by: John Rodriguez
The issue of immigration is nothing new within the United States. In fact it is an endless ongoing debate. One of the major debates regarding immigration is how do illegal citizens fall under the legal system within the United States, and while some opponents feel illegal citizens do not and tend to abuse our system they do not see how or system can abuse them.
For most illegal citizens living within this country, they are trying to provide for themselves by starting a new and better life. For others they are providing for both family living back home and with them to better the lives they have. Both are risking imprisonment and the possibility of being deported. The fear of deportation is what many illegal citizens deal with. And for a Mexico couple not only did their fear come true, but they had to return to their own country without two of their four children.
Two and half years ago, Alfonso Mejia and Margarita Almaraz were separated from two of their children Ashanti, 8, and Ashley, 4, after Pennsylvania’s Chester County decided to remove all four of Mejia and Almaraz’s children from their home due to suspicion of abuse. After a long legal process, one which kept a family separated for two years both physically and emotionally, the family will finally be reunited, partially.
Before the legal snafu divided the family, separating them to opposite sides of the country, Mejia and Almaraz came to the United States almost a decade ago in hopes of starting a new life. Living as undocumented immigrants, both managed to accomplish their intended wishes. Having two children from a previous marriage, Almaraz sent for her children Jonathan (now 15) and Vianey (now 14), to come and live with them in an effort to connect the siblings with little Ashanti and Ashley who were born in the U.S.
However, in 2007 allegations were made to Chester County authorities claiming that Jonathan and Vianey were being abused within their household which led to their removal and placement into foster care. Mejia and Almaraz were then ordered to appear in court in 2008 to face claims that Ashanti and Ashley had also been abused. Fearing their daughters would be taken away, both Mejia and Almaraz attempted to return to Mexico with their girls only to be detained by Californian police officers. Detained as fugitives for fleeing the Pennsylvanian court, Mejia and Almaraz were released without charges but were deported back to Mexico while Ashanti and Ashley remained in the states alone and in the care of the government.
Living in a low-income neighborhood within the outskirts of Mexico’s capital, Meijia and Almarez would not have been able to afford the legal costs to win back their daughters. They couldn’t even appear before the Pennsylvanian court since it would be extremely difficult for them to obtain visas to testify before the court. But thanks to Deirdre Agnew came to the pair’s aide by convincing a court within Chester County to allow the parents to utilize a low-cost and newer way of giving their testimony.
Unable to appear before U.S. courts in person due to legal and financial reasons, the deported parents were able to win a judgment for custody in a Pennsylvania court via the use of Skype. Agnew believes this new way of giving testimony would help others and “I think that this can be used as a model.” Aside from Meijia and Almarez, other deported illegal citizens who have been sent home after being discovered without proper documents can overcome long-distance and financial troubles in trying to plead their cases for staying in the country.
According to Meijia and Almarez’s lawyers the charges placed against the parents were unfounded since the allegations brought against them were never proved and there was never any accusation of abuse against Ashley and Ashanti. Their lawyers also note a case of misunderstanding, one many illegal citizens encounter, of the legal system led the undocumented parents to flee and eventual separation.
Scared over their status within the U.S, both Meijia and Almarez missed their appointed court dates which subsequently led the state to believe the absences were proof of the parents’ guilt. According to Agnew, the state of Pennsylvania had “already started the process to terminate the parental rights of the parents, to try to adopt the children out to an American family.”
The family’s lawyer, Gustavo Garcia, who took the case on a pro bono basis, addressed reporters in a press conference that “Today is an historic day for this family. It’s a moment of reunification. They have not seen their daughters since January of 2009, the last two occasions that they have been able to see their daughters have been on a computer screen, in supervised visits.” Garcia accompanied the girls’ home to ensure the girls were reunited with their family. However, under severe financial burdens Meijia and Almarez could not afford to fight to gain custody of Jonathan and Vianey who are currently living in foster homes within the U.S.
While Meijia and Almarez are hopeful about one day gaining custody of their other children, the case is similar to an incident back in 2010. In Mississippi, Cirila Balthazar Cruz nearly lost custody of her one-year-old daughter, Ruby, after authorities within the state accused her of being an unfit mother. Like Meijia and Almarez, Cruz was undocumented but due to the fact she could barely speak English and Spanish, since she only spoke Chatino, a language only spoken by Chatino Indians of Mountainous region of Oaxaca in Southern Mexico, she was deemed unfit by officials and nearly lost custody of her child.
In cases like Cruz, Meijia, Almarez, and other undocumented citizens living within the U.S the cost of living here illegally doesn’t just impact the individuals life but their family who live here with them too. Since the issue regarding immigration is considered an “ongoing debate” it should allow for some leniency. With no set laws on the status of undocumented citizens, the instant deportation of discovered citizens living here illegally shouldn’t be rushed.
Intensive background checks should be mandatory before deportation is considered. Other countries, along with the U.S., act on such methods when time is given and in other cases. More harm is done to families when a status gets in the way and separates them. If status can separate a parent from a child, deportation should be reconsidered before acting on. More harm and manpower is wasted fueling a problem than trying to find a reasonable solution.