Garland » Ana Cañenquez hopes, prays, cries, and loses sleep thinking about who else she could ask for help to create a miracle, any miracle, to halt the ordered deportation of half of her family on June 25.
The northern Utah resident believes the action may send four of her sons to their deaths at the hands of gangs in El Salvador, which they tried to escape by illegally immigrating to the United States. Even if they survive, "they still won’t have any life at all, there are no opportunities" in extreme poverty, she blurts in Spanish between sobs.
"I refuse to accept this," Cañenquez says, although she has exhausted all possible appeals and deportation seems inevitable. "This cannot be. I need help. I need help."
Barring a miracle, she and four teenage sons are about to join 793 "removals" so far this year, and 3,869 last year, by the Salt Lake City office of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. The office covers Utah, Nevada, Idaho and Montana. ICE says 89 percent of deportations last year by that office involved "criminals."
But The New York Times recently reported that while President Barack Obama says his administration targets criminals for deportation and not people who are here just "trying to figure out how to feed their family," two-thirds of the 2 million people deported had only minor traffic violations or no criminal record at all.
Cañenquez says she and her family are self-sustaining, had only one minor brush with the law and work hard on education — and have awards from the state and even the president to prove it. But some of them were caught entering the country illegally. Although allowed to remain while pursuing appeals, they go to the top of deportation lists.
Cañenquez puts a human face on the immigration debate and statistics. She shows why some are driven to take extreme risks that come with illegal immigration, and how current laws can divide those families and create a sort of "Sophie’s Choice" for them.
If Cañenquez is deported, two younger children will remain here because they are U.S. citizens born in Utah. Their father, a Mexican national, is under no deportation order. Neither is her oldest son, who has his own family. They say international laws prevent them from going together to El Salvador, Mexico or to remain here.
Reasons » Cañenquez tells why she chose to immigrate illegally, and fears deportation so much.
At one point in El Salvador, she lived in a two-room shanty with six sons and an alcoholic spouse. She sold treats in a marketplace booth. "I earned about $6 a day, and worked seven days a week. It barely paid for food."
Her second-oldest son, Oscar, had cerebral palsy. "He died, but not from that. He died from malnutrition. Do you know how hard that is? My 19-year-old had severe malnutrition. I had malnutrition."
She said taking Oscar to a doctor cost 50 colons per visit. "For 50 colons, I could feed my family for a week."
Once she was sick with parasites. "The doctor told me he didn’t know how I was still alive with so many parasites." Treatment cost 300 colons. "For a long time, I could not buy the medicine. It cost the same as feeding my family for a month."
Amid malnutrition, the death of her son, and little hope for a good education to lift her children out of poverty, Cañenquez in 2003 accepted a suggestion from a brother to go to New York where he lived — leaving her family behind temporarily.
She planned to work a couple years to raise money to pay off debts, buy a house in El Salvador and pay for her children’s schooling. But she did not earn much in New York, and eventually moved to Utah at the urging of an acquaintance. Cañenquez worked in a restaurant and sent most of the money home.
She eventually moved in with Eusebio Granda, a farm worker from Mexico. They eventually would have two children of their own — Luis, now 8, and Katy, 6, who are U.S. citizens. Cañenquez’s oldest son also came to America to help them.
Threats » In 2010, two of her children still in El Salvador were threatened to join violent gangs, or be killed.
"That’s when we left," says son Geovanny Ramirez, now 17. "You could choose to join the gang and get killed, or you can choose not to join the gang and get killed."
Cañenquez paid to smuggle Geovanny and Job, now 19, into the United States — but they were caught by the Border Patrol. However, they were sent to stay with their mother in Garland while their case was appealed.Next Page >
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