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Deporting Love: A Married Couple’s Journey to Stay in the United States

On November 28, 2005, Enrique Gonzalez walked across the border to pursue a safe and prosperous life in the U.S. Afraid of gang recruitment in El Salvador and seeking to escape to a safe place with opportunities to work to help himself and his family, after two days of processing and detention, he was taken (by immigration officials) to a Texas bus station where he was left to find his way in what would become his new home, the United States of America. Thirteen years later, with a U.S. Immigration approved marriage to a citizen, Enrique is being deported.

In the January 2017 Executive Order, Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States, the Trump administration laid out a much wider dragnet authorizing and empowering ICE in the deportation of undocumented.  Unlike the discretion of the Obama Administration, as evidenced in the 2011 Memo, which exercised a great deal of flexibility the Trump Administration's laser-sharp focus is on the numbers! Every undocumented person within the United States has become a target despite popular pro-Trump news suggesting that only "criminals" are the focus.

Enrique and I married in 2014. While marriage was once an effective means to seek residency within the U.S., in the Trump / Sessions era - marriage to a citizen would not be enough. With an approved I130 in hand (more on that later), we're being asked to leave the country.  Our once recognized “nation of immigrants,” has failed our family, our business, and has left us with no other option but to take our skills, knowledge, and passion for providing affordable homes and building communities, to a more deserving nation outside of the U.S. While we will continue to fight for our inalienable right to stay, we are also preparing for the long journey to expat life outside of the United States. This is our story...

ENRIQUE'S STORY

Unlike many U.S. based high school graduates whose parents are preparing to send the teens off to college, Luis Enrique Gonzalez-Ortiz left his family, friends, and everything he knew and loved in his hometown in El Salvador, to seek safety and income opportunities in the U.S. Fearful of the dangers of being recruited into a life of gang violence in a nation known as the "murder capital of the world," he looked forward to leaving harm's way and reconnecting with family legally in the country.

A half-century ago, when immigration laws differed, Enrique's aunt came to the U.S. where she later became a citizen. Not indifferent than the chain migration of Melania Trump's parents, she then petitioned for her mother and brothers to join her. Enrique's father (one of the brothers), chose to keep his family in their hometown of San Salvador where Enrique and his siblings were raised.

The prospects of reconnecting with stateside family and the promise of improved opportunity were a compelling contrast to the poor El Salvadoran conditions he would leave. Enrique embarked on his first solo adventure - a life in the U.S. had begun.

On November 28, 2005, Enrique walked across the Texas border to enter the U.S. He turned himself in and was detained for two days while English speaking immigration officials processed the necessary administrative documents. They did not ensure Enrique fully understood what they were saying. After holding, he and a handful of others were transported by U.S. Immigration officers, to a Greyhound station just inside the Texas border, where they were left to find their way within the foreign land of the United States. 

Lost, alone in a foreign country, and unable to understand the native English language, Enrique called upon his uncle for assistance. Coached on the necessary steps to receive a wire transfer to then purchase a ticket, Enrique would rejoin his family in Indianapolis, the city where he has since lived.

The Path to Legalization

The United States Immigration Crime

A crime was committed that November 2005 evening when the U.S. Government aided and abetted the decried “illegal aliens” to stay and walk freely. For the “...huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” the immigrants escaping harm within the borders of the nation with so much promise, opportunity and a reprieve from violence, a window of hope was availed. 

From the outset, language was his first challenge. Barely understanding what he’d just been through but guided by family members, he believed his troubles with immigration would pass. Enrique immediately pursued work, schooling, education, and volunteer opportunities. His aunt and uncle (a pastor of a local church) provided support and guidance as he became established in his new life. Passionate about elders in the church and intuitive about modern technologies, then and still today, he helps Latino seniors to adapt to cell phones, home internet connectivity, computers, and other technologies.

Illegal but Acceptable to Pay Taxes

Immediately following his arrival, Enrique filed for -and was awarded- a Federal Tax ID, thanks to a program enacted by then-Democratic President Bill Clinton, to allow undocumented workers to demonstrate "good moral character and participate in our society" by paying U.S. income taxes. Today's highly politicized soundbites offered by immigration opponents who argue illegals are draining social services is simply untrue.

