by Jasmine Mendoza

The Mendozas — Reunited in Mexico on July 12, 2014.

My greatest fear was being a single parent. It came true on February 26, 2013, in the form of deportation.

After nearly losing Claudio in the desert in an attempt to come home Father’s Day weekend after he was deported in April, after waking up every night between 2–6 a.m. because every time I touched him he broke into a million pieces and drifted away, after learning how to prime and bleed a furnace from YouTube and learning how to do a radiator flush, after watching my son start talking and walking alone, after I sold almost everything I owned except what I could stuff in a car and back of a truck and still leave room for my two dogs —

I decided this was it, I was going to México.

I walked through what was once a home and now empty walls of memories, the place we carried our first born through the door and danced bachata on the living room floor, my whole life and everything we built was gone, just like that. Over a deportation order from 1998 and a seatbelt.

I will admit now I sat in that empty house and lost it holding my son. I got up, looked back one last painful time, and shut the door. I started my car and told the driver of the truck to hit the road. I left from Norwalk, Connecticut, on a warm July evening. I took one last look at Connecticut Avenue as I drove down the road and left everything and everyone I knew behind.

The first night we slept in Pennsylvania. Near Virginia, a tire had blown and set us back hours and a lot of money. Through the whole trip, I parked at truckers’ gas stations under lights and pulled my little man up front, locked the car, snuggled and drifted off. I will say something about the truckers’ stops — I found some of the cleanest and nicest shower facilities.

Georgia came and my heart was butterflies. By Texas I was in tears. Then came international bridge, a traffic jam, and there was one more thing — I had never gotten a passport for my son due to it being denied for not having both parents’ signatures. I prayed. I was a girl that had never left New England and had come this far and had taken almost a week to reach the border, emotions were high, and after eating and living in a car with dogs I wanted out!

I pulled up to the toll booth, “3.50 please.” He was nicer than I thought he would be. He saw my dog and came around the car to look at her. I paid my toll and my stomach sank, what happens if they don’t let me cross? No papers on my dogs, no passport on my son, a car full of stuff, right there I said, “If I’m supposed to be here this will all work out.” I drove up to the bar and it lifted up. I saw cars being parked in waiting areas, being pulled apart. I made eye contact with one of the officers, he looked at me and my car and waved me through. “What’s next?” I thought. I grabbed the birth certificates and set them in my lap for the next step. I drove around the white wall and couldn’t believe my eyes, “OMG I’m in Mexico!”

Claudio was sitting on the corner of the street (you can see the corner and wall in this picture of us above). I drove the car across, I don’t even remember how I got it in park, I was physically shaking.

After 18 months of hell, this was finally it! I’m going to admit right now we collapsed on the street together crying. “It’s over, you’re safe, it’s over,” he kept repeating. We finally released one another and I woke his sleeping little 26-month-old. The last time Claudio saw his son, Cruz was 8 months old. Before I could get Cruz out of the car, our dog Blanca cleared me and had Claudio on the ground. I grabbed our piece of heaven, “Cruz, that’s daddy.”

Claudio said, “My god, he can walk?”

“I hope so, at age two.”

Cruz was scared at first. I took his hand and placed it in daddy’s and Cruz looked up and smiled. Claudio finally held him and this photo was taken. July 12, 2014.

We are not victims. We are survivors of the US government.

You never realize how strong you are until something like this happens. Never lose hope, and I would do it all again as long as it meant my family being together.

We didn’t let ICE win.

We are the Mendozas.

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