A struggle to stay: Deportation on horizon for 18-year-old with family
WORTHINGTON — Byron Rocael Perez and Jasmine Soto first met at St. Mary’s Church in Worthington. Both of Guatemalan descent, Byron came to St. Mary’s with his parents from Butterfield, where there is no Catholic church, to attend Mass. Jasmine lived with her family in Worthington, where she was born.
Now Byron is 18 years old, and Jasmine is 17, and they have an 11-month-old daughter, Analy. They has planned to get married when Jasmine turned 18.
Jasmine is a junior at Worthington High School, but Byron is currently in a detention facility in Albert Lea, waiting deportation back to Guatemala.
“He came here when he was 14 years old,” explained Jasmine. “He came by himself to meet up with his parents.”
Byron was an unaccompanied minor when he crossed the border and became an illegal immigrant.
“When he was coming here, he got caught in Texas,” related Jasmine. “He was put into a jail there for young people. They let him out and told him to present himself for court, and he didn’t.”
Instead, the young teen headed north to join his family. He attended school in Butterfield and then worked to support his girlfriend and daughter.
On Feb. 9, Byron and Jasmine were headed to Butterfield to visit his relatives when they were pulled over by law enforcement.
The vehicle Byron was driving belonged to her brother, whose license had been revoked, Jasmine explained, so the officer wanted to see Byron’s driver’s license. He didn’t have one.
Initially, Byron was held in the Nobles County Jail. Jasmine said she paid a $500 bond that she thought would ensure his release, but Byron was turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and taken to Albert Lea.
Byron’s lawyer has tried to get his case — started when he was detained in Texas — reopened, but so far has not been able to do so. As a last-ditch effort, a petition has been started at change.org in the hopes of stalling the deportation process.
“Chances are it won’t do a lot of good, but at least we tried something,” said Lisa Kremer, project coordinator for Familias Juntos, an organization that “works toward reunification of families torn apart by our broken immigration system and to give a voice to those most deeply affected by our current immigration laws.”
Similar petitions have gotten mixed results, according to Kremer. One — for a Guatemalan man with a family living in Worthington — was successful, and he has released and has to check in with ICE every three months. A second man from Mexico was deported.
Kremer said stories like Byron’s help raise public awareness for immigration reform.
“People don’t realize that families are being torn apart,” she said, adding that there is also the economic impact of deporting a family’s breadwinner. “You’re taking one parent away and leaving behind children who are U.S. citizens. The mother is then left to deal with the repercussions and has to go on public assistance to feed her children. It doesn’t seem right. If you let the dad stay and support his family, you actually save taxpayer money.”
Jasmine expects that Byron could be deported within the next couple of weeks. They are able to talk on the phone, but since she is a minor, she cannot visit him. Her life is in limbo, but she’s grateful for the support — financial and otherwise — that she’s gotten from her family.
“I guess I will have to start looking for a job,” said Jasmine, who has aspirations of becoming an elementary school teacher.
Analy will have her first birthday in just a few weeks, and odds are that her dad won’t be there for the celebration.
“I worry about my baby,” Jasmine said, “and he’s sad about that, too.”
Daily Globe Features Editor Beth Rickers may be reached at 376-7327.