband in 2005, when she was a single mother of three. At the time, it did not occur to her to think much about his immigration status.

“You don’t fall in love and say: ‘Hi, nice to meet you, do you have papers?’” she said. “I didn’t care if he had papers or not. He treated me right after an abusive marriage.”

Mostly, she said, she experiences guilt and anger over what all this has done to her children. Her oldest daughter skipped college to help pay her father’s legal fees. Her middle son has started lashing out at teachers, unable to explain to them what is happening at home.

At dinner, the house filled with relatives.

When everyone had a plate of chicken and rice, Ms. Zaldivar called for silence.

She had received an email earlier that day from a congressional aide helping with their case. The aide had heard from immigration officials.

“Dad’s stay was denied,” Ms. Zaldivar said, looking at her children. “Tomorrow when he goes in to check in, they’re not going to let him come out.”

In the morning, at the breakfast table, Ms. Zaldivar hauled out a blue tote she had prepared for her husband, with a list of medications and hotel-size toiletries, meant to help him if or when he arrived in Mexico.

Mr. Zaldivar took out his wallet and removed his driver’s license, his worker’s permit and a piece of paper bearing his social security number.

He handed them to his wife for safekeeping, and slipped $100 into the billfold.

Then he went into his youngest daughter’s room, where he began to clean, packing her toys into the dollhouse, organizing the stacks of Girl Scout cookies.

“I’m stressed,” he said. “I want to this to be over.”

“Let’s go,” Ms. Zaldivar called.

Mr. Zaldivar took the wheel of the family truck, and everyone climbed inside.

Across town, on the yellowed grass outside the federal immigration building, a few activists had arrived to show their support.


Mr. Zaldivar’s wife took his arm.

“Ready?” he said quietly.

Together they crossed the road, Ms. Zaldivar gripping the blue tote, and then disappeared.

His children watched.

Then, not 20 minutes in, a shout went up from one of the activists.

The Zaldivars, both of them, were walking out the building’s glass doors.

Ms. Zaldivar approached her children, her voice unsteady. Her husband had been granted one more monthlong postponement, she said, but this time “he has to come back with a ticket — a bus ticket, a plane ticket, something showing he is going to exit in 30 days.”

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