In March 2006, Elizabeth started dating online. She became serious with a Salvadoran man named Aldo. He lived in Athens, Georgia, and in April flew out to visit Elizabeth. He proposed on their first date. Elizabeth said yes. Two months later they were married.
“We got married on Tuesday, June 24. We have a saying here in Mexico: ‘Don’t get married or move on a Tuesday. It’s bad luck.’”
At the beginning of their relationship, Elizabeth and Aldo were happy. They lived in a trailer park in Athens. Elizabeth got pregnant right away. But then Aldo started working long hours, and Elizabeth was lonely. She decided to move back to Oxnard to live with her sister. A few months later, Aldo joined her. They rented an apartment. Their son was born. For a long time, they lived as a family. They joined a local church, and Elizabeth taught Sunday school, joined the choir, and attended Bible studies.
“After our son went to preschool, my husband said, ‘It’s been five years in Oxnard. I want to go back to Athens. We can get a mobile home and not have to pay rent. You won’t need to work. I can get my old job back.’”
With some hesitation, Elizabeth agreed. The packed up their truck and went out on the road. They left on July 19, 2011. The next day, their truck broke down in Texas. They stopped at a repair shop to have it fixed.
“I had a feeling that something was going to happen. My GPS was telling us to take a strange route. I knew it wasn’t a good idea, but I decided we should just keep going. All of a sudden, I saw the orange cones and a big sign that said, ‘Prepare to show papers, Immigration.’ I thought, Oh, my God, this is the end! I started praying that we would pass through without a problem.”
One of the Border Patrol dogs started sniffing around their truck. Elizabeth and Aldo were told to pull over and present identification. Elizabeth had only her consular ID. The Border Patrol asked if she had another form of ID.
“All I had was a Mexican passport. They said, ‘So, you are illegally here? Get out of the car and bring your baby.’”
Elizabeth was taken into an office, where eight agents bombarded her with questions. They asked her name, her nationality, where she was born, and how long she’d been in the U.S. They wanted to know where she’d crossed and when, what her father’s name was, and if she could prove that she was married. Elizabeth handed over her marriage certificate and her son’s birth certificate.
“They took copies of everything. They made many, many phone calls. They asked the same questions over and over. I asked what was going to happen. They told me that they could deport me. They also said that they could deport my husband because he was driving me and I was illegal. I said, ‘I know the law. I don’t know what the problem is. We are married. We have a son that was born in the United States.’ I told them to let Aldo go.”
Elizabeth requested a lawyer, but the request was denied. She asked to make a phone call. The agents said no.
“I asked to use the bathroom. They took me to it. It was a cell. It had a big silver door. You can’t hear anything there. They locked me inside for 30 minutes. I was knocking and knocking on the door, begging to get out. I started crying. Finally, they came and got me.”
They took Elizabeth’s photo and fingerprints. They asked if she was pregnant, or on medication. She told them no. Again, she asked to see a lawyer. Again, she was refused.
“I told them that my record was clean. I hadn’t ever done anything illegal, other than cross the border.”
When Elizabeth retells the events of that day, she sobs. Tears roll down her face, ruining her makeup.
“They made me sign a paper to deport me. I said, ‘What if I don’t sign?’ They told me it didn’t matter if I signed or not, they would still send me back to Mexico. They told me they spoke to Washington. ‘They want you out now,’ they said. I was in shock.”
Elizabeth was told that if she didn’t sign the paperwork, it could take days, weeks, or months before she saw a judge. She would wait in jail.
“I didn’t want to be separated from my son for that long, so I signed the papers. They told me I could take my son with me to Mexico. I didn’t want to, because he didn’t have a U.S. passport, and he wouldn’t be able to come back to America. I told my husband to keep going and take our son. I was crying so much. I was so mad at Aldo. I didn’t want to hug or kiss him. I just wanted my baby. Aldo left with our son. At 5:00 p.m., agents from Mexico came for me.”
Soon after, they brought her to Mexico.
“I used to tell my mom that I would never go back to Mexico, and that the only way I would return was if I was deported. My mouth gets me into trouble. I never thought I would return to Mexico the way I did. It was over a big bridge into Ciudad Juárez. There were about 1000 other people waiting to cross.”
Elizabeth asked the agent how long it would take to get to Tijuana from Ciudad Juárez. Her dad still lived in TJ, and she planned to reunite with him. The agent told her it would take two hours by plane or several days by bus.
“It started raining hard. I got a taxi. The driver took me to the airport. He said, ‘Don’t talk to anyone. Don’t tell anyone what happened to you. People will kidnap you to get money from your family.’ He told me to stay in the airport because there were security guards there. It was the only safe place in the city.”