In the Holy Cross Retreat Center in Las Cruces, New Mexico, I met an illegal immigrant named Jorge Taborda. This is his story:
A distressed Jorge Taborda.Photo: Maryknoll magazine, Giovana Soria
Searching for a better life, Jorge moved to the United States from Colombia with his wife, Francia, and son 20 years ago. They settled into the community of Las Cruces and established deep ties with Our Lady of Health Catholic Church. Since their arrival in the U.S they’ve sought asylum, but after 9/11 this became an impossible dream.
Undocumented, but with a strong desire to get ahead, his family stayed in the country and they had another son, who by birthright, is an American citizen.
Jorge and his wife worked honestly. Jorge as a self-employed computer technician and an active Red Cross volunteer who has served on 13 different relief missions including hurricanes Katrina, Wilma, Harry, Sandy and tornado disasters in Texas and Arkansas. Francia worked for a local family as a housekeeper for ten years. Jefferson, their eldest son, graduated in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from New Mexico State University. The family lived without benefits or debts.
In April their lives changed and the nightmare began. Francia was detained just two blocks from their home by undercover Immigration and Customs Enforcements (ICE) agents. In exchange for her release they pressed her to tell them the whereabouts of her 23 year old son, Jefferson.
Jorge was at a doctor’s appointment with their 15 year old son when his wife called him and warned him not to come home as Immigration was there to deport them. Jorge felt as if the world had come crashing down.
The agents, who remained unidentified, found Jorge and his son at the hospital.
“Come, we have an order to deport you. We have your wife and your son.” they said. He demanded to see the deportation order, but was denied.
Claiming they would release his wife if he came with them to El Paso, the agents followed Jorge to his son’s school. After dropping his son off at school, afraid and still being followed by an unmarked car, Jorge decided to go to the nearby Catholic Church.
When the agents noticed he wasn’t heading to El Paso they began to chase him. They tried to cut him off and run him off the road by slamming into the back of the vehicle. They continued to do this until Jorge pulled into the parish Holy Cross Retreat Centre, where he gave his keys to the parish priest, Fr Tom. That’s when he heard the agents talking over the radio: “we lost him, he found sanctuary.” He was calm knowing his wife and oldest son knew he was safe.
Jorge says that “Since that day I have lived in the Lord’s house, doing His will. But my youngest son, an American citizen, is stuck here, away from his friends and with no place to go. But it’s okay, I’m in the house of the Lord. I have a roof, food, and I work fixing computers. I work to send money to Colombia since my wife can’t work. They consider her too old to work.”
Recently, Fr Tom invited the new congresswoman in charge of the border region to visit the Centre where Jorge and his son spoke with her. They only ask that she do what she can to reunite his family.
Update on Francia
While Francia was being detained, her church and community hosted a public action and multi-faith vigil on May 18 calling on Deputy Director Fierro of the Department of Homeland Security to grant her a Stay of Removal. On May 31 Deputy Director Fierro issued a decision denying Francia’s application.
She was deported on June 7 to Colombia without any opportunity to say goodbye to her family and without speaking with her attorney.
Francia was picked up from the airport by an extended relative and is staying with them now in Colombia, a country she hadn’t been to for 20 years.
María Eugenia Cardona is the Editor of the Columban Spanish publication Misión Columbana.
Listen to "Family ripped apart"
- Read more from The Far East, June 2019