I have been deported from the United States three times, but my family is more important than my freedom

With my daughter

*My name is Leonidas de Jesus Loza Ocon. I am 44 years old. I currently live in El Salvador, but my home and my family are all in the United States. This is the story of my family being torn apart by the inhumane US immigration system, not once, or twice, but three times.*


My immigration story begins in El Salvador in 1984. My father had left for the United States and had been gone for two years by then. My childhood was “normal” for a kid that has to live with just one parent. El Salvador was in the middle of a civil war. The army was recruiting boys my age at the time. I was 12 years old.

The life expectancy for a 12-year-old in combat was very short. My mother was so scared. She thought the United States and my father was the only alternative. So in 1985 my older sister Reyna and I set off for the home of the brave and the land of the free. I believe we arrived in April of 1985.

The coyote that was charged with taking us to the U.S. abandoned us in the middle of the desert. He said he had forgotten something and that he would go back for it and be back shortly. That was at 2 o’clock in the morning. We never saw him again. Some people in our group decided to head back and try to make it to the last inhabited place we had left behind. God only knows if they made it. Some of us decided to head north and by our God’s mercy, we made it. By the time we got to the riverbank my mouth was so dry, I felt death right at the door. Everyone dove head first into the river, we were so thirsty. And then the Border Patrol came and detained everyone. We were taken to Los Angeles to a county lock up there. After a month, we were released and allowed to go to Washington D.C. to my father’s house.

Soon after, my father enrolled me in junior high school. Francis Junior High in N.W. Washington, D.C. In El Salvador I was in the 4th grade. At Francis they set me up in the 7th grade. (It seems I was somewhat intelligent) I was lucky my ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher was a lady from Poland and she taught proper English. I was fluent in about a year. And I was enjoying school very much. There at Francis Junior High I also met the mother of my first two daughters, Jessica and Beverly.

At my confirmation in the late 1980s at St. Thomas Catholic Church in NW Washington, D.C.

But like in any teenager’s life, there were issues in mine, too. I learned to “hook” school. Some friends and I would leave class to go to the zoo. At the time it all seemed innocent and inconsequential. I learned though that every action has a reaction even if it’s later in life. As is my case.

Life had a plan for me though. I started getting in trouble at school not entirely of my own purposeful doing, but my responsibility nonetheless. It began with innocent events that only got worse. For example: one morning I got to school early before it opened for students. My route brought me to the rear parking lot every day and that specific day it had rained the night before. There was this beer can on the ground so I’m 13 and curious. I pick it up. As soon as I have the can in my hand the principal pops the rear door open. He asks me what am I doing. “Oh, nothing.” “What is that in your hand?” “A can.” “Are you drinking on school grounds? “No.” “Lets go to my office.”

I got suspended for a month. The can was half full with rain water. I don’t drink. Beer or any type of liquor is offensive to my taste buds.

Anyways from that point on a string of similar occurrences happened to me. I would get accused and punished for things I didn’t do. But the real bummer was when I met this small group of young boys that were into stealing cars. I got invited once to one of those outings and like a dummy I accepted and went with them.

The first time, I only watched them steal a 1987 Toyota Supra. They drove it around for about a month and got tired of it. They asked me did I want to keep the car. Like the biggest fool I said yes. One night heading to a night club with these two girls I got pulled over by an Arlington county police cruiser. I ended up in juvie for forty five days.

When I went in I didn’t know how to steal a car myself, but when I came out I did.

And that started the next phase of my young and inexperienced life.

I kept getting dumber by the minute. A short fuse combined with stupid arrogance led me to confrontations with my ex that resulted in arrests as well. At one point I obtained a small 22-caliber handgun that I carried around with me. No special reason, only because it was available. In short, there are a lot things I regret with my soul.

My arrest record

It’s strange, but I never considered myself a violent or “evil” person. I now realize that the content of my arrest record makes whoever reads it think not so happy things about me. And that is what shames me the most. During that period of my life, I didn’t know any better. My poor father, God so merciful rest his soul. He pretended to “discipline” me. Except that his idea of discipline was to beat up on the young boy. And I was too stubborn to understand the benefits that I was throwing away by not heeding his discipline. How I wish he hadn’t given up on trying to correct my behavior. Then this would be a different, much happier story.

I am not attempting to excuse my behavior. It’s only that I can’t come to terms with it. Do my family and I deserve the outcome? I take it only God knows the answers to that.

In 2001, it all caught up with me. After the process for one of those arrests, U.S. Immigration started my first removal proceedings. And the thing is, by then I had become a family man. I wasn’t all that fond of spending all those times in jails. So I married, started a family, bought a home, and had about four years of behaving myself.

