I first met Eduardo in the Naples jail in 2018. He had been caught driving without a license. This predicament is common among many of the workers in Immokalee, Florida since they are not eligible for a Florida driver’s license until qualified and approved for a work card by the US Citizenship and Immigration Service. In the meantime, they risk driving to get to work. Once a man is in our local jail, Immigration and Customs Enforcement is contacted and, after serving his sentence set by the Collier County Court, he is transported to the Miami Krome Detention Center where he faces deportation. When Eduardo’s wife Maria came to our Legal Aid office to beg us to represent him, I began my visits to the Naples jail to prepare his case.
I had good reason to be hopeful that my defense would succeed. The law allows a judge to cancel deportation if a US citizen child would suffer exceptional and extremely unusual hardship upon a parent’s deportation, provided that parent has good moral character and residence in the US for 10 years. Maria told us they had lived here for more than 10 years and had a son with Down syndrome. I came to know that Eduardo was of good character.
Once he was transferred to Miami detention, I was able to get an immigration judge to set a bond and he was released from detention. He worked consistently for the next three years supporting his family. He now faces a June 2022 individual hearing with great fear and anxiety, worrying that his deportation might be ordered. I hope and pray that the judge will be favorable once he learns Eduardo’s story.
Eduardo entered the US through Arizona in 1998 and began a life of farm work in Immokalee, Florida. He met his future wife Maria, also a farm worker, soon after arriving. By the time I met them in 2018, they had had 5 US citizen children. Maria, although diagnosed with lupus, continued to work part-time in the packing houses sorting tomatoes. Sr. Ines soon became her good friend. With donations we have been able to keep up the payments for her medication.
Their oldest, Clara, has graduated from high school and is in the US Army. She is counting on her service to help further her education. Son Eduardo will graduate from high school this June and is his father’s shadow when not in school. His dad no longer does farm work, but for the last 18 years has done construction and electrical work. With his improved earnings, he bought their own trailer in 2010. With the help of recent donations, we were able to lend him money to repair it. He is faithfully working off the loan.
The middle child, Adriana, now in high school, is a little mother to her Down syndrome brother, Marco, and the youngest, Diana, whom she tutors. She is ever attentive to Marco who needs a great deal of help. He doesn’t talk but can walk and feed himself. At our recent farewell party for Sr. Ines, who has been missioned to Lampedusa, I observed how much these children love their father. Marco especially continually looked at his father and laughed amidst many hugs.
When lining up witnesses for the hearing, I phoned Marco’s doctor, a busy pediatrician in Miami. He told me how much he loved these parents. When Marco was a baby, he had needed a kidney transplant, so as a result, the doctor came to know Eduardo and Maria well. He could not stop praising them. I asked if he could find time in his busy practice to give me a letter of reference for Eduardo. He said “Oh no!” He would come personally to testify and tell the judge how outstanding and admirable Eduardo and Maria are.