On November 15 Dariana Ruiz woke before dawn to find an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent standing over her bed and shining a flashlight in her face. The ICE officer guided the 18-year-old into the kitchen of the suburban Elmhurst home where she lived with her mom, Carla, her dad, Kikin, and her eight-year-old sister, Viviana. Her dad sat at the table across from a cup of hot coffee and a slice of bread, his hands cuffed behind his back and another ICE agent by his side. Her mother, she was told, had been arrested during a traffic stop and was in a van outside.

Just hours earlier Ruiz’s family had been sitting there, eating a special home-cooked fried chicken dinner. Nights like that were increasingly rare: Ruiz was in her first semester at the College of DuPage and picked up shifts at Taco Bell; Kikin worked at a factory that coated metals with zinc, Carla at a factory that manufactured envelopes. Ruiz liked to think she would’ve remembered this night, even if it hadn’t been their last meal together in America.

She looked toward the rooms where her family had once gathered, where they’d made enchiladas and spaghetti, danced to salsa music, and watched movies. As hulking ICE officers milled around the dark living room, Ruiz withered. What was once her home now felt like an abandoned house, still full of furniture and the ghostly energy of those who had lived there. It felt like a bad dream.

An ICE officer told Ruiz what she already knew: her parents were in the United States without proper documentation and so they were being put into deportation proceedings. Carla and Kikin had both crossed from Mexico without inspection; Carla 22 years ago, when she was 15. Kikin came 25 years ago, when he was 17.

When agents escorted her dad out of the house, Ruiz stopped them. She still had questions. Ruiz has pretty, plump features—cherubic cheeks and lips and big brown eyes. Though she’s short and often soft-spoken, that night she demanded answers. She translated the quick English conversation for her father in snippets.

Where are you taking them? They’ll be transferred between immigration detention centers, then deported to Mexico. Will they have a lawyer? Your parents will be allowed to fight their case, but they will not be provided with a public defender. Your parents will be given a list of low-cost attorneys but must contact them on their own. Can I visit them? Yes, during visiting hours.

Ruiz said the agents asked her if she was a U.S. citizen. (In what are known as “collateral arrests,” the agency often takes undocumented people into custody during raids even if they aren’t the intended target.) She said she was born here. When they asked her to prove it, she went to her bedroom for her driver’s license and grabbed a sweater for her dad. The officers looked at her ID approvingly.

ICE’s Detained Parents Directive, which details what agents should do when they find young citizen children during immigration arrests, says agents “should accommodate . . . [a parent’s] efforts to make alternative care arrangements for his or her minor child(ren),” and that ICE should record the transfer of the child’s custody. In a statement, an ICE spokesperson wrote that Carla “gave verbal permission” for agents to leave Viviana in her older sister’s care.

Ruiz went to her father and slipped the sweater over his head. No te preocupes. Don’t worry. Voy a tratar de ser todo lo posible para ayudarlos. I’m going to try my best to help you both. Te quiero mucho a ti y a mamá. I love you and mom so much.

Then he was taken away.

In October 2017, border agents began separating children from their parents. The Trump Administration denied the existence of this practice until April 2018 when Jeff Sessions, the attorney general at the time, announced the “zero tolerance” policy: every adult crossing the border illegally would be criminally prosecuted. Family separation was inevitable because children couldn’t be detained with their parents as their cases were processed. Sessions justified the policy using the Bible and claimed that noncitizen parents at the border “are the ones who broke the law.” Quinnipiac and CNN polls found that nearly 70 percent of voters opposed the policy. In June, one Texas Republican lawmaker said matter-of-factly, “Nobody understands why you would take children out of their parents’ hands.” The international human rights organization Genocide Watch issued a scathing statement, writing that “family separation is one of the most common genocidal patterns, occurring in almost all historical cases of genocide.”

After receiving strong criticism across the political spectrum, Trump signed an executive order to end the policy less than three months after its official launch. A federal judge later ordered the government to reunite separated children with their parents. Nearly a year later, though, the administration admitted in court filings that border agents had continued to separate children from their parents. An investigation by NBC and a report from the Office of Inspector General found that the Department of Homeland Security failed to implement any tracking mechanisms that could have streamlined the reunification of separated children with their parents. While it’s unclear if the government continues to separate families at the border, what’s certain is that a quieter form of family separation has persisted across the country for years.

