Catholic News Service
MANITOWOC, Wis. — Jennifer Martinez waved in vain through tears of fear and frustration as the windowless white bus left the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement deportation center in Chicago shortly after 7 a.m. March 23.
Inside the nondescript bus, Jennifer’s husband and the father of her four children, 32-year-old Jaime Martinez Espinal, his wrists cut and scraped from handcuffs binding his hands, prepared for his forced return to Mexico because he was an undocumented U.S. resident.
“It was so heartbreaking. Our oldest daughter, Isabel, who is 6, was so upset she kept throwing up. The worst part was how they treated him like a common criminal,” said Jennifer, who packed her four kids in a borrowed car and raced from Manitowoc to Chicago after learning for the second time in seven days that the Department of Homeland Security planned to deport Jaime.
Supporters of Jaime, including U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., say the deportation of an individual with no criminal record is a violation of a recent policy issued by President Barack Obama designed to stop such family breakups.
“To think a family has been broken up to comply with an outdated immigration policy,” said Sister Marlita Henseler, parish director of St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Community in Newton, Wis., where the Martinez family are members. “Our federal government needs to do some immigration reform. It’s been due for 10 years.”
Known as a hard worker who put in 70 hours a week at his restaurant job and spent his spare time volunteering at the local YMCA, Jaime left his home in Mexico City in 1998 and crossed illegally into the United States.
“Like most people, Jaime came to the U.S. to seek a better life for his family,” said Stacy Taeuber, an immigration attorney from Madison who represents the Martinez family. “The fact is there is no easy path, even for those undocumented residents married to U.S. citizens, to attain legal status. That’s part of what is broken in this system.
“Even if you marry a U.S. citizen, it could take up to 10 years (being) outside this country before attaining legal status,” she told The Compass, newspaper of the Green Bay Diocese.
Jennifer, a native of Manitowoc, met her future husband 14 years ago when both were 18. The couple eventually settled in Manitowoc. He found a job at a restaurant as a cook.
Trouble began when the couple, on the advice of a Green Bay attorney, traveled to Mexico in 2002 to obtain a visa to marry. The visa was denied because of Jaime’s earlier illegal entry into the U.S.
Jaime attempted to return to the U.S. in 2003 but was turned back and not officially deported. If he would have been deported, ICE would have had the legal grounds to declare him an “egregious” violator of U.S. law and made his March 23 deportation justified, explained Taeuber. “He was never charged with a crime.”
Jaime tried again and managed to enter the United States. He married Jennifer at St. Thomas the Apostle in 2004.
The couple has four children: Isabel, 6, Yuliana, 5, Jaime Jr., 3 and Giovanni, 18 months.
Local and federal officials won’t say who tipped off authorities about a month ago that Jaime was an undocumented resident. Manitowoc police took him into custody and turned him over to ICE investigators, who placed him in a county detention facility on a deportation warrant.
Local church officials and friends immediately began work to keep Jaime from being deported to Mexico.
Efforts to stop the process hinged on a 2011 move by the Obama administration to prioritize deportations, a process called prosecutorial discretion, based, in part, on an individual’s criminal record.
Court records show Jaime has misdemeanor convictions of disorderly conduct in 2000 and 2011, although the latter was dismissed. The convictions did not play a part in the deportation proceedings, Jennifer said.
“Jaime was the sole provider for five U.S. citizens. It is his children, in particular, who will suffer,” said Taeuber.
Jaime must now spend up to 10 years out of the U.S. before being allowed to legally return.
“The only thing that has kept me going is my faith in God,” Jennifer said. “God will let Jaime and me be together again someday.”
That day will come in May, when she and her four children will depart for Mexico City. Friends and relatives are helping raise money for their move, and Jennifer planned to apply for dual citizenship.
“As much as I don’t want to live in Mexico, I married my husband for better or worse,” she said.