A young mother tells her story of her fight to stay in the United States with her five children. If deported to Mexico, Vanessa will be forced to leave the only live she knows.
Dodge City resident Vanessa Melendez was just 6 years old when she arrived in the United States. If asked today, she can barely remember a life in Mexico. For Vanessa who is now in her thirties, Kansas has been the only home she's known but today she's fighting to stay as she faces potential deportation that would force her to not only abandon the only life she knows but will force her to leave her five children behind.
Vanessa remembers being in her early teens when she first realized she was living in the United States illegally. When she tried looking for her first job, employers asked her for credentials she