The idea that parents have children in the U.S.—whom Donald Trump and others have pejoratively called “anchor babies”—to secure their own status has no basis in immigration law. Still, the administration recently announced it would block visas for pregnant women traveling to the U.S. if State Department officials believed the woman was coming to the country to give birth. Merely having a citizen child does not make a parent a citizen, nor does it put a parent on a pathway towards citizenship. An American citizen over the age of 21 can sponsor their parents for a green card by filing an I-130 petition. Right now, the government estimates that the wait is between 12 and 16 months for this application to be processed.

From 2013 to 2017 the United States deported more than 150,000 parents of children who are U.S. citizens. ICE only started collecting and releasing this data after a 2009 congressional order. ICE hasn’t yet responded to FOIA requests for its 2018 and 2019 data. The publicly available numbers show that during Obama’s last year in office his administration deported almost 2,000 more parents than the Trump administration did during its first year.

The parents I spoke to for this story feared that contact with any government agency could lead to contact with ICE. One family said they kept the undocumented father’s name off their children’s birth certificates and refused to list him as an emergency contact at school. Ramped-up immigration enforcement under Obama and now under Trump has demonstrated that even the most cautious can still be swept up.

After a deportation, parents must decide if their children will stay in the United States, or join them in their native country. For many, the circumstances that led them to leave their homes—violence, political corruption, lack of jobs—haven’t changed, and raising a child in such a place feels untenable. So they arrange for their children to stay in the United States with other caregivers and try to keep their relationships alive through regular Skype calls and the occasional, often expensive, visit. Many of the people I encountered while reporting this story said they hope that maybe one day the U.S.’s immigration laws will change and they’ll be able to reunite with their families. But the indefinite timeline, the distance, and loneliness can be crippling. They bring their children to the country they once called home and hope to shield them from the things they fled. Ruiz’s family chose both paths.

Ruiz wanted to protect her sister from the same trauma she’d experienced as a child, so she lied to her about the disappearance of their parents.
Ruiz wanted to protect her sister from the same trauma she’d experienced as a child, so she lied to her about the disappearance of their parents.Credit: Courtesy Dariana Ruiz


After the agents left, Ruiz had a to-do list that felt strangely mundane: call tías and tell them that parents are being deported, e-mail professors and say parents were arrested by ICE so I won’t be in today, call Viviana’s school and explain our immigration situation, find free lawyer.

Ruiz scooped Viviana out of bed, put her in the back seat of the car, and drove 15 minutes to her Aunt Veronica’s grey-blue home in Addison. Veronica had been woken up by a phone call that morning from her sister Carla, Ruiz’s mother. “It’s me,” Carla had said in Spanish. “The police have me, or immigration, I don’t know. They detained me and I don’t know what’s going to happen. Please take care of my daughters.” (Ruiz would soon break her family’s lease, throw away most of their possessions, and move into a cramped room with her young sister in the house.)

For Ruiz, deciding what to tell Viviana was a reminder of her own experience. Ten years earlier, when she herself was eight years old, her father was deported for the first time. She remembers her mom was deeply depressed, so much so that Ruiz was sent to stay with her aunt for a few weeks. “I was very innocent,” she said. “I did not know what was going on. I just knew that my dad wasn’t around.”

Soon after, Ruiz and her mother drove more than 2,300 miles south to Acapulco, to live with Kikin. But violence from Mexico’s drug war had begun to spill over into the city. “Not to be, like, too graphic or anything but there were times we would be driving around or something and you would just see bodies on the side of the road,” Ruiz remembered. “I would see drive-by [shootings] in our little town.” After two years, the family returned to the Chicago suburbs.

Because Ruiz wanted to protect Viviana from the same trauma she’d experienced as a child, she lied to her about the disappearance of their parents. She told her that they were working long hours and that she wouldn’t see them for a while. After a few weeks, Ruiz updated the story: their parents had moved to Mexico to go to school and make more money. Viviana was told that she and her sister would soon visit.

Ruiz and her aunt searched for a lawyer, but were told by attorney after attorney that Carla and Kikin didn’t have a case. Guiding their fate, in large part, was the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, signed into law by President Bill Clinton, which experts say criminalized undocumented immigration. The law stipulates that when someone enters the country without proper inspection or documentation and then stays unlawfully for longer than a year, they will be subject to deportation and barred from reentering the U.S. for a period between three years and the rest of their life if they are caught.

