Juan Reina’s fate changed in a few minutes last January: This 48-year-old Mexican father was arrested by Texas immigration police and has since been risking deportation to his home country. After a quarter of a century of personal and professional life in the United States, but without papers.
On January 14, 2021, during a regular traffic check in the suburbs of San Antonio (Texas), Juan Reina was taken to an ICE detention center near Austin, where he had been fighting for a year. US authorities to return him to Mexico.
“Sometimes I feel depressed and frustrated,” said Mr. Rina of his detention center during one of the few minutes AFP was able to interview him, thanks to an American Association for the Protection of Illegal Immigrants mediator.
He is awaiting a court decision on appeal on January 27, which may order his expulsion.
“I am neither a danger to society nor a danger to the country I work in which has given me so much,” he says with a hint of anger.
In fact, the 40-year-old has resided in the US since 1996 after crossing the famous Rio Grande River on the Mexican border.
But like about 11 million foreigners in the United States, he is undocumented. And despite President Joe Biden’s campaign commitments to regulate some of them, the issue of illegal immigration remains one of the thorniest issues to deal with successive US governments and Congress, whatever their political stances.
Like other illegal immigrants, Mr. Rina worked for 25 years as a carpenter and welder. In 2016 he married Guadalupe Martinez, who already had two children aged 13 and 9, and the couple owns a house and a car.
Despite this family, social and professional life in full light, a US judge ordered the expulsion of this Mexican father on December 3, asserting that he had not presented evidence that his wife’s children would “suffer in an exceptional way,” according to his attorney, Catherine. Russell, from NGO Associations (Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services).
“My kids love it”
“My children love him and consider him their father,” exclaims Ms. Martinez, 32, who is also undocumented but does not risk being deported beforehand because her son and daughter were born on Earth.
“The battle was difficult for her and her children, psychologically and economically,” she said in a telephone interview with Agence France-Presse.
“The little that we built is right here” in the United States, she says.
Their cause is far from isolated.
At the end of 2021, there were nearly 1.6 million illegal immigration cases before US courts, according to figures from the Transaction Records Exchange (Trac), which listed nearly 15,500 deportation orders issued last year.
And 21,000 people were arrested in immigration police stations in mid-December, an increase of 8% over one year. Three-quarters of these people have no criminal record.
At his center, Juan Reina cleans toilets for $3 an hour. He says he is a target of racism, while being careful to “thank this country (the United States) who (may) have treated me so well”.
This father of the family counts on the indulgence of justice on January 27.
Part of President Biden’s $1.75 trillion “Build Back Better” social and environmental reform plan, which has stalled in the Senate, will allow undocumented immigrants to obtain ten-year residency rights, a work and driver’s permit, as well as travel abroad.
Another source of hope for Juan Reyna is an announcement by US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mallorcas, who in September asked immigration police to focus on illegal immigrants who have recently entered the United States or those who have committed serious crimes.
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