"It didn’t come as a complete surprise," said Miguel Torres. His wife, Glenda Cardenas Caballero, was undocumented and had a order of deportation from 2005. The family had tried for years to find a way for her to stay.
"They tried to deport her three times. But then we continued doing the appeals," Torres said. "We’ve been always complying with every single detail."
It wasn’t until she was at the curb of JFK airport that she learned she would have to leave. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers took her away and their children watched.
But first, some background, Glenda is from San Pedro Sulas, one of the most violent cities in Honduras, a country with one of the highest murder rates in the world. In 2005, when she was 24, she crossed the U.S. border illegally – and met and married Miguel, a U.S. citizen from Puerto Rico. They moved to Waterbury with their two children and Glenda was able to get a work permit and social security card. Things changed in early 2016 when Miguel and Glenda were told she’d have to start reporting to ICE. They complied with these orders until summer of this year.
"The last week of July they came back to us and told us, “you have to buy a ticket for August the 8th. She have to leave the country," said Miguel.
"I got a little bit upset. I told them not to touch her - that we were there voluntarily."
After working with several attorneys, the family connected with New Haven immigration lawyer, Glenn Formica.
"I stepped in at that point and filed an appeal of that decision and assumed that Glenda would be allowed more time," said Formica.
Early in the morning of August 8th , with no word yet from the Board of Immigration Appeals, Formica advised the family to comply with the ICE order and go to the airport. Miguel drove into New York City with Glenda in the front seat of the car – and their children, 10 and 7-years old, in the back.
"We were expecting that we would come back with her on that day," Torres said.
When they got to the airport, they were met at the curb by ICE officers.
"I got a little bit nervous. And I got a little bit upset. I told them not to touch her - that we were there voluntarily," said Torres.
Miguel phoned Formica who immediately put in a call to the Board of Immigration Appeals. Then Formica spoke with the ICE officers. He told them - there was still no decision, so she couldn’t get on this flight. Minutes later, Formica got a call on the other phone line.
“'Oh the stay has been denied.' So she ended up having to get on a plane without more than a few minutes notice on the stay denial," said Formica.
And as this scene was unfolding, the children were watching.
"They didn’t wanna even give us the chance to say goodbye as a family. At one point, I got very angry and I told her, ‘You go back and you say goodbye to the kids, you give them a hug, ‘cause you’re leaving. Ok? And you cannot just leave them just like that.’ So she went back, said goodbye to the kids and just left with the officers," said Torres.
"Is Mom leaving today? Am I ever going to see my mom again?"
In an email, ICE Spokesman John Mohan confirms that Glenda was deported in August. He said there’s no typical timeline for removals, which are done on a case by case basis.
Miguel gets emotional as he describes how the separation has affected his children.
"Its so overwhelming. Both of them cry often-ly…nighttime. They say, ‘I want mommy. I need mommy’. I have my 11 years old daughter which she was 10 years old at the moment of the departure," Torres said. "Well she’s been very depressed. She even told one of the teachers that she’s very friendly with, she wanted to commit suicide and that she had a plan. She had a plan to hang herself"
He says school staff are doing all they can - but this has had a profound impact on his children.
"They were both very happy kids. No longer. They’re no longer happy kids," Torres said.
Miguel said he’s explained that the family can’t move to Central America to be with their mom. Then, he suggests to me that we speak directly with Glenda. So, we call her in Honduras, and talk via FaceTime.
In Spanish, she said, "My daughter is depressed..the children’s grades have dropped. They hardly sleep, hardly eat, they’ve lost a lot of weight." She tells me - “they’ve destroyed my family.” Lawyer Glenn Formica said he’s troubled by what appears to be a growing number of stay-of- deportation-denials - coming in at the last minute. Had the family had more notice, he says the parents could have better prepared the kids, perhaps gotten professional help and involved school counselors.
"So that it doesn’t come as this catastrophic event where you have a daughter sitting in the back seat of a car driving her mom to the airport, going, 'Is Mom leaving today? Am I ever going to see my mom again?' Its offensive that we have to wait until the curb of an airport to find out a decision from the Board of Immigration Appeals down in Virginia. That needs to change," Formica said.
Formica is currently pursuing humanitarian parole for Glenda, which would allow her to enter the U.S. for a period of time while her case is being processed. But he admits, its a long shot. In the vast majority of cases, deportees are barred from returning to the U.S. for ten years.
This report comes from the New England news collaborative, eight public media companies, including The Public’s Radio, coming together to tell stories of a changing region, with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.