The only way Carla and Kikin could avoid deportation and the ban on reentry would be by demonstrating that deportation would cause “extreme hardship” to a “qualifying relative” who is a citizen or green card holder. However, unlike spouses and parents, citizen children do not count. Even if citizen children were considered qualifying relatives, in most cases separating a parent from a child does not meet the standard of an extreme hardship. Caveats do exist: in situations where a child of any age suffers from health issues or has a disability, the separation of a parent from that child would likely qualify. But the immigration legal system sees family separation as a “common result” of deportation. It’s considered the same as the separation a child might experience in divorce, or if one parent moves to a different state. Sad, sure, but ordinary.


On an October night Cecilia Garcia expected her husband Hugo Velasco to return to their home on the southwest side at 6 PM. When he still hadn’t arrived four hours later, she told herself he must be drinking with friends. The phone rang at midnight. She felt relieved that the caller ID read “Evergreen Police.” She thought she could pick him up, pay a fine for what he was arrested for, and then he’d be free.

“I’m going to get deported,” her husband said on the phone.

Velasco had been driving home from work in a 14-year-old red Chevrolet with expired plates. He was pulled over in Evergreen Park, a suburb south of Chicago, without a driver’s license or insurance. When the officer ran his name through the National Crime Information Center database, he found that ICE had issued a deportation order for Velasco.

Velasco had left Mexico for the U.S. with his brother in 1986, when he was 14 years old. His dad had died and the brothers wanted to make money to send back to their mother. Ten years later, Velasco met Garcia, who has chiseled cheekbones and long black hair that falls down her back in tendrils. Garcia, who was on her way to becoming a nun, told Velasco he should take Catholicism more seriously (he only went to church on Christmas and Easter). One day she got him to come to church and as they sat through the service, she realized she’d rather marry him than God. “I was like, oh, he’s the one, you know? He’s actually following and he’s listening,” Garcia said. “And then I thought maybe that’s something. Maybe God sent him to me.”

In 1998, Velasco was deported after he was found with drugs during a traffic stop. The couple had a one-year-old son and Garcia was eight months pregnant with their second child. She went into labor three weeks early. “I really remember giving birth and I cried because I’m thinking he’s dead,” she said. Garcia blamed the stress caused by the deportation for the early birth of her daughter, Zilagi. A few days later, she heard a knock at the door. On the other side was her husband. He’d found his way back into the country. (“It was easier back then,” Garcia said.) Velasco was in a long-term relationship with Garcia, who is a U.S. citizen, and he had two citizen children. But immigration attorneys said that with a deportation and now an unauthorized reentry on Velasco’s record, little could be done. His deportation had come with a ten-year ban on reentry. Without a clear legal path forward, the family decided to avoid contact with immigration and to limit any documentation of Velasco’s presence in the country.

On that October 2012 night, Garcia arrived at the Evergreen police station close to 1 AM. She told officers that she and her husband had been together for 16 years and they had five children. She was asked if they were married. Legally, they were not because getting married meant leaving a paper trail. And even if they were married, it wouldn’t have guaranteed Velasco any relief. When a couple gets married and petitions to change one partner’s immigration status, that partner usually needs to return to their home country to interview at the consulate and receive a medical exam. But, if the partner has been living in the U.S. undocumented for longer than one year, an exit triggers a ban on reentry. Velasco was transferred to ICE custody 16 hours after his arrest. He thought his only option was to sign a voluntary departure. He was deported. As Garcia went through the trauma of deportation for a second time, she wondered if God was punishing her and Velasco for living together and having children without being married.

Garcia worked as a medical assistant and wanted to get her nursing degree. But after the deportation, going to school was out of the question. She took shifts to make up for Velasco’s lost wages, but it left her less time to parent her five children. One son already struggled with bipolar disorder, and a daughter battled depression. Velasco’s deportation exacerbated these existing problems; Garcia said another daughter felt suicidal, and another started cutting herself. A fight between two of the children left one with a black eye. The school alerted DCFS, and when a social worker visited the family to investigate, Garcia lost her temper. DCFS took her children away temporarily. “I had everything bottled up,” Garcia said. “I was obviously mad, and I was always on the offensive, not realizing it. So, yeah. I would snap.”

Since his deportation, Velasco has tried to cross the border several times. For each failed attempt, Garcia imagines how it might’ve gone differently. The first time, he crossed with a group that was abandoned by a coyote in the desert and was arrested by Border Patrol. “You guys should’ve said you were camping and you got lost!” The second time his group went to eat at a restaurant in San Diego, where they spoke Spanish and were covered in mud. Someone called immigration. “Why didn’t you guys go through the drive-thru?” The last time, he hid in the trunk of a car, but was found when agents searched the vehicle. “What did you say? Boo?”