We were an average family, thriving but content. Life was moving right along. We weren’t even middle class, but we were not complaining. Both my ex-wife and I had relatively good jobs. We even bought a house in the Northeast part of Washington D.C. back in 1997. I had gotten a job at Kang’s farms as a truck delivery driver. It was hard, tiring work but after many months of being locked up I just wanted to have a normal lifestyle. We had two cars, a dog, and two healthy young daughters. All we were missing was the white picket fence.

I begged and pleaded in immigration detention, but it was no use. I remember the deportation officer answering one of my pleas one day. I said, “If you kick me out, my daughters will be left fatherless and they will suffer.” His answer was, “Don’t worry, the government will take care of them.”

Out of respect to my daughters I won’t go into more details. The U.S. government taking care of my then 10 and 7-year-old babies was hardly the case.

In June of 2001, I arrived in El Salvador after living for sixteen years in the United States, growing up there, and leaving behind a wife and two young daughters.

My ex-wife came over and stayed for two months. She left in August and with her my peace of mind. We were having trouble as a couple. When she left, she left behind her wedding band on my pillow. In October, my father graciously gave me $4800 he received as an inheritance. I called my ex and told her that I was ready to come home and reunite with my family. Her answer was, “Don’t bother, I found someone else. Just stay over there.” My heart was broken, and those words did something to me. I became determined to give up my feelings and live here in my country.

I stayed in El Salvador for another 18 months. I used my father’s money to buy a car and even some livestock, in an attempt to accept my fate. I wasn’t going to see my family ever again.


By April of 2003, I had had enough. I sold all my possessions and headed back. I made it across the border and went to find my family. Unfortunately, my ex did not want anything else to do with me. But at least she allowed me to spend some time with my daughters.

I took Jessica and Beverly on short trips. We tried being a normal family but it just didn’t work the way we wanted it to. Both kids wanted their parents to get back together. I can only imagine the frustration they must have felt when they found out daddy wasn’t coming back. I was not the best dad in the world, but they didn’t care about that.

In September of 2005, I got pulled over and subsequently arrested in Arlington County, VA. I dedicated myself to becoming a better man, and hoped that my change would bring me closer to at least my kids. However, we might make plans, but God makes them happen how and when he likes. We couldn’t keep the family together. It seems that the more I tried to be with my daughters the more we drifted apart for this or that reason. My ex-wife and I both made mistakes that ruined our relationship; we were both to blame.

Today nothing can recuperate what all of us lost back then.

September 2005 to March 2007. That’s how long I was kept in jail by both the State of Virginia and the Department of Homeland Security.

Eighteen long months. And then I was deported to El Salvador a second time.

I didn’t notice back then if all these people in the government were holding “detainees” as a ways to make money, like they do now, or just because they’re so backed up with caseloads, as they say now.


I attempt to emigrate to the US because my second wife and our young child are there. To both my wife and I, family is very important.

Before being deported for the third time on April 4, 2017, I was detained by ICE for 10 months. During that time, I probably spent about $2000 in telephone and commissary costs alone. At my initial arrest, the US Border Patrol “discarded” my cell phone, and all three forms of identification I had with me. Some of my belongings were discarded on the spot in the desert.

This a copy of the commissary prices in effect at the Otero Processing Center at the time I was there, proof of the mission of this center’s willingness to rob people blind. The telephone rates are another item designed to make the most amount of money out of detainees and their families. At the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) facility in Florence, AZ, a 15-minute call would cost me $6.00 dollars. It was hard to maintain contact with my family at such a critical phase of my detention.

While I was detained at the Otero Processing Center in New Mexico, my father was attacked by a man in a park near his home on March 21st. That’s when I started begging ICE for everything and anything that they could do to at least let me see my father one last time. They would not. My father died 10 days later.

This was in 1986. My father used to work as a dishwasher at the Othello restaurant on Connecticut Ave. in NW D.C.

At Otero, there were about five hundred persons awaiting their immigration process. I suspect if US government officials are asked as to why they do not observe the bits of the law that come to benefit the detainee, they’ll surely have all sorts of answers for that question.

For example, the law says that a US asylum officer should give a person claiming asylum a “credible fear interview” within 45 days of the case having been referred to them. And that they should take 7 business days to give an answer. Should the answer be negative and if the detainee asks for a “review by a judge,” such review should be done in 7 business days from the date of the negative response. I appealed for political asylum in the United States to prevent my deportation because my life has been threatened in El Salvador. In my case, I officially turned in my “asylum and withholding of removal” petition on November 22, 2016. I got an interview on January 5, 2017. That’s 44 days later. They gave a rushed negative answer on January 9th.

When I read the transcript of the interview, I noticed that it was summarized incorrectly from what I had said so I asked for a review by the immigration judge. I got the second negative response to the interview on January 12th. I asked for another review by the judge. The law says I should have had this review 7 business days afterwards, meaning somewhere around the 19th of January. I finally had the interview on the 16th of March, 2017.

