A True Story Happening Now

Maria N. Rodriguez de Vásquez

It is Saturday, a beautiful early summer evening. Ruth is in the kitchen preparing spaghetti for her children, her husband Danilo is at church at a prayer group meeting, and the children are sitting and talking at the table while waiting for their food to be ready. Laughter fills the house that has witnessed all the joys, blessings, and sickness of this typical family. A setting for disaster.

This is the end point of what began more than twenty years ago when Danilo and Ruth, a young Central American couple, decided to emigrate to “El Norte” because of danger in their home country. Some of Danilo’s brothers, uncles, and cousins, who at that time worked for their country’s government, had been murdered by the opposition. One day Danilo received a phone call telling him that if he did not leave the country, he would be next. That same night he and Ruth left home and crossed the border into Mexico. There, even though illegal, they were able to work. Danilo did all kinds of jobs while Ruth studied to be a hair stylist. They could not communicate with anyone in their home country, however, since the threat there could follow them to Mexico.

Ten years passed before an opportunity arrived to travel to the U.S. Ruth and Danilo knew of the horrible journey awaiting them, but the allure of a safe place where they could be free and prosper as a family was very strong. They ended up crossing the Rio Grande in an inner tube, which was especially frightening because Ruth did not know how to swim well. In addition, Ruth was beautiful and predators were always lurking, so Danilo had to protect her from being raped while also watching his own back.

Crossing the river was only the beginning of a physical and emotional ordeal. The coyote they were paying as a guide led them through the desert night after night, while they spent their days sleeping out of fear of capture. Food and water were scarce. The only thing that kept them going was their confidence in their heavenly father. He would protect them, and if they died they would go to heaven to live with Him.

Danilo and Ruth were aware that in entering the United States they had broken the law. Yet life was good. They had three beautiful children who were born U.S. citizens. They had good jobs, their own home, a wonderful church family–best of all, no fear of being murdered. They lived quietly and saved as much as they could. They sent their children to Christian school and drove them to sports practice, plays, and sleepovers like any other parents do. The only difference was the nagging fear of being detained and having to depart the country at a moment’s notice. They did not know what would happen to their children then.

Over the years Danilo and Ruth hired various lawyers who did not do their jobs properly and instead ended up harming their prospects for legalization. Some entered wrong dates on the application for legal immigrant status. Others just took the money for application fees without submitting the application. Some have since been disciplined or disbarred. All along, Danilo and Ruth were unaware of what they were signing because their English was deficient; they had to trust their lawyers.

Disaster struck that Saturday evening last May. Immigration officials came to their home. Ruth was pulled out of the kitchen and handcuffed, her ankles chained so she would not run away. She was pushed into a van. Her children cried, not understanding what was going on except that their mother was being taken away from them. Danilo was at a church prayer group.

Ruth was introduced to the indignities of jail, American-style. She had to take off her clothes and wear an old, stained, orange uniform. Worse, a shy and modest woman, she was not allowed to wear any undergarments for three weeks. An excellent mother and wife, she has suffered keenly the separation from her husband and children. When the children visit, they may not even touch her. She has to look at them through a thick glass and talk on a telephone that makes sounds barely audible.

Ruth lives in fear of never hugging her children again. Her deportation to Central America has been stayed, but she is still in jail–God only knows for how long. A lawyer has been hired to see what can be done. Ruth’s heart aches for her children and for the many others like her who are living in similar situations. What keeps this family together, even though they are physically apart, is their faith in God. First and last, Ruth is a woman of faith who believes that God will touch the hearts of those in charge of their documents, leading them to a just and merciful decision. She knows many American Christians are with her. Better that she doesn’t know how many are not.

María N. Rodríguez de Vásquez is assistant professor of Spanish at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The names in this story have been changed to protect the characters’ identity.