Over the years Garcia and Velasco have wrestled with whether the family should move to Mexico or wait until 2022 when Velasco’s ban on reentering will expire. They’ve lived apart for seven years, and their relationship subsists on dinner dates over Skype, phone calls, and sporadic visits. Garcia said trips to Mexico are like mini vacations, or honeymoons. “And then I think [on] the third [or] fourth day [he] starts raising questions, When are you coming over here to live?

She continued. “I’m one person who’s very stubborn, very relentless. And I could conform and be like, You know what? Okay, I’ll go over there. Wait for the ten years. But why should I have to do that? I have every right to be with the person I love, and that person whom I love has every right to stay here with his family, his children.”


ICE held Ruiz’s parents for three weeks. They spent most of their time at the Pulaski County Detention Center in Ullin, Illinois. Pulaski is both a county jail and immigrant detention facility. It sits five hours southwest of Elmhurst, just east of the Missouri state line, in a town of 779 people. Ruiz video chatted with her mom 15 times in 16 days (it cost 25 cents a minute) and they spoke more on the phone. She loaded $55 into each commissary account. Her parents sent letters too. One week after he was detained, Kikin wrote a letter addressed to “Viviana la mas bonita,” Viviana the most beautiful. “Pase lo que pase, siempre estaré a tu lado.” Whatever happens, I’ll always be by your side. Along the bottom of the page he drew himself, his wife, their two daughters, and their kitten holding hands.

As Carla and Kikin remained confined, Ruiz experienced depression and anxiety. She had a few sessions with therapists, but she felt like a burden on counselors. She didn’t know anyone else who’d experienced a deportation. She felt alone. Clanking around in her head were more cruel perspectives. You know, they deserve it because they’re illegal. They deserve to be deported. “It messes with my head,” she said. “And I just feel like I don’t need to talk to anyone about it because it’s so normal now.”

Ruiz would sometimes feel suicidal. The thought of spending ten years away from her parents, while also being the primary caretaker for her sister, was unbearable. She spent most days in bed and withdrew from college. Viviana spent four months out of school while her sister and aunt considered sending her to a school closer to the house. Ruiz would take Viviana to Byron Park, where she and her dad played soccer games. They also walked around the mall or went to McDonald’s for ice cream. Anything was a welcome distraction.

Veronica and her husband Jose soon took a day off work, booked a hotel room for the night, and drove the sisters to visit their parents. Though Veronica came on the trip, she couldn’t actually enter the jail. (Visitors have to show ID to enter, and Veronica is undocumented.) Jose has a green card, so he escorted Ruiz and Viviana inside. The family had 90 minutes with each parent. In separate visitations, Carla and Kikin sat on one side of a glass and spoke through phones, which timed out at half-hour intervals.

Ruiz’s parents, who were held in different parts of the jail, told her about the conditions: they slept in bunk beds, people threatened and extorted each other for things like coffee and shampoo, and the guards seemed to arbitrarily deny phone calls. “My mom’s eyes were extremely swollen because of how much she’d been crying,” Ruiz said. “And my dad was so skinny because of the food that they were given there. He said it was like worse than dog food. And he would not eat it because he felt like he was going to get sick.” ICE did not respond to multiple requests for comment about Carla and Kikin’s description of the conditions inside Pulaski. A representative from the jail said she’s not able to comment on ICE.

Ruiz told her parents that deportation was almost certain. The only place the family could live together was Mexico. So the family made a bitter decision: that summer, Ruiz would bring Viviana to live with Carla and Kikin in Mexico. Ruiz would then return to Chicago. In America, she could make more money and live with Jose and Veronica. She would be without her parents and her sister, but the city was her home.


On the night of her husband’s deportation, Garcia took a duffle bag full of his possessions and went to the jail. Officers led her to a room where her husband stood holding a file of paperwork. She said she was told not to touch her husband. They exchanged items and said “I love you,” and then she left.

In the parking lot she saw people praying near a van. She presumed the van held men who, like her husband, were about to be deported. The group had come from St. Rita’s, a church just a few miles away from her home on Chicago’s southwest side. They invited her to join them for services.

Garcia spent a few years as a member of St. Rita’s. She prayed over vans of people about to be deported. She found the work meaningful, but she also felt like she kept coming up against structural limitations of the Catholic Church. “With the Catholic Church, they never like to get politically involved, which I don’t think is right,” she said. “You know, yeah there is religion, it’s separate, but it’s not. Because the community is being affected by [this] loss.”

