‘You always feel like someone is missing’: How a Trump-era immigration policy tore a California family apart for two years

Erin Quinn, senior counsel at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, said thousands of people who were refused entry under “public charge” in 2018 and 2019 had previously lived in the United States and had exemptions to show that separation from their families would have dire consequences. difficulties, like Ruiz Arévalos.

“After the publication of these guidelines, officers had clearly been given marching orders to participate in this fishing expedition, to begin turning down cases that were otherwise clearly eligible for permanent resident status,” Quinn said. “They can overcome the problem of public office by providing the information requested, but the damage has already been done, for the real evil for families like this is those years of separation that cannot be undone.”

Ruiz Arévalos submitted to the consulate the names of three different fiscal sponsors. But the process almost came to a halt because of the pandemic. While he waited, he did his best to keep in touch with his family across the border. They regularly make video calls so that the children can talk to their dad. Ignacio even calls Ruiz Arévalos for help when he needs to fix something at home – how to change the oil in the car, how to unclog the toilet, how to fix the fence.

Nathan Gutiérrez Ramírez, right, at high school graduation with mum Armanda Ruiz. José Luis Ruiz Arévalos must have missed Nathan’s graduation ceremony. (Courtesy of Armanda Ruiz)

A few months before Ruiz Arévalos went to Mexico, the biological father of the children Gutiérrez Ramírez died. They didn’t have much contact with him in the last few years he was alive, but when they found out he was dead it was painful.

“I had a father and I didn’t get along very well with him. We had problems. Then I have another father and they take him, ”Nathan recently told Ruiz Arévalos. “It’s not fair. I want my dad.

“It hit us all really hard that he couldn’t come back,” Ruiz said. She said Priscila couldn’t understand why her father was in Mexico. “Why is my father there?” Ruiz said she would ask. “Why doesn’t he come here? Why doesn’t he sleep here with us?

Ruiz Arévalos was not there to see Nathan’s high school graduation ceremony, or Priscila’s “reclassification” ceremony to show that she is no longer considered an English learner at school.

He missed two years of birthdays and movie watching and countless dance sessions in the family lounge. He wasn’t there to see them all stuffing eggshells with confetti for Easter, or to watch how they made distance learning work, with all five of them learning at home – Elena and Nathan in class. university students, Ignacio in high school, Priscila in special education, and their mother is taking an English course.

“Sometimes it’s different not having a father figure,” Ignacio said. “Because you know, there’s a different kind of relationship with your dad than your mom, I would say, if you’re a guy, because, you know, guys just understand each other.” As if you don’t even have to say something, you already know that.

A few months ago, Elena met with a university advisor and decided to join the Army Reserve. She took basic training in July and will stay there until November, so she won’t be able to attend college in the fall. She hopes to be able to return to college in the spring.

“In these uncertain times, at least the military will provide some form of certainty,” Elena said. “Also, if anything happened to my mother, I would take care of my siblings, and without a stable job, I can’t guarantee it. That’s why the military seems like a good deal.

There may finally be some hope in the case of Ruiz Arévalos. In July 2020, a US District Court in New York issued a temporary injunction requiring consulates to stop using the new public office guidelines.

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