“Why didn’t you take me with you? Why didn’t you come back sooner?” Someone-We-Love remembers these questions perfectly. Her daughter, Maria, was searching for an explanation. At 14, she couldn’t quite understand why her mom had left.
In the four and a half years that Someone-We-Love had been away, Maria dropped out of school twice. The first time, right after her mom’s departure, Maria stopped going to school for a few weeks. The second time, the year before Someone-We-Love returned, she dropped out for an entire year.
I asked Someone-We-Love why she thought Maria had done this, “because she missed me. And also, I think it was difficult for Maria to accept I had a daughter with Carlos.”
Someone-We-Love gave birth to Ana a year before she migrated back to El Salvador. Of course, she told Maria the moment she found out. Which was around the same time she dropped out of school for a year.
“Maria grew even more distant. I understood her struggle, so I tried to talk her through it, but also give her space. It was difficult for me. I wanted to be happy with Carlos. I wanted Maria to be happy.”
Before Ana turned two, Someone-We-Love boarded the ICE plane with her second daughter, Ana, in her arms. Ana’s father, Carlos, doesn’t have documentation, so he had to stay in California.
“Carlos was so afraid that he didn’t want to come into the airport. We said goodbye outside.” Someone-We-Love told Carlos that she would be back soon. Two or three years maximum.
“My plan was to convince Maria to come to this country with me. I returned for the quinceañera, yes, but I wanted her to be here with me.” But, someone-We-Love didn’t count on the strong bond Maria had formed with her Abuelita Nelly—Someone-We-Love’s mother.
“‘How can I leave her here? Who’s going to take care of Abuelita Nelly now that all her daughters have left?’ Hearing my daughter Maria tell me this, really broke my heart.” Someone-We-Love started to cry.
She explained to me that she felt pulled in all directions. She felt terrible to leave her mother behind. She felt terrible to leave her daughter Maria behind. She felt guilty for wanting to take Maria away, for wanting to leave her mother, Nelly, alone again.
“I didn’t know what to do.”
On top of the difficulties she faced with her family, Someone-We-Love’s hometown continued to get more and more dangerous. When she returned, she was afraid to sell pupusas again. She had to depend on Carlos sending money. And on top of all of that, Ana was born with hyperthyroidism, which meant she needed special medication to control her growth. If she didn’t get the right dose, it could put her development in jeopardy.
Someone-We-Love stayed in El Salvador until 2013. Close to three years, before she had to return to California.
“Ana’s hyperthyroidism was the main reason why we came back. I didn’t want to leave Maria again. I begged her to come with us. I did. But she didn’t want to.”
Maria said she couldn’t leave her real mom behind. Just remembering this detail hurt Someone-We-Love. She couldn’t hold back the tears.
Someone-We-Love had to migrate to California by land again. By then, Ana was old enough to take a plane on her own. She flew with a flight attendant and her father picked her up from the airport. But since her mother was not a citizen, she had to take the long way to California.
“The second try took a little longer. Five weeks.” Someone-We-Love tells me about her time at the border, “we had crossed the river and gotten to the van. But once in the van, La Migra put their lights on and wanted to stop the van. The driver told us to get ready to jump out, that he was gonna slow the van down and everyone, even himself, was gonna run out. I’m not the coyote ok? He repeated. Then we all ran.”
The first time she crossed, she didn’t have any trouble, but this time, she was caught in December 2013. By then, ICE had a new policy. They were letting immigrants come into the country for a month, but they had to report back to the immigration court within that month in order to hear their verdict. Someone-We-Love like many immigrants decided to not report back to the court and by default became undocumented and deportable.
I ask her why she didn’t report back. “Because everyone knows that they don’t listen to you and simply deport you.”
Someone-We-Love is correct. She was made to sign a document without knowing what she was signing. She never got a lawyer. She never got a translator. No one told her what to do besides signing that document that told her to report back in a month.
The date when Someone-We-Love crossed into the US is a month before the Obama administration’s cut-off date for an all-out deportation of anyone who crossed after January 1, 2014. Which means that anyone, mother or child, who crossed after that date, is going to get deported, without a hearing, without being granted refugee status.
In Someone-We-Love’s hometown, just last month, they shot a referee at the soccer fields because he made the wrong call to the wrong person. He was shot point-blank at 2 pm. These incidents are occurring all over the country and if they’re not murdered, people are disappearing. Last year, they found a mass grave in the bay that surrounds Someone-We-Love’s hometown. They couldn’t identify who the people were. Everyone knows not to venture into other neighborhoods during the day and no one can safely walk at night. “Things are worse. And I’m scared Maria is still over there.”
According to USA Today, El Salvador’s murder rate for 2015 was 104 people per 100,000, which is the highest for any country in nearly 20 years.
“It’s a civil war again,” Someone-We-Love says. But it seems no one is calling it what it is because if the U.S. government called it a war, Someone-We-Love, and the 100,000 plus families fleeing, would be called refugees. But they are not. So every time Someone-We-Love comes to work at this café, she’s scared she will not see her daughter Ana again. She’s constantly watching the back door.
“If they come, I know to run.” She tells me. But she shouldn’t have to be afraid. Her daughter Ana shouldn’t have to be afraid of her mother getting deported.