In the end, the asylum people rushed to do my interview. If you asked them why they had to do it so suddenly and why it seemed as if it was previously decided to simply deny everything, they more than likely will give you the sad song and dance about not having enough personnel or that their backlog is so great. And while it may be true, I’ve heard that the Trump administration plans to deny more and more people seeking asylum.

To me, the sense of injustice is so great because not one of the many persons that came across my case along the entire ten months (and there were plenty) had a half a penny’s worth of humanity and/or compassion.

I truly believe that this whole ordeal that came upon me and my family trumps everything I ever did. If only there had been just one person that would have said: I forgive you. That one action would have saved so many hearts from breaking.

In short, I was a witness to how the federal government has so dehumanized immigrants and has politicized the immigration issue so wrongly. It is more important to make money at any cost from detaining people and hurting their families.

My Family. On the bottom right: My wife Meraly and my mom Elida just last year.

At the very moment that I’m writing this, I’m having to watch some short videos of my father’s burial that my wife is sending me through WhatsApp. I have no one and nowhere to go to here in El Salvador. All I’ve got to look forward to is if one day I’m found out to be assassinated. My entire family, but mainly my elderly mother, is having to withstand the loss of my father and at the same time deal with the constant fear of also losing me.

My wife and child live this tragedy in their own way.

I’m having to sort out how I feel about losing my father the way we did. And the very real possibility of losing my wife and kid a second time. Quite honestly, I can’t give anymore. If only I’d been forgiven and allowed to remain besides my family.

Thank you for reading my story and please pass it along so as to not let unjust persons continue to make this world as dark as they are doing right now. Being the strongest or the most intelligent is not worth it if we are going to lose love, forgiveness, decency, and the will to care for and help others when it is easily up to us.



When I review my accomplishments I cringe inside because I’ve managed to accomplish things backwards. When my wife and I got married, we intended that union to last us a whole lifetime. Right now it seems it’s close to being over because the distance is so great and the time we’ve been apart has been too long (two years almost).

My baby girl gets on the phone everyday when I call (thank you WhatsApp) and she wants to tell me so many things but all she can say over and over is “hola papa” (hi daddy). I can feel her enormous need to be with her daddy, and it breaks my heart because as of right now it will not happen.

It’s so bad I’m even considering to attempt to cross the US border again and risk my freedom and my sanity with it.

I recognize the need for our country to be secure and maybe most who work for the government think they are doing what’s right in order to achieve that purpose. But in the end, I want to emphasize the reality of the faults of US Department of Homeland Security. In representation of that office the Border Patrol and ICE are violating all kinds of civil and human rights of the hundreds of thousands of migrants that cross the border between Mexico and the US everyday.

Within the first 24 hours of my “detention,” my personal property was misplaced and it never followed me when I was transferred the next day. The word detention is in quotations because immediately all arrested persons are put in handcuffs as if we are the most dangerous criminals. I mentioned this because I went through the very same detention procedure with Mexican immigration officials. They did not cuff me and their entire process took 6 days from arrest to actual repatriation. In the US it took 10 months. Mexico deported me two times while I was trying to get up to the northern border.

The wording used by US officials is crucial to hiding the truth. For example, they use the word “detained” because we are not in a criminal matter therefore I would expect to be treated like it. On the contrary, detainees are housed in maximum security prisons and treated to the customs of such places. If a person enters such a facility in a not so good state of health as was my case, their ailment may go untreated. I was suffering from acute pain at the bottoms of my feet due to the accumulation of uric acid in my blood stream. It could be controlled with a simple diet that I could never get from the medical department at the Reeves County Detention center in Pecos, TX, where I spent 5 of my 6-month sentence, or at the Otero Processing Center in Chaparral, NM, where I stayed for 4 months in ICE custody.

Is it right?

Is the need for security absolute for those Americans in office?

Or is it just an excuse for hatred, racism, and injustice?

They say those that have committed a crime are dangerous to the safety of all Americans.

I absolutely challenge such a statement. I committed my mistakes over 20 years ago and four of my daughters are Americans by birth. I want to be with them to protect them and help them, not harm them or anyone else for that matter.

I don’t pretend to know what’s best for every nation in the world. I do know, however, that we as a race inhabiting this planet are very thoroughly fulfilling that prophecy in 2 Timothy 3:1–5:

“You must know that in the last days, difficult days will come. Men will be selfish, lovers of money, proud and vain. They will speak against God, they will disobey their parents, they will be ingrates and will not respect religion. They will not have love nor compassion, they will be hearsayers, will not be able to control their passions, they will be cruel and enemies of all that is good, they will be traitors and daring, they will be full of vanity and they will seek their own pleasures instead of seeking God. They’ll appear to be very religious, but with their deeds will deny the true power of religion.”

Leonidas’s story in his own words. Relayed and lightly edited by Catharine Walkinshaw of CIVIC — Las Cruces and Tina Shull, Editor-in-Chief of IMM Print.