A family divided by deportation illustrates the hardship that immigration enforcement causes many families

May 15, 2009

DIVIDED BY THE BORDER; Immigration laws hit home for frustrated Mansfield family
By Patrick McGee
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Sunday, December 10, 2006

ODESSA — Eight-year-old Miguel Guardado raced to the phone and held it to his ear long before his father’s voice came on the other line. The boy trained his eyes on his mother, searching her face for any clue about how much longer he would have to wait.

His father, Miguel Venegas Guardado, 36, is serving a 180-day sentence at the Ector County Jail in Odessa for illegal entry. The Mexican native, who first entered the U.S. illegally as a teenager, was deported in September. He was trying to return to his family in Mansfield when the U.S. Border Patrol caught him. He’s scheduled to be deported when he completes his sentence in April.

When Venegas Guardado came out dressed in an orange jumpsuit, he greeted his son through a thick pane of glass and picked up the phone. His son and wife had driven five hours to see him Dec. 2.

Immigration advocates say the Guardado family’s plight illustrates one of the major faults with immigration law: It’s dividing families. They hope for sweeping changes that would legalize the immigration status of people like Venegas Guardado.

Experts say that might happen because Democrats won both houses of Congress last month.

“I think a lot of obstacles did get removed, and I think you’re going to see a lot of people make a good, hard run at it this year,” said Tamar Jacoby, a senior fellow specializing in immigration at the Manhattan Institute, a New York-based think tank.

David Molina, director of the Center of Inter-American Studies and Research at the University of North Texas in Denton, agreed.

“Democrats would be willing to look at immigration as a whole package rather than just as an enforcement issue,” he said.

Anti-illegal-immigration groups say dividing families isn’t the issue.

Immigrant offenders should not be released so they can be with their families any more than any other convict should be released for family reunification, said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

“The law cannot allow people to hide behind their children and their families,” Mehlman said. “Families and children are not human shields.”

An illegal family man

The Guardados do not deny that Venegas Guardado was trying to enter the country illegally — and they say two criminal charges on his record hurt his case — but they emphasize that he has been a responsible worker, husband and father for many years.

“He was just trying to come home,” said Dawn, Venegas Guardado’s wife, fighting back tears. “I know there are rules and all that other stuff, but he was just trying to come home.”

She said the family is now in tough shape financially — they cannot make the payments on her husband’s two trucks — and she scrambles to run the household alone.

Dawn, who works for an insurance agency from home, said she has used up nearly all her vacation time to drive her children to their doctor’s appointments and school events.

“I need him home. It’s so hard,” she said.

Becoming a father

Dawn said they met at a dance hall in Dallas in 1996 and married several months later.

He continued with his job operating a bulldozer and quickly became a very caring stepfather to Dawn’s two daughters from her first marriage.

Dawn said he took the girls to their first father-daughter dance, taught them how to drive and worked extra jobs to pay for their braces.

Their son was born in 1998 and was always at his father’s side.

They swam and hiked together. Venegas Guardado built him a treehouse and brought home animals he found at job sites to show his son before releasing them.

In 2000, they bought a house in Mansfield, and Dawn filed paperwork to legalize her husband’s immigration status.

Venegas Guardado said that his brother brought him here illegally when he was 14 and that he spent all his time in the United States working.

His wife said she carefully put together paperwork according to government officials’ instructions, and they went to an interview at a Homeland Security Department office in Dallas on Sept. 29.

Dawn said that her husband was so excited he could barely sleep the night before.

They thought they were taking the final steps toward getting him legal status.


Dawn said a government official was cold to them in the interview and then took them to a room where they were told to wait.

“I thought, ‘Oh my God, I’m in trouble, but wait a second, I didn’t do anything wrong,’” she said. “I knew they were going to take him.”

After a long, tearful wait, immigration officials came, handcuffed Venegas Guardado and deported him to Nuevo Laredo.

Dawn blames a robbery-with-bodily-injury charge on Venegas Guardado’s record from when he was 19.

Arlington police records show he was arrested at Six Flags Mall after he tried to steal a $10 cassette.

He threw a rock at a security guard who chased him out of the store, the police report says.

Venegas Guardado said he stayed with his niece after he was deported. Then he traveled to Ciudad Acuña, another border town, to visit his mother.

After about two days, he decided to return to Texas.

“My family is here. All my life has been here,” he said.

He went to the bus station and was approached by a coyote, or illegal-immigrant guide, who offered to smuggle him across the border for $1,500 to be paid later.

About 10 others joined him. They made it across but got separated and lost in the wilderness near Eagle Pass.

‘I was kind of scared’

Venegas Guardado said he was with a Mexican man in his mid-20s, walking for days without food or water. The other man looked terrible and kept saying he wanted to sleep.

“I thought he was going to die. I was kind of scared. I’ve never been in that position before,” Venegas Guardado said.

He said he had to surrender to the Border Patrol or die in the woods. They headed for a highway and were quickly caught.

About a week later, Venegas Guardado was in a courtroom crowded with Mexicans accused of illegal entry, he said.

Federal court records show that Venegas Guardado pleaded guilty to illegal entry Oct. 13 and was sentenced to 180 days.

Venegas Guardado said he asked the judge if he could pay a fine and return to his family in Mexico. He said the judge turned him down and told him the sentencing took into account a 2001 drunken-driving conviction on his record.

Tarrant County criminal records show this charge and the robbery-with-bodily-injury charge. The record shows no other charges.

Venegas Guardado said that because of the risks, his wife doesn’t want him to return to the U.S. after he’s deported.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he said. “If I get caught, it’s going to be another six months in jail.”

Venegas Guardado said his wife talked about moving to Mexico, but he believes life in Mexico is too different from what she’s used to.

He talked of possibly taking his son to Mexico with him because, until now, they’ve never been apart.

But his preference is to return to his home, family and job in the U.S.

“I just want to be with my family and take care of my family,” he said. “This is our life here, not in Mexico.”