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How Deportations are Affecting Houston Families

After attending a routine immigration check-in, a Pearland father is suddenly detained and deported. We look into how José Escobar’s family is coping, and how the Trump Administration’s new policies are affecting the immigrant community in Houston.

Since President Trump assumed office, his administration has tried to make changes. One of them? Immigration enforcement.

Nationwide, deportations of immigrants without a criminal record went up over 10 percent within the first three months of 2017, according to federal data.

Here in the southern region of Texas, arrests of immigrants with no criminal record have more than doubled.

José Escobar falls into that statistic.

In March, his wife, Rose Escobar, spoke out against his sudden deportation. Under the Obama Administration, José was given a temporary deportation reprieve. “I’m a U.S. citizen. And I’m being hurt by my own president,” she announced.

José was previously required to routinely check in with the immigration office. He went in for his annual appointment, earlier this year. But this time, he was detained…and never came home. He was deported two weeks later. And now, three months later, I got a hold of José’s wife, Rose Escobar.

She was at her home in Pearland, juggling the phone, while tending to her toddler. After her husband’s deportation, she is left behind to take care of her two-year-old daughter, and seven-year-old son.

“It’s been hard, really hard,” she says, her voice cracking. “The kids communicate with him through Facebook messenger. We’re trying our best to just make sure my kids don’t forget who he is.”

Rose Escobar told me how things unfolded that day, three months ago.

“On February 22nd, we went in for our regular check-in, with my daughter. Our appointment was at 9 a.m. We walked in there. And the guy, instead of signing off his sheet, told us to go to the back; which they never do.”

José was arrested on the spot.

“I said, ‘What are you guys doing’? And they said, ‘Well, ma’am, with the new administration…’ And I said, ‘No. No, your president is asking for criminals. My husband is not a criminal. Look at his record, he’s not a criminal.’”

Bret Bradford, the Houston ICE Director of Field Enforcement and Removal, says ICE now follows a new set of priority guidelines. He couldn’t address José’s specific case- but says more people will fall into their priorities.

“There were categories of folks who were more or less off limits…. Now all that has been lifted,” he told me.

“The biggest difference to me under the previous administration we had polices that kind of restricted who we could take enforcement action on….There will certainly be more people to take that enforcement action on, because more people will fall into that pool of folks that we can…. And really it’s probably a more fair and unbiased approach right now. What we’ve been told by this administration is: just enforce the law.”

Rose Escobar doesn’t think what happened to her husband was fair. But, here’s what we know about what happened.

Rose was born and raised in Houston. José came to Houston when he was 15; fleeing a devastating earthquake and rampant gang activity in El Salvador. José and his mother had a temporary protected status. But his family says a mistake in his paperwork left José undocumented.

He has no criminal record. Nonetheless, ICE says they have tried to deport him, repeatedly, over the last 10 years.

After receiving a deportation reprieve in 2012, his family thought he was safe.

Then, suddenly came his detention three months ago.

“I refused to leave,” she recounts. “And my husband looked at me and said, ‘Rose, please go. I don’t want you to see me like this.’ And he was crying, and the baby was trying to go into his arms.”

Rose said she pleaded with the immigration officer.

“I’m like, ‘But sir, I’m a U.S. citizen and we have children. You can’t do this.’ He goes, ‘Ma’am, I’m sorry. I’m just doing my job.’”

The Escobars got a lawyer, and even the help of Houston Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.

Two weeks later, Rose received a phone call from a number she didn’t recognize. It was José, calling from El Salvador. He had been deported: overnight, without a phone call, and with $20 in his pocket, his wife says.

His new home is a country so dangerous, the State Department warns U.S. citizens that it has one of the highest violent crime rates in the world.

José’s only job prospect in El Salvador is with a call center, over two hours away. He would only earn $10 a day.

Rose cries on the phone, while describing her new circumstances:

“Our lives have really changed dramatically. Leaving me to be mom and dad… And now that he’s not here… I try my best to do it all, but I can’t. And sometimes I feel like such a bad mother.”

Rose says her seven-year-old son, Walter, helps her with the little things: he has learned to take his own bath and sometimes helps her cook. She says she has to remind herself that her son is still a little boy.

She remembers trying to explain what happened to him:

“He asked me if Daddy was a bad man, because somebody had told him he was in jail.

And I said, ‘No…. When Daddy was little, he didn’t know any better…. Right now, I need to tell you that Daddy is back in El Salvador.’

And he goes, ‘For how long?’ And I said, ‘Honey, I don’t know honey…. But I promise you, I’m going to do everything I can to bring your daddy back home.’”

In the meantime, Rose is trying to arrange for the kids to visit their father in El Salvador.

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