She soon came across the story of Elvira Arellano, an undocumented woman from Mexico who’d lived in the U.S. for decades. Arellano has a U.S. citizen son and sought sanctuary in Adalberto United Methodist Church in Humboldt Park after receiving a deportation order. Arellano was deported in 2007, without her son, but returned to the border seven years later to seek asylum. At the time, asylum seekers were allowed to wait in the U.S. while their cases processed in immigration court. So, Arellano made her way back to Chicago, this time to Lincoln United Methodist Church.

Garcia reached out to Arellano and was invited to come to the church. “To make a long story short,” Garcia said, “I haven’t left since.”

“I have every right to be with the person I love, and that person whom I love has every right to stay here with his family, his children,” says Garcia.
“I have every right to be with the person I love, and that person whom I love has every right to stay here with his family, his children,” says Garcia.Credit: Pat Nabong for Chicago Reader

Since her husband’s deportation, Garcia has amassed over 4,000 followers on Facebook. She publishes upwards of 30 times each day, posting links to news coverage about immigration raids and violence in Mexico, triaging for immigrant families in crisis, and livestreaming the work her fellow activists do at the church. On trips to Washington, D.C., she and her children take photos with elected representatives and tell the story of Velasco’s deportation.

In 2018, Garcia’s youngest daughter Mahalea testified at a Chicago City Council hearing that called on Congress to pass legislation that would provide protection and legal status to the undocumented parents of U.S. citizen and DACA-eligible children. Garcia is forceful when she speaks, but Mahalea can be even punchier. “My father didn’t abandon us,” the 12-year-old said. “He was kidnapped by ICE.”

Garcia is also active in Facebook groups for the spouses of deportees, most of them named some variation of “Deportee Wives/Esposas Del Deportados.” In February 2018, a woman named Katrina Jabbi found one such group after her husband Buba was taken into ICE custody and deported to the Gambia. Jabbi spoke on the phone with Garcia and Jasmine Mendoza, who’d moved to Mexico with her kids after her undocumented husband was deported. “I was just so grateful,” Jabbi said. “Like oh my gosh, like this is possible. People are actually doing this. And there are women going through the same thing I am. I was just so grateful to find a group of women to talk to. And just to cry to.”

Katrina moved with her children to the Gambia to live with her husband. Before leaving, she sat on the couch in her father’s massive cabin-style home in rural Wisconsin, rocking her sleeping baby in her arms. “I wish I would have known about them a long time ago, when I was going through all the paperwork and the process itself. Because I was trying to—” she paused. “I always felt like nobody really understood.”

"I was just so grateful. Like oh my gosh, like this is possible. People are actually doing this. And there are women going through the same thing I am," Jabbi said.
“I was just so grateful. Like oh my gosh, like this is possible. People are actually doing this. And there are women going through the same thing I am,” Jabbi said.Credit: Courtesy Katrina Jabbi


On a frigid and windy day in February I arrived at Lincoln United Methodist Church in Pilsen just before services ended. The red brick colonial style building has stained glass portraits in gable-shaped windows, but is otherwise unassuming. It sits on a traffic-heavy strip of Damen, two blocks south of Cermak. Some of the letters on its sign have cracked off. A small, tattered Mexican flag was hung from the fence and whipped in the wind.

Garcia’s days are busy: she’s designed her life this way. “Knowing that my situation is not going to change, I’ll go crazy,” she said. She wore thick black eyeliner and a black hat, and greeted those who came her way with a “Hi sweetie” or “Hola mija,” followed by a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

Before afternoon services finished, some people left the upstairs sanctuary and walked down the winding staircase, and propped up plastic tables and black chairs in front of a wall of floor-to-ceiling mirrors. An attorney, a nurse, and other volunteers sat at the tables, armed with pens and stacks of paper, and prepared to offer a DACA clinic, a know-your-rights workshop, health checkups, and free legal advice.

Garcia stood in front of a line that waited for legal advice. She explained the difference between a warrant signed by an immigration judge and a warrant issued by ICE. This activism, she told me, helps her. “Fighting for the people, bringing that advocacy, and teaching them what their rights are—that’s been therapeutic for me.”

