Tonight we're celebrating a friend's return to his home in the United States.
Some of you who have visited us in Arroyo Seco, Mexico have met our friend, Francisco, and his sister, Veronica.
We were introduced when we first moved here because they were the only other English-speakers in the village. Francisco is a gifted translator and he's been on call as we struggled to converse in Spanish. He'd race down from his home at his grandmother's house and take as much time as needed, usually refusing any compensation, despite the lack of work in the village.
He's also the guy we'd call to take Dylan fishing, or to help us cook when we were having a load of guests in for dinner.
But Francisco's is an interesting story -- especially for those of us who only hear about U.S. immigration from U.S. media reports. And until I met Francisco and his sister Veronica, that was the only side of the story I knew.
During the George W. Bush administration, government officials started doing immigration sweeps (perhaps meeting quotas?), quickly deporting what we would consider the 'low hanging fruit' --- the easy pickings, but not necessarily the people we would hope to have deported from our country: criminals, drug dealers, violent offenders. Instead, they were deporting the citizens who had glitches in their paperwork. The easy ones to track. And the ones who were not hiding... They were working, paying taxes, etc...
This is his story as I understand it: Francisco was brought into the country without documentation when he was a child. Eventually he was able to get a driver's license, work papers and paid social security. He married a U.S. citizen, a bank administrator in Napa. He had a decent job in a restaurant. His two sons were born there. The U.S. was the only home he really knew or remembered.
But one day the new equivalent of INS showed up and gave him a choice. Go immediately to jail, --- or --- you can have one hour to pack your bags and get on an airplane to Mexico. They escorted him to the airport where he returned to his extended family in Arroyo Seco, to a family and a culture he barely knew.
Apparently his lawyer, who had been paid to continue to filing the paperwork to apply for citizenship, took the money but didn't file the paperwork.
His 25-year-old sister, Veronica, was deported in exactly the same manner. One day she day she was living in the U.S., working at a Napa restaurant, going to dances at night. The next day she's sleeping on a bed on the front porch of a grandmother's house in a remote Mexican village of 300 people.
Veronica said she cried for the first three months. Then she started to look around, started getting to know people, found new ways to entertain herself without going to a mall or going to a dance. Two years later she married a handsome, sweet man from the village in a storybook wedding. They are expecting their first child in May.
But Francisco stayed on the paper trail, working to get home to Napa and his family. This past Wednesday, nearly three years later, Francisco crossed the border one more time --- this time with documentation --- to return home to his wife and his two sons.
Francisco and Veronica are not the only cases we've learned about since we moved here. A neighbor has a contractor who says he was deported from Southern California in exactly the same manner and same circumstances. One days he's living with his wife and four children (all U.S. citizens). He goes to work at the two restaurants he opened. He owns a five bedroom home. Then one day he's deported. The options: A plane ride or jail.
We've heard of others.
Francisco's been through a lot over the past few years. And he's learned a lot. The celebration Michael and I will have tonight in our palapa in Arroyo Seco is knowing that he's reunited with his family, but that he can come back here any time he wants.
It's about time.