FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. – Ronald Molina, 8, his 11-year-old brother Alex and 19-year-old-sister Evelin say they cry quietly every day in their Stamford home while looking at a photograph of their mother.
In the photo, the dark-haired woman with downcast eyes looks back at them with as much sadness as is felt by the family she was forced to leave. Her children, along with her husband, Rony Molina, are U.S. citizens. But Sandra Payes-Chacon was detained and deported in 2010 while in her native Guatemala trying to obtain a green card.
Now, the 35-year-old who suffers from depression and anxiety is banned from returning to the United States for 10 years.
Advocates and attorneys for immigration reform say a national program called Secure Communities, which was launched in Fairfield County last year and recently expanded to cover the entire state, will make stories such as this one far more common.
“Families are being torn apart and with expansion of the Secure Communities program we are going to see much more of this - lives ruined because of technicalities and overzealous immigration police enforcement,” said Alex Meyerovich, an immigration attorney at M.C. Law Group LLP in Bridgeport and Norwalk.
Meyerovich, who represents the Molina family, said, “Many of my clients are scared of the local police, who under the guise of these programs, arrest them for federal Immigration Customs Enforcement police. When they run a fingerprints check and discover a person is in the country illegally, that’s it. They are deported.”
Payes-Chacon, however, was not deported under the Secure Communities program. She made the mistake of taking bad advice from a former adviser and returned to her homeland after crossing the border illegally. But Meyerovich said many people. including his clients, are afraid of the program.
“It’s one more piece of ammunition added to the completely random and arbitrary process used to deport (illegal) immigrants,” he said.
Rony Molina, 43, who also made a dangerous and costly three-day trek crossing the desert from Mexico in 1999, sat this week at a kitchen table in his small but immaculate Cold Spring Road home, shaking his head and tearing up as he described what it’s like to be separated from his wife.
The couple met in Connecticut but did not know each other despite growing up in the same rural community outside Guatemala City.
“There are no words to describe our suffering,” said Molina, owner of Every Season Landscaping and Rony’s Painting. “I take care of the children and do everything I can for them, but I have a full-time business to run and they are alone after school.”
Human traffickers called coyotes can charge up to $20,000 to sneak immigrants into the county. Both Molina and his future wife came to America to escape the daily gang violence and lack of work in their homeland, he said. His two sons were born here and he adopted their half-sister Evelin, who came to the United States a few years ago.
“My boys need their mother. This is not a way to live,” Rony Molina said. The brothers visit their mother during summer vacation, and their father tries to fly there every few months for about a week.
“It’s sad knowing when I come home from school she won’t be here,” said Alex, an eighth-grader at Cloonan Middle School.
Evelin Molina, a senior at Westhill High School, said she was “devastated” by her mother’s deportation.
“My whole life I lived with my grandmother, but looked forward to being with my mother and my brothers,” she said. “We were together for a couple of years, then this happened. It’s a living nightmare.”
Payes-Chacon requested humanitarian parole because of the physical and emotional illnesses she suffers. It was denied in September by the Department of Homeland Security.
“Parole is an extraordinary measure used sparingly and only in urgent and emergency circumstances,” Gina Holland, chief of law enforcement for Homeland Security investigations, said in a Sept. 15 letter denying the application.
Now, Rony Molina will have to make what he calls “an impossible decision."
“Either we stay here and wait 10 years to be reunited as a family,” he said. “Or we go back and be together, but have no future and expose my kids to the kind of gang violence that resulted in their uncle being kidnapped last year and held for a $25,000 ransom. It’s a terrible decision to have to make.”
This is the first in a two-part series about the plight of illegal immigrants in Fairfield County and increased efforts to deport them. Next: Why officials are concerned the expansion of the Secure Communities program across Connecticut may result in increased crime and violence.