Divided Families

Divided Families: Deportee Family,1110


Cronkite News Service

TUXTLAN, Mexico _ Van Bui Rios holds her sleeping son in her lap as the small airplane carries them across the U.S.-Mexico border. 

Bui is headed to Guadalajara to see her husband, David Rios, who was deported from the United States to Mexico in the fall of 2007.  The trip is only three hours by plane from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where Bui lives, but the trip itself was three months in the making. 

 “I charged this trip on my credit card,” said Bui, 24. “I know I shouldn’t, but at least this way I can see David again.”

As the plane begins its descent, Bui turns to her son. “We’re going to see daddy,” she tells the 1-year-old as she adjusts his sweater vest and puts on his new shoes. 

Bui has never been to Mexico before. She’s both excited and nervous as she follows the long line of fellow Americans through customs and then the baggage area. As she pushes through the frosted glass doors of the waiting area, she scans the crowd for her husband.

In a moment they are holding each other tightly, their son still in Bui’s arms. David Jr. has fallen asleep, and he wakes with a start when his father picks him up.

For a long moment, the son examines the father, then David Jr. turns away. He wants his mother.

Rios, 24, knows that his son can’t possibly remember him very well, but still it’s hard. “It’s been three months, and he is so little,” he explains.

The rest of Rios’ family surrounds the pair, curious to meet the American wife and son. After everyone is introduced and has had a chance to exclaim over the baby, the group sets off through the airport and heads for home _ a barrio on the exterior of Guadalajara called Ixtapan. This is where Rios has lived with his godmother since being escorted across the border into Juarez, Mexico, last fall.

Rios recounts the story as he plays with his son, gently trying to win his trust.

“I came to the United States when I was 3 years old,” he said. “We lived in California and then we moved to Texas.”

He and Bui met when they were in high school, at a restaurant in Dallas, Bui as a server; he as a cook. They were just 18 years old. Prior to Rios’ deportation, the longest the couple had been apart was a month-long trip Bui took to Vietnam.

Moving easily between Spanish and English, Rios explained that one day last year, he got a ticket for an expired dog tag and ended up going to court to pay the violation. The judge told him that because he couldn’t prove that he was in the country legally, he would be deported. If he left voluntarily, he could apply to return to the United States. If not, he faced forced deportation without the option of returning legally.

Rios chose voluntary deportation, but he was still surprised when authorities came to his house one morning to pick him up. He had just gotten out of the shower. Barefoot and wearing only shorts, he was transferred to a detention center in Dallas where he spent three days and two nights. From there, he and a large group of other illegal immigrants were taken by bus to Austin and then to El Paso on the border.

“There was one young kid who was wearing no shoes,” Rios said. No one was allowed to make a phone until the group reached Juarez, just a few miles into Mexico. Once in Juarez, Rios immediately boarded another bus, this one to Guadalajara, where he had family.

Bui said the couple hired a lawyer who told them that “David could be back home in a year if everything goes as planned. Seeing as he has an American son and he is married to me, (we thought) it should be fine.”

They now realize the wait could be much, much longer. Bui applied for a green card for Rios as soon as he found out he would be deported in August of 2007, but by December, the only thing they had was a notification that the application had been received.

Many immigrants think that if they are married to a U.S. citizen, gaining legal status will be easy. But to apply, illegal immigrants must leave the country first and may not return for a specified period of time, depending on their circumstances. If the illegal immigrant was in the United States for as little as 181 or as many as 364 days, he or she is barred from returning for three years. If the illegal immigrant was in the United States for 365 days or longer, he or she is barred from returning for 10 years. Immigrants can apply for a waiver, but they must prove that the wait will cause an extreme hardship for their U.S. spouses.

While he waits, Rios is trying hard to adjust to life in a new country. He found work with a cousin, transporting goods between shops and markets. It requires 12 hour a day of strenuous labor, and it pays in a week what he earned in one day in Texas.

If it hadn’t been for his godmother and relatives, “I don’t know how I would’ve made it here,” he said. But “I miss my family, my wife.”

With her husband gone, Bui moved back in with her parents, who came to this country from Vietnam and are now U.S. citizens. Her full-time job as a hair stylist did not pay enough for her to keep the house where she and Rios had been living.

She and David Jr. share a small, olive-colored bedroom with diapers and toys and clothes scattered about. Every few minutes, a cousin or sibling sneaks in the room to play with the baby.

Each night at about 10:30, Bui clears the room and sits in front of her computer. She logs onto instant messenger and waits. “I log on and hope he is on, too,” she said. Rios has to go to an Internet café to access a computer.

Tonight Rios’ face appears on the screen. Bui holds the baby on her lap and points at the image of his father. “Look, it’s daddy,” she says. David Jr. watches intently as his father makes faces and pops up moving icons of aliens and happy faces. 

As his parents talk about work and relatives, David Jr. begins to fall asleep. Soon, too soon, the Internet café is closing, and Rios says he has to go. They say goodbye, and Bui puts the baby to bed.


PHOTOS: Click thumbnails to see full-resolution images and download

David Rios Sr., 24, throws his son, David Rios Jr., 1, into the air when the two reunited in Ixtapan, Jalisco, Mexico, where Rios has lived since he was deported. (Cronkite News Service Photo / Deanna Dent)

David Rios Sr., 24, talks on the phone from Mexico with his wife,Van Bui, in Dallas. The two stay in touch by computer and phone. (Cronkite News Service Photo / Deanna Dent)

Van Bui embraces her husband, David Rios Sr., at the International Airport in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, in November. David Jr. is asleep in her arms. (Cronkite News Service Photo / Deanna Dent)

David Rios Sr., 24, tries to get reacquainted with his son, David Jr., 1, who he has not seen in three months. (Cronkite News Service Photo / Deanna Dent)

Van Bui sends her husband photographs to help ease their separation. (Cronkite News Service Photo / Deanna Dent)