According to a 2010 report by the American Immigration Council, undocumented immigrants pay as much as $90 billion in taxes but receive just $5 billion in benefits. The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) estimated that in 2010 undocumented immigrants paid as much as $10.6 billion in state and local taxes alone.

Enrique worked in various positions, including eight years working in a south side machine shop where he specialized in machine operation (a skill he learned on the job). He received a pittance of pay and worked in some of the most deplorable working conditions often involving management taking advantage of the company’s immigrant employees. Long hours, repetitive work, failure to have needed supplies, and lack of communication and basic respect - sometimes even yelling at employees - were the norm. Demonstrating his stability, dedication, and good moral character, he stayed on the job despite the disrespect received from the company’s caucasian leadership. Like millions of undocumented who are paying taxes to demonstrate "good moral character" - a tool they hope will help obtain legal status down the road - with his IRS assigned ITIN, Enrique did the same for more than a decade.

For complete information, see the following links:
“Altogether, according to the state and local tax data analysis—published by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP)—undocumented immigrants contribute about $11.6 billion to the economy annually, including nearly $7 billion in sales and excise taxes and $3.6 billion in property taxes. They are, in economic terms, productive citizens, and pay a higher effective tax rate than the top 1 percent income bracket. That alone is not the primary reason they should be embraced as neighbors and coworkers. But it dissolves the myth that immigrants do nothing but drain public coffers.” - The Nation - Michelle Chen

Undocumented immigrants nationwide pay on average an estimated 8 percent of their incomes in state and local taxes (this is their effective state and local tax rate). To put this in perspective, the top 1 percent of taxpayers pay an average nationwide effective tax rate of just 5.4 percent.   ~Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy

The "Non-notice" to Appear Results in A Deportation Order

During processing, immigration authorities requested Enrique's forwarding address. Written on a piece of folded piece of paper in a jacket pocket border enforcement had placed in a nearby locker, the agent refused to retrieve the address despite Enrique's urging. Immigration, now without an address, is said to have (at some point during his first ten years in the states), sent a “Notice to Appear” - a common practice informing an undocumented immigrant to appear before an immigration judge who would decide whether they have a basis for lawful entry or a reason to stay in the country. Neither Enrique nor his family, received such notice typically sent via U.S. Postal (regular) mail, despite his efforts to keep the government informed about his whereabouts - including sending a change of address that (apparently unprocessed) and filing annual income taxes which obviously demonstrate his whereabouts. We’ve since learned, the Internal Revenue Service data is not linked to other governmental departments thus his annual income tax is apparently not a sufficient document to keep the government informed of his whereabouts. A “Deportation Order” was issued in “absentia” (absence). He was unaware.

LOVE, MARRIAGE, AND DEPORTATION


Enrique and I met in September of 2013 after weeks of chatting on a dating app. He was good at keeping me at bay despite my constant nudging to schedule our first date. One evening, he finally caved in to my advances. My impatient begging paid off as I finally convinced him to visit my poolside home to enjoy an evening outdoors.

It was love at first sight. At that moment as he stood in my kitchen just across the butcher block counter, inexplicably, I felt a deep knowingness, Enrique would one day be my partner for life.  Our connection was immediate and grew rapidly. He was quite the extra-ordinary catch. He felt the same about me. Our adventure began that September 2013 evening.


Nine months later while in the dental-chair waiting for a procedure, I happened upon a post on Facebook celebrating Indiana’s historic vote to allow same-sex marriage. I turned to the hygienist and said, “I've gotta get out of here! I’m going to get married!” I bolted out of the dentist's office and rushed home to create a video proposal that would change our lives forever.

Starting with my typical, “Can I keep you?,” - an endearing phrase I often whispered in a childlike voice as if to ask for permission to keep a new found puppy (he's so damn cute) - I knew my heart was on the line that evening. I wanted to "keep him" from the very first moment we met. He felt the same way.

We were engaged via a video text message late that evening! By 10AM the next morning we were married. It was June 26. 2014. Initially attempting to avoid being caught on camera, when asked by a local news channel to allow the capture and broadcast of our marriage we made the spur-of-the-moment decision to serve as an example of love and equality.  We were interviewed. Our story hit the airwaves from here to El Salvador. Enrique was outed to family and friends without incidence. We celebrated our new beginning with all.



