Mayra, mother of three, was detained for over a year in Louisiana before being deported to El Salvador

Mayra with each of her three children in Fayetteville, Arkansas, before being detained.

*President-Elect Trump has announced that he intends to immediately deport two to three million immigrants with criminal records upon taking office. Mayra Machado is one of those people. She was detained for over a year in Louisiana based on nonviolent convictions from when she was a teenager. Mayra was deported to El Salvador right after the New Year, leaving her three young children behind in the U.S. This is her account from detention, written on December 2, 2016:*

This time last year, my three kids piled into my car in our town of Fayetteville, Arkansas to go Christmas shopping at Hobby Lobby. We were looking for materials for a wreath to place on our door for the holidays.

On our way home from the store, my oldest son Dominic realized he had left his glasses on the counter so we turned around to go back to get them. He found his glasses and we started home again to pick up a Christmas tree. On the way, a police officer pulled me over and told me I had an outstanding traffic ticket. He took me into the station, saying it would only take a few hours, and let me call a friend to pick up my kids and take them home.

At the police station, another officer saw me and, without knowing anything about me other than that I looked Hispanic, ran my name and put an immigration hold on me. For the next week, I was kept in jail without any charges, and without being able to call my family to tell them where I was. I was then put on a bus and driven hours and hours. I had no idea where they were taking me and no way to tell my kids what was going on.

How do you have to tell an 11 year old that it’s not his fault?

Since I arrived at LaSalle Immigration Detention Facility in Louisiana on December 11, 2015, I have only seen my children twice. The first time was in July. We were separated by a plastic window, so I couldn’t even hold them. They were crying when they first saw me, but by the time they left I had managed to get them all smiling again. I told them that I would be going home soon. The second time was last month and this time, it was even more devastating. I couldn’t control them, and they cried the whole time. It was so hard — as soon as I calmed one of them down the other two would start crying again.

I came to the US when I was five years old. My mother and I left El Salvador to escape the civil war and violence we were facing. I don’t remember anything about our trip here but my family tells me that I was asleep in the car as we drove across the border. I felt just like any other American growing up — I went to school, spent time with my family, played sports with my friends, got my first job.

More than ten years ago, when I was 19 years old, I was sinking in problems, and thought I could fix everything on my own. I thought I could just borrow some money to solve my problems and then put the money back, so I wrote some bad checks. It was the biggest mistake of my life. Because I was a first time, non-violent offender, I served four months for my convictions at a boot camp. Then I placed my mistakes in the rearview mirror and moved forward with my life.

Now, because of my old teenage convictions, the government is trying to deport me back to El Salvador, a country I have no memory of. I was on the flight list to be deported the day after Thanksgiving but at the last minute my lawyer managed to convince officials to review my case. Now, I am back on the list and could be deported any day. My only hope for staying in this country with my children is that immigration officials will recognize that deportation would devastate my family and hold off on executing the deportation order.

Up until my detention, life was good. It was just the four of us — my kids and I — and we were very happy. I had a job I loved, helping patients after they had eye surgery. We lived in a house with our two dogs and pet rabbit. The boys painted their rooms blue and my daughter’s room was pink. I was saving up to buy the home and almost had enough money for a down payment. I raised my kids to be respectful — school comes first, and if you do your chores, you get to play. They went to school together right down the street, and swam every day at the Boys and Girls Club. Their morning ritual was to eat breakfast together before I drove them to school. Their favorite days were when I needed to pump gas because they got to eat donuts while they waited in the car.

My detention has affected my children the most. They lost their mother, had to move out of our home to live with their grandmother in a different town, and transferred schools mid-year. Now they each go to different schools. Their grandmother doesn’t speak English and they don’t speak Spanish. I do my best to parent them by phone. I call them in the morning before school and call again when they get home and once more before bed.

As the days go by, each phone call gets more difficult. As a mother, I hate that my children are suffering because of my mistake. Each day, I regret my actions that led to my convictions. Each day, I pray for forgiveness and to be reunited with my children. I would give anything in this world to be allowed to hold them. I completely understand that as a young adolescent I made a choice, but I have learned from my mistakes, and I have paid for them. My children should not have to pay for them eleven and a half years later. Dominic blames himself for the situation, because he thinks that if he hadn’t forgotten his glasses at Hobby Lobby I wouldn’t be in prison.

How do you have to tell an 11 year old that it’s not his fault?