Immigration laws: Husband faces deportation, family fights for American dream

After waking up at 4:00 a.m. to prepare breakfast and lunch for herself and her children, Modesta Velasco wakes her children up at 5:30 a.m. to get them ready for their day on Jan. 28, 2011. When Velasco has work, she normally wakes up at 4:00 a.m. to be ready for work by 6:30 a.m. Allie Garza/Staff

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After waking up at 4:00 a.m. to prepare breakfast and lunch for herself and her children, Modesta Velasco wakes her children up at 5:30 a.m. to get them ready for their day on Jan. 28, 2011. When Velasco has work, she normally wakes up at 4:00 a.m. to be ready for work by 6:30 a.m. Allie Garza/Staff

Faces of Immigration: Modesta Velasco

Modesta Velasco struggles for the American dream ...

Editor's note: This is the second story in a series examining the upcoming legislative session, several proposed immigration bills, and how they will affect business, law enforcement and the people who could face scrutiny.

Her husband awaits deportation to Mexico and there’s the specter of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials swooping into town to take her away from her children. Yet Modesta Velasco takes it one day at a time.

Waking up around 4 a.m. Velasco takes a quick shower before preparing breakfast and lunch in the shared kitchen of the trailer where she rents a room.

After all the preparations are set, the 27-year-old makes sure to slowly wake up her three sons by popping in a DVD of their favorite kids show, “CBeebies.” As soon as they start to stir, she’ll tell them to help wake each other up before getting them ready for school and off to a sitter.

“Because if you just wake them up they’re cranky,” she said with a laugh, before quickly becoming serious. “They’re so little and even as an adult you want to sleep when you are tired, but we have to get up.”

Velasco then makes her way to the parking lot of a local supermarket to catch a bus to the fields.

“We have no choice,” she said.

Velasco said her struggles here, however, are nothing compared to what they would be back in her homeland.

In her home state of Oaxaca, jobs are scarce and low paying. The money earned wouldn’t be enough to feed her children. And the educational opportunities for her sons would be limited, creating a never-ending cycle of poverty.

Velasco understands proposed immigration law reform could send her back to those undesirable conditions but her maternal instincts push her to give her sons a better life. “I want to stay here for them,” Velasco said. “In Mexico, I would not be able to provide for them the way I do here.”

Unwanted changes

It has been six months since Velasco has seen her husband, Ismael Maya.

Maya, 29, was arrested in Virginia in the summer, as he was heading back down to Immokalee after the end of the picking season. He was sentenced to 10 months in jail and is expected to be deported soon after he finishes his sentence.

Velasco said that she last spoke with her husband in December and that she has not heard from him since.

“If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know what would happen to me,” she said of her sons.

Yet doing two parents’ jobs on her own is difficult, admitted Velasco, especially when it comes to taking care of 6-year-old Jesus, 5-year-old Jose, and 3-year-old Seviriano.

Right after her husband was taken, Velasco said, Jesus took it hard and started to perform poorly in school.

“He would arrive at home and refuse to do his homework,” she said. “He would cry over the slightest thing.”

Nevertheless, as time goes by, Velasco said her son has taken it upon himself to be the man of the house.

Yet her sons need their father, she said.

“They are not at fault in this,” said Velasco.

She knows her family’s future hangs on many outside factors, main among them is deportation.

Velasco said she has heard people say that immigration has been known to stop work buses as they’re leaving the fields.

“I just ask God that I’m not on one of the buses that gets searched when leaving work. That would be too much… I don’t think I would be able to keep it together if I’m not with my kids,” she said. “They are everything I have, and if I’m separated from them I think I’d die. That’s what I think. I would die without my kids. I love them very much.”

Sudden loss

The fact that families can be separated by deportation is a reality that many in Immokalee deal with daily, and one that Immokalee resident Celia Jimenez has not yet adjusted to.

The pain, she said, is still too raw.

Jimenez and her family were driving Jan. 21 when Collier County sheriff’s deputies stopped the family.

Her husband, Carlos L. Jimenez Cruz, 30, was arrested for driving with no valid driver’s license.

“They are going to deport him to Mexico,” said Jimenez, 30, as tears stream down her face. “My kids come home and ask ‘Where is our papa?’”

It’s like everything is going fine until one day something happens, she said recently.

“You would move heaven and earth to keep everything as it is, but you can’t,” said Jimenez, who has called Immokalee home for more than 10 years.

“That’s the situation that’s happening to me and that I’m suffering through... It’s a kind of suffering that I’ve never suffered before.”

In addition to having an impact on Jimenez, her husband’s arrest and pending deportation is having an effect on their three children- especially her 18-month-old son Orlando.

“He’s afraid that I’m going to go away,” she said while holding the infant, who has refused to be away from her even for a short while.

But in spite of the hard road ahead for her family, Jimenez said she won’t give up on the dream that her husband will be returned to her.

“Not having him, life is not the same for me,” she said, adding that she is looking into getting her husband an attorney. “I am going to fight.”

Know your rights

The immigration debate heating up in the state capital is something residents need to know, said Redlands Christian Migrant Association family social worker Laura Perez. “It’s bad because it’s something that’s changing right now and it’s something the parents don’t even know is happening,” said Perez on Tuesday.

“You want them to be aware of what’s going on, because if you don’t know it’s happening, you can’t stop it.”

Perez said if those opposed to such legislation just sit quietly waiting to see what happens, then decisions will be made without them.

So in anticipation of additional crackdowns if such legislation were to pass, RCMA recently hosted “Conozca sus Derechos” or “Know your Rights,” a workshop for parents at their charter school. The workshop is aimed at teaching documented and undocumented residents in Immokalee what are their rights and what they can do if they are stopped by law enforcement or immigration officials.

More than 120 people attended the nearly two-hour workshop conducted by Juan Pablo Chavez and Grey Torrico with the Florida Immigrant Coalition, a coalition of more than 40 Florida nonprofits, government agencies and advocate groups.

Through skits performed with the help of workshop attendees, Chavez and Torrico walked the crowd through different scenarios including a recreation of what undocumented immigrants and their families could expect if they were caught in an immigration raid or picked up by law enforcement.

A little comedy also helped Chavez lighten the mood, without drawing away from the seriousness of the discussion.

“So since you’ve already sacrificed seeing your three novelas tonight, let’s really focus,” said Chavez, drawing a laugh from the crowd.

Life goes on

On a recent rainy afternoon, Velasco prepared a simple snack for Jose and Jesus — a glass of milk and small pieces of traditional Mexican sweet bread — as the family awaited the arrival of Seviriano from day care.

As her two oldest sons played with paper airplanes and occasionally went outside to climb a tree, Velasco spoke of how she met her husband while keeping an eye on the two rambunctious boys.

Maya and Velasco were both born in opposite sides of the Mexican state of Oaxaca.

Velasco arrived in the U.S. in 2002 looking for work. She ended up finding employment in Georgia. She also found love, meeting Maya while working for the same company.

They travelled the picking seasons until her oldest son was born and the family established roots in Immokalee, she said.

Maya’s handwritten love notes to Velasco, as well as family pictures, bible excerpts and the boys’ school projects and awards decorate the single room the family shared.

Being separated from her husband — who would go out of his way to be involved in their sons’ education and making her smile — has not gotten easier, she said.

“When my oldest son screamed right after his birth I cried for joy. That moment is one that I will never forget. It’s a moment of joy that I carry,” she said. “For them I give my all at work, so I can push them forward.”

© 2011 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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