Garcia is skilled at weaving her own narrative into a call for policy reform on immigration. “I sound like a broken record. And sometimes I’m like, well, I just hope the message [gets out]. And then people call me a publicity hog. Like, they think I love doing this. And it’s not—it’s just like, nobody else wants to talk. And I’d rather someone say something versus someone saying nothing.”

That morning, an 18-year-old woman had messaged Garcia on Facebook asking for help because her parents had been deported three months earlier. A friend of a friend had told the woman that the lawyer who gave free legal advice in this church helped fix her status. Garcia told her to come to the church and have a free consultation with a volunteer attorney. Dariana Ruiz and her Aunt Veronica drove 22 miles from their home in Addison to Lincoln United Methodist.

Garcia introduced me and Ruiz, and we walked up to the quiet sanctuary to talk. Ruiz wore big glasses that sat just under her bangs. She was polite and clutched a yellow folder. Ruiz spoke about her parent’s absence in a dissociated way. She talked about them only as they related to her younger sister, Viviana: “her” parents were deported, she’d say. “If I say our parents I start feeling very bad because I’m now realizing, like, hey those are my parents as well,” she told me. “So when I say her parents it’s like a coping mechanism basically. It’s bad but, you know, it helps. Kind of.” This sort of dissociation is a common response to trauma; psychologists describe it as one of the ingenious ways the mind protects itself.

Ruiz and I spoke for an hour and then made our way back down the stairs, where Garcia sat with Veronica. “I was telling your aunt that maybe we can appeal that debt?” she said, referring to the money Ruiz still owed her college. “It was something that was out of your control.” The women made plans to discuss possible options. As Ruiz and her aunt began to leave, Garcia gave Ruiz a big hug. “You’re an inspiration,” she said, rubbing Ruiz’s back. “You’re so young and you’re so strong.”

By July Ruiz had enough money saved from her job at an auto body shop that she could take Viviana to Tijuana, where her parents had settled. She bought plane tickets to San Diego, where a woman her mother knew would pick them up from the airport and drive them to the border crossing. On the flight Viviana could hardly contain herself. She asked Ruiz every few minutes if they’d arrived yet. “As soon as we landed, she’s like, ‘Oh, my God, are we here? Is this Mexico?'” Ruiz said, laughing. “And I’m like, ‘No, it’s still California. We have an hour and a half left.'”

The two deplaned and hopped into a car with a woman they called Doña Mary. They got out of the car before getting stuck in traffic and walked for 20 minutes to the pedestrian border crossing. Even with the sun high in the sky, it was breezy outside. Ruiz took Viviana and their suitcases and joined the long line of people waiting to cross. As the line moved them closer to border agents, Ruiz’s anxiety took over. “A bunch of things started popping in my head because I was like, ‘Wow, we’re literally ten minutes away from seeing our parents,'” she said. “But what if they find an excuse to not let us in?”

She would spend three days in Mexico. Her family went out to eat, painted, and laid in the park under the sun. Ruiz saw her grandmother for the first time in a decade, and her grandmother finally met Viviana. On the day Ruiz left, her family woke up before dawn to say goodbye. “It was the most depressing thing ever,” Ruiz said. “I knew for sure that [now] I was on my own without my family.” She cried on the flight back. When she returned to her aunt’s and saw Viviana’s toys on the ground she cried again.

Coming back from Mexico alone, she said, was more painful than the night her parents were taken. It felt worse than the time ten years ago when her father was deported. The separation was permanent.

Again, Ruiz fell into a deep depression. But this time, even with her family far away, something changed. In the months after her parents were deported, she’d met others who’d lived through the same thing, who had validated her pain, who had confirmed she wasn’t the only one suffering. She found a therapist, was prescribed medication, and went to group sessions where she met others struggling with depression and anxiety. Ruiz had saved enough to live on her own, so she moved out of her aunt’s house. She then lost her job and in December moved to a town near Fort Hood, Texas, where she has more family. She hasn’t seen her parents since July.

She plays the memory over and over again. She and Viviana pass through the checkpoint easily and walk into Mexico, down a long and winding pedestrian bridge that looks like an empty highway. After 15 minutes, familiar voices call their names. “The moment I saw them I just couldn’t stop crying,” Ruiz remembers. “It’s not like a feeling that you feel every single day, or like once a month or anything like that. They’re my parents, they’re my world. And having them being taken from me and my sister for eight months. It’s so painful. My heart just felt kind of empty.” She felt excited “but at the same time, it was just really sad. It’s just sad that we don’t even have the right to be a family, to be happy as a family.”  v