The call came in about 2:30 yesterday afternoon, and Jose Escobar asked his wife, Rose, if she was sitting down.
"I'm in El Salvador," he said.
Rose was shocked. Just last week, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had taken Escobar, an undocumented immigrant, into custody at one of his regular annual check-ins. He never saw a judge. The attorney Rose hired for him just filed a stay of deportation Wednesday. His case was never heard. Despite the fact that Escobar has no criminal record, he was placed in expedited deportation proceedings, put on a plane to a country he had not been to since he was 14.
He had no family there. When he got to the airport, he called Rose. He was afraid to leave and get in a taxi, not knowing where he would go. Still in his work uniform, the clothes he was wearing the day ICE took him from his family, he was afraid he looked too American. And in many ways, he was.
He is the father of two American children and the husband to a naturalized U.S. citizen. He worked 7 to 7 Monday through Friday as a supervisor at a company that repaints and repairs apartment units when tenants move out. He was the dad who drove all the neighborhood kids to school in the morning. Now, all he had on him was his birth certificate and his passport. Rose, also from El Salvador, arranged for relatives still living there to pick up her husband. He had never met them.
Escobar came to the United States when he was 14 years old. He met Rose when they were each 15 — Rose says she's never had another boyfriend. For his first four years here, he was safe under temporary protected status — yet when the time came around to reapply, he had missed a deadline, and a bad attorney never informed him that there were other ways to ask for exceptions and still submit an application.
So in 2006, a deportation order was issued for Escobar after he missed an immigration court date — again due to poor advice of his attorney. For five years, he stayed under the radar, starting a family with Rose. But in 2011 ICE showed up at his house just as he was leaving for work, deportation order in hand.
According to his attorney Raed Gonzalez, hired on the case just on Tuesday, ICE let Escobar stay in the country under a supervision order, as long as he sought legal status and checked in once per year about his efforts. He applied for both of President Barack Obama's executive order immigration programs: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans, both of which allowed him to remain in the country on a work permit and offered a reprieve from deportation. Yet he was rejected under DACA because his high school diploma was not from a school recognized by the feds, and the U.S. Supreme Court dismantled DAPA in 2016, saying Obama had exceeded his authority in creating it.
During his yearly check-in with ICE last week, they asked him to bring his passport with him — something Rose said had never happened before. Under President Donald Trump's new immigration guidelines, undocumented immigrants with outstanding orders of deportation are now priorities. Even though Gonzalez tried to delay the deportation through immigration court, his plea was ignored.
"It's really sad when there's a process, and because of this 'let's deport everybody' on steroids that the Trump administration has created," Gonzalez said, "due process has been denied to a lot of immigrants, and this cannot happen again."
Gonzalez said he is going to continue petitioning the immigration court to reopen Escobar's case, arguing he had ineffective counsel previously. ICE did not respond to a request seeking further explanation about Escobar's expedited deportation.
Rose said she isn't sure how she'll explain this to her kids, seven-year-old Walter and two-year-old Carmen. Last week, when Rose first talked with reporters about her husband's looming deportation, Walter drew a picture of him and his sister and mom talking to the cameras. His dad was sitting alone, away from the rest of them, watching on a TV screen.
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"He's watching me on the TV because we're getting daddy back," Walter told a reporter.
"Where is he now?"
"I don't know," Walter said.
"It's very heartbreaking to see your son grasp something like that. And I can't imagine what he's thinking," Rose said. "But as his mom, I don't cry in front of him. I try to make it seem like everything's the same, even though he knows the patterns have changed: the bedtime stories, the homework time, the karate classes, the dinner time, the family time, the ride to school — that's one thing my son keeps stressing. Who is going to take me to school? That was daddy's job."