Felipe Valdes has lived and worked in the United States for 23 years. Two weeks ago, he received a letter ordering his deportation. Valdes reported to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office in downtown San Francisco yesterday (Mon/18) morning as he instructed and prepared to say his final goodbyes to his family before boarding one of ICE’s deportation buses at noon. Instead, he was released after five hours and allowed to return to his home in Richmond.
“It’s one in a million,” stated Marie Vincent, Valdes’ attorney. She had filed a stay of removal on her client’s behalf to delay his deportation, but such claims rarely get reviewed quickly. Vincent believes Valdes was awarded additional time in the US at the last moment because of media attention he received in recent weeks.
“His case was very compelling,” she explained. “He’s been here so long, and he has contributed greatly to the United States. He’s worked the whole time, he’s active at his church, his children are here. This is his country.”
While Valdes met with ICE officers inside, more than 50 local faith leaders, community members and reporters assembled on the street outside the office, with supporters there to protest the deportation. According to Vincent, this pressure was critical in influencing ICE’s decision to approve Valdes for a one-year work permit, temporarily halting his deportation.
That year may prove to be enough time for the currently pending residency visa application that Valdes recently submitted to be reviewed. His application is the latest in a long history of attempts to become a legal resident of the U.S. stretching back to 1997, seven years after he immigrated here from Mexico with his wife, their baby son, and their unborn daughter. Now, Vincent thinks he finally has a strong case that will earn him legal status in the US.
If Valdes is forced to return to Mexico, it could result in major consequences for his family. His wife, their three children, and their granddaughter all depend upon his wages as a plumber to survive.
“We would have really struggled just to buy food or make rent,” his daughter, Mayra Valdes, reflected after the family received the news that Valdes would not be deported that day.
Mayra’s younger brother suffers from severe scoliosis. The family does not have medical insurance and without Valdes’ earnings, they would be unable to afford the specialized chiropractic and medical care that he needs. With his father gone and no one to pay for his costly weekly treatments, there would be weeks when the boy would not even have been able to walk.
The family depends on Valdes for more than his income too.
“He really pushes me and my siblings to keep going to school,” says Mayra, a Contra Costa Community College student. Her older brother is at the University of California at Davis, and her younger brother is a senior at Richmond High School. With a four-year-old daughter and a second child on the way, Mayra relies on her father to babysit after he gets off work so that she can attend classes.
Valdes’ victory on Monday was a bright note in the sad story of deportation in this country. His single case may not mean much in the broader fight for immigration reform, but for his family, it has meant the world.
“I wanted today to disappear from the calendar,” Mayra recalls, “but now I feel like it was the happiest day of my life. My father was able to come home today—it’s the best present I’ve ever received.”