Children caught in middle of immigration debate
12 News
Jan. 22, 2008

Melissa Gonzalo

Kimberly, 9, Jurgan, 8, and Emerson, 4, were all born and raised in Phoenix. Now, in order to be with their mother, they must go to a country where they have never been.

"I'm an American," said Kimberly.

Their dad, Hector de Leon, said the change is going to be huge because they only speak a little bit of Spanish.

De Leon already took his children out of school and is gathering money to send them to Guatemala. They were separated from their mother for 16 months while she was detained by immigration officials in Florence. De Leon said his children are desperate to be reunited with their mother. "I wish my mom will come back here so we could be a family," said Kimberly.

De Leon said his wife Silvia had applied for political asylum when she first came to the U.S. illegally 15 years ago, after her father was killed by guerrilla forces in Guatemala. He said her lawyer never told her she had an order to appear in court back in 1998. Immigration officials found and detained her at her home in September of 2006. Hector said he and his wife were getting ready to take their kids to school when the agents arrived. He said he and his wife had no idea what was happening. He said his wife chose not to sign voluntary departure papers in order to fight her case, believing she was being punished because of a lawyer's negligence. Another lawyer had requested that her case be re-opened, but the request was denied a second time and Silvia was deported to Guatemala last weekend.

Hector said he's going to stay here a couple more months to make money and send it back to his family, but he said he will also return to Guatemala. He said family unity is the most important thing. He said he and his wife have faith in the U.S. Justice system and are putting their final hopes with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Their lawyer submitted the appeal Monday. He hopes one day they will be able to return to the U.S. as a family.

ICE officials said they cannot comment on a pending case, but they said the agency has a responsibility to carry out judge's orders. They also advise anyone in a similar situation to take a hands-on approach with their case and not to assume an attorney will do everything for them.