Early in our getting-to-know-each-other phase, Enrique had shared his heroic journey from El Salvador to America.  An honest confession intent on protecting me "before things become too serious," was lost between the romantic fireside evening watching movies on the big screen and the distracting thoughts of when I might next see him again. I didn't care then, and I don't care now as we continue the long and arduous task of (hopefully) legalizing his presence in the country. Love is love!

Concerned about efforts put forth by conservative lawmakers to ban same-sex marriage, our immigration attorney advised us to get hitched again in nearby Chicago to ensure the marriage would not be challenged. Our vows were repeated, July 8, 2014. Deep feelings of love, connection, and a commitment to building a life together washed over us.  We were one step closer to legalizing his presence.

While history was made twice in the summer of 2014, we’ve since been working with our immigration attorney to obtain a green card on the basis of our marriage. Sadly, in the process, we discovered a prior "Deportation Order" had been issued in "absentia" (absence) in 2006, because of his failure to appear in court. This began our desperate and increasingly complex journey to legalize his presence as the spouse of a United States Citizen.

LEGALIZED BY MARRIAGE

Our legal team immediately filed a Stay of Deportation”, a tool that essentially stops all deportation proceedings for a specified period of time. Our Stay was approved for a period of 12 months. Immediately following the Stay, our lawyer submitted the “I130 Petition for Alien Relative” and “Work Authorization”.

While the work authorization was denied (our first and only setback), the I130 was approved - including the highly anticipated marriage interview that took place in the summer of 2017 - a formal procedure conducted by immigration officials designed to “test the marriage” and determine its validity. I was sick with the governmental process that felt like "begging for permission to love." In that, we are best friends, co-workers, and spouses who are together 95% of the time, we easily passed their test. Our marriage was approved!

Accompanied by the approved I130, our lawyer then filed a motion for “Administrative Closure which is mostly an administrative tool intended to stop an order for deportation and allow time for the submission of other information (i.e. our approved marriage petition). If approved by a judge, the motion for administrative closure would effectively shelve ICE’s ability to pursue deportation while we continue the necessary- and already underway - efforts to obtain the highly coveted Green Card.

At that time, the combination of this sequence of events was a common remedy for the situation we faced. We were confident! We were excited! And, we continued to build our life together in the U.S. Our fate was in the hands of the U.S. immigration system as we waited to hear of the approval of our Administrative Closure.

WAIT & SEE! OUR NEW NORMAL


Life had begun to settle down in Indianapolis. At the time, I worked as the Chief Innovation and Chief Operating Officer of a 200-employee home health agency. Enrique was hard at work remodeling rental properties for investors. We were living the American Dream.

Enrique got his first puppy - an adorable and incredibly affectionate blond pit-bull who eventually grew to be ginormous. Married two times in the summer of 2014, whenever we hit a snag or disagreement we often tease, “I want a divorce!...Twice!” We laugh but understand the significance.

A NEW BEGINNING

Enrique expressed a passion for starting a business investing in and remodeling homes. In Jan of 2016, in keeping with his dream, we launched Home Redevelopment Solutions, a real estate investment, and home improvement firm. At the same time, I left my executive post and obtained a real estate license and have since built a successful practice representing clients while also handling all of our investment transactions. 

Together we have tackled flips, rentals, and home improvement projects with ease. We've discovered in working together we have a keen eye for unique contemporary designs so we unleashed our skills, knowledge, and passion towards giving the business everything we've got.

BUSINESS BEGINS TO THRIVE

We’ve since completed countless home remodeling projects for ourselves and for other homeowners. We’ve made a name for ourselves in east side neighborhoods for our contemporary kitchen and bath designs.  We’ve purchased a foreclosed home that we’ve rehabbed and flipped. The profits allowed us to purchase of our second foreclosure which we gutted completely and turned into our custom home called "Casa De Esperanza."

Each of our homes is assigned names of endearment that not only reflects the unique spirit of the home/project itself but also holds meaning regarding our work. Our home, on the city's east side, was named "Casa De Esperanza"  or "House of Hope,"s to represent our dream for what it would mean for the community we'd hoped to transform. It was the first to be rehabbed in the area, and we made it a beautiful sanctuary.


