Image from the Loudoun Times Mirror.
Source: Loudoun Times-Mirror
TUESDAY, JUNE 10 2008
UPDATED TUESDAY, JUNE 10 2008
Jose Andrade is a bashful 13-year-old living in Leesburg. He’s a graduate of Catoctin Elementary School, and in a few days, he will have completed seventh grade at J. Lupton Simpson Middle School.
His teachers describe him as a pleasure to have in class, a hard-working student with a positive attitude who takes pride in his work, although on occasion he can be a class clown.
His Boy Scout troop leader calls Jose the most dedicated 13-year-old Scout in the troop.
And when he grows up, he says he wants to be a policeman — mostly because of the cool uniform, but also to help protect people.
But it’s unlikely Jose will be able to realize his dreams.
A native of El Salvador, the teen has until July 16 to leave the country – alone and without his family.
The journey here
Born in Guatajigua, El Salvador, in 1994, the youngster experienced the fallout of the county’s brutal civil war, which had ended in 1992.
His mother, Mirna Andrade, left the country in 2000 to find work in the United States. Jobs were hard to come by in El Salvador, and providing for her family was difficult, she said.
“I was a single mother and it’s difficult to get ahead,” said Mirna, now 33. “I heard that there was work [here].”
Mirna received a visa, allowing her to work in the United States shortly after arriving.
Jose stayed in El Salvador with his mother’s sister’s family.
“I sent him money,” Mirna said, but it wasn’t getting to him.
“They only gave him a quarter. When a week passed, they told him they didn’t have [any] money. This he didn’t tell me.”
Mirna said her sister pulled Jose out of school and used him to run errands, like retrieving water.
“Two months passed that they didn’t send him to school,” she said.
During phone conversations with her, Jose would act timid, Mirna said. She felt something was wrong.
In 2005, 11-year-old Jose, followed his mother’s route to the United States.
She said her son’s education was a primary reason for bringing him here, adding it was important to her that she be with her son.
“I want [my children] to study,” said Mirna, who has two younger children who are U.S. citizens by birth.
“If God allows, [school will] help them realize a good career so that they know how to support themselves.”
The route, which wound from El Salvador to Guatemala, through Mexico and finally across the Rio Grande into Texas, is more than a month’s journey traveling by foot and car, Mirna said.
“We were hungry all the time, and tired,” Jose said.
The youngster traveled with two cousins.
Jose walked across the Rio Grande from Mexico into Texas at a shallow point on a hot day in September 2005. He was arrested by federal police awaiting new arrivals on the other side. One cousin did not make it across the border; the other was arrested with Jose and sent back to El Salvador.
“They took us someplace that looked like a jail,” he said.
He was held at a youth detention center in Harlingen, Texas, for nine days, until his mother came and got him.
“I was happy I wasn’t going to be in there anymore,” said Jose, who said he worried he would never see his mom again.
From that point on, the family has fought an uphill legal battle to keep Jose in the United States.
Torn between loosing her son and abandoning her two younger children, Mirna tears up when she talks about having no choice but to let Jose go back to El Salvador without her.
Looking back, she said she had always hoped, but never believed, that Jose would get to stay.
Once he was released into his mother’s custody in 2005, Jose’s case was moved to the Arlington immigration court, which tries cases for residents of Virginia and Washington, D.C.
Since then, the teen has had three hearings on his immigration status.
Seeing no alternative, Jose’s lawyer – L. Christina Carlier, a lawyer for Catholic Immigration Services based in Washington, D.C. — applied for voluntary removal of the teen at his final hearing in March. This allowed Jose and his family to have 120 days to prepare for his departure, and he would be able to come back to the United States for visits.
If he had tried to run or hide, Jose would have been put into another detention center and held until deported. He also would not be allowed to return to the United States for 10 years.
Although voluntary removal was granted, Mirna says it is unlikely Jose will get to visit because the trip is dangerous and expensive.
The 13-year-old cannot legally return to live in the United States until he turns 18 and can apply for a visa.
“I wanted to be with my mom.” Jose said. “I wanted to develop a career. It’s not good to have to leave when your mother is here.”
For the time being, the teen lives in an apartment off Plaza Street with his mother and her fiance, and Jose’s two siblings — brother Hever Garcia, 5, and 1-month-old baby sister Yaritza.
Jose said it’s not fair he should have to leave. He doesn’t fully understand why he’s being asked to go; he said children should get to stay with their parents.
Could he have stayed?
U.S. immigration law prohibits children not born in the United States from living here unless their parents are U.S. citizens, said Immigration Attorney Christina Wilkes, who works for Ayuda.
Ayuda, which means “help” in Spanish, provides legal aid for immigrants seeking legal residence in the United States.
Wilkes said because Jose’s mother was not a citizen, he must return to El Salvador.
Mirna’s work permit, which is valid until 2009, allows her to stay here. Up until Yaritza’s birth, Mirna worked at the Panera Bread restaurant by Leesburg Corner Premium Outlets.
She has applied for a green card, which would allow her to be a permanent U.S. resident, using her brother who is a citizen as a reference.
It could be another 10 to 15 years before Mirna’s green card application is processed. She could have to wait an additional 10 years or more before she can become a citizen, Wilkes said.
“It’s very backlogged,” the attorney said of the immigration courts system. She said this could be the reason why it took the courts three years to deport Jose.
But even if Mirna had a green card and was on the road to citizenship, she would not be able to keep Jose here.
Before applying for voluntary removal, the family tried and failed to gain political asylum status for Jose.
“Over 88 percent of the children who are apprehended across the border come from El Salvador,” Wilkes said.
Many of them, she said, are fleeing violence, domestic abuse or gang recruitment — the results of a civil war that has left El Salvador’s economy, government and security in disarray.
Wilkes said these are reasons why parents who don’t want their children returned to El Salvador apply for political asylum.
At the end of the day, both lawyers said there is nothing else that can be done.
“We tried to do our best to keep the boy here,” said Carlier.
When Jose moves back to El Salvador, he will live with another of his mother’s sisters.
“He will be living with family, but it won’t be the same,” Mirna said. “You want your family to be together.”
Jose said: “It’s not good to be separated from your mom.
Struggling to fight off tears, Mirna said, “I want to have him with me. I will miss him a lot, badly.”