By the summer of 2016, we had purchased and rehabbed our first rental property. It has since become the home of a single mom and her beautiful children.  We named the home "Renaissance" which stands for "rebirth or reawakening", to represent our tenant herself experiencing change, and our desire for the neighborhood. In the Spring of 2017, we purchased and will soon finish a second rental that is undergoing a full makeover at the time of this post. 

We've started, and are currently leading a neighborhood association that is focused on area revitalization. By design, we chose to rebuild the home we're living in which is nestled in a neighborhood we hand-picked. We love it here and believe in this emerging community. We were even featured on the local news two weeks before receiving the startling message about our deportation.


DEPORTING LOVE

What could go wrong? Trumping Our American Dream!

After the original Stay of Deportation had expired in 2016, we were granted a one-year extension. It expired at the end of 2017. Both Stays and approval of our marriage were granted during Obama's immigration administration thus moving us within reach of the Green Card. Our Administrative Closure had been filed.

The more recent Stay, up for renewal in December 2017, and consideration of the Administrative Closure that has since been swirling somewhere within the system, has now fallen into the hands of the aggressors - the Trump Administration - that is making every effort to criminalize and deport even the most innocent undocumented.

For more than a decade, Enrique has built a life that is rich with love, family, friendships, work, and contribution to the community. That has all be threatened since the newly elected Trump Administration has shifted policy.  As anticipated, our request for extension was denied at a time when massive national deportation efforts, a mantra to build a wall, travel bans, and sweeping incarcerations are now the norm. Similar to the unconscionable mass deportations in the late 1920's and early 1930's Hoover Administration, my husband, Enrique Gonzalez is being unjustly deported!

The letter from immigration states...


Since taking office, the Trump administration’s insatiable thirst for deportation has resulted in the denial of nearly 100% of Stays. Sadly, they have not only denied our request for the additional time, but they've also set the stage for deportation of my incredible husband who has done nothing less than positively impact the lives of so many while living in the U.S.  The Trump administration knows no compassion. Our American dream has come to an abrupt end. We have submitted a travel itinerary with plans to leave the country September 2, 2018.

Trump & Sessions Target

In February 2018, we were notified our third extension for the Stay of Deportation was denied. What is more, the Administrative Closure, our only remaining tool to hold off any threat of deportation, has become the target of the new administration.

The same month our last Stay was to be renewed, Sessions' submitted a new Memorandum. Cloaked under the auspices of improvements in the process, the Attorney General explores new efforts that would target individuals like Enrique, who never received the 2006 Notice to Appear or the subsequent deportation order. Under the new administration, the two consecutive Stays are now meaningless. Enrique's claim meets the criteria for Administrative Closure that could have been granted by an immigration judge, but the new administration has rescinded "prosecutorial discretion" from the Obama Administration.

More specifically, Attorney General Sessions is calling for the rapid push of those who already have deportation orders through the court system. "The timely and efficient conclusion of cases serves the national interest. Unwarranted delays and delayed decision making do not. The ultimate disposition for each case in which an alien's removability has been established must be either a removal order or a grant of relief or protection from removal provided for under our immigration laws, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law." 


Often circumventing due processes and further rushing cases through the courts Sessions' calls for, "Meritless cases or motions pending before the immigration courts or the Board of Immigration Appeals should be promptly resolved consistent with applicable law."

Worse still - cloaked in a move they may describe as "process improvement", the compensation of judges is now tied to "performance measures" intended to push for quickening the system.  "The efficient and timely completion of cases and motions before EOIR is aided by the use of performance measures to ensure that EOIR adjudicates cases fairly, expeditiously, and uniformly in accordance with its mission." 

With Trump and Sessions, it's a numbers game.  While the combination of the Stay and the Administrative Closure would have allowed us the necessary time to complete the process of obtaining the Green Card, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is gunning for making it impossible for individuals to stay in the country while waiting for the visa or green card.



Trump Arrives - Compassion Leaves

The Obama administration seemingly recognized the need to allow the millions of undocumented that have been living in - and positively contributing to - the community - the necessary time and procedural mechanism to correct their immigration status. The compromise and time extension was likely created because the Obama administration did not have the needed resources to round up the millions of undocumented and then process their cases through the immigration courts. Further, with DACA and other measures, the prior administration recognized the need for compassion in handling the countless individuals who had come to know the U.S. as home after having spent many years within the country, having first arrived as children.

Unlike Trump, the Obama Administration acted with compassion by focusing solely on the deportation of true criminals. Armed by the 2011 "Morton Memorandum," immigration judges were empowered to review each case with "prosecutorial discretion."


A collective sigh of relief came from those undocumented who had been living in and contributing to this country, in some cases for decades. The Trump Administration has chosen an approach that lacks basic humanity and delivers a sweeping, destructive blow to a community that is mostly comprised of good, hard-working people who are here because they believe in what America has stood for: a place where hard work and a strong community are honored and encouraged.

Read More about the Trump Administration's Sweeping Changes Here:


EXPAT LIVING NEVER LOOKED SO TERRIFYING

We’ve created this blog and have taken our story public so that others can be informed of the heinous crimes that are being committed by the current administration.

On March 6, 2018, in compliance with the ICE requirements outlined in the February 2018 letter, our lawyer has submitted a travel itinerary expressing our intent to leave the country within 180 days. Our last remaining hope to stay within the U.S. relies on a judge to execute "prosecutorial discretion" thus allowing for the administrative closure of the 2006 deportation order. This is all but impossible with the Trump regime focus on ramping up deportations. A motion to administratively close the deportation order was again submitted on March 2nd, 2018.  If approved, we could then continue on the previous path towards completing the waiver and processing the Green Card application. We remain hopeful but, the prospects of winning are not good. If denied, our journey in the U.S. is over.

We’re told by personal accounts - incarceration is brutal. At present, we are not at risk of a forceful removal as we're complying with the law. Sadly, it is true the current administration has a habit of forcefully separating undocumented immigrants from their loved ones and continually moving them from one detention center to another. First-person accounts describe detainees left in substandard conditions and are forced to sleep on the floor without mattresses. Communication with family members is all but impossible with many unable to see their loved ones before being ripped away, deported, and prohibited from returning to the country for a minimum of ten years. Mothers are being torn from their children. Couples are being split apart. Communities and businesses are being negatively harmed by this administration's attempts at what I can only describe as "white collar ethnic cleansing".

Who are the people capable of separating families?



I've lost family members and friendships since the last election cycle. Like the comments at the end of this Jimmy Kimmel Live interview, "Deport the rest of them...", I continue to be appalled at the unconscionable ignorance of those who voted for and support Trump and Pence while suggesting, "You two are fine! You should be able to stay!" And yet they also passionately offer the caveat, "but the rest of 'them' must leave the country and return the right way." I can no longer accept the ignorance, bullying, discrimination, and blatant disregard of human rights. As I said then, and stand by now, "If you are for Trump and Pence, then you are obviously against Enrique and me." As stated during the election cycle and even more now, "You can't have it both ways."

WHAT IS NEXT?

I'm honored to stand before the public, bearing our vulnerability, celebrating our successes, and sharing our darkest hours as we face deportation. As Thomas Fuller once stated, "It is always the darkest before the dawn." We are terrified of where we might be forced to go. Homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and gay rights are NOT supported in El Salvador. In fact, the threat of persecution is strong. Very public about our case, and with me being an obvious bald and white guy from the U.S., and with he being an obviously strong, young Latino, we fear we both will be targeted subjects of violence, discrimination, potential extortion, and gang recruitment. Afraid does not begin to describe our situation.

While we plan to continue to fight for the Green Card, our options are few within a staunchly conservative government and a politically divided nation.  We struggle to understand what has gotten into the hearts and minds of otherwise good people. The conscience of the country is overrun with such hate, discrimination, intolerance, and bullying. We want out! We deserve better! 

The US government may continue to commit crimes against the undocumented, they may separate countless mothers and fathers from their children. They may rob the income tax that Enrique and others like him have paid into the system, they may force us to leave the country, but one thing that is un-deportable by any administration is the love, life, marriage, and happiness we have found together. Perhaps best seen in our "Sunday Morning Coffee" (our favorite time together), we are a typical married couple with our kids (pets), who enjoy our home, who work hard in our small business, and who volunteer in the community - all normal, simple things we are grateful to share together.

Decide for yourself...

 Who is really the criminal?




By:

Harlon J. Wilson

U.S. Spouse / Husband to the beautiful "illegal alien" - Luis Enrique Gonzalez-Ortiz

For more info: deportinglove@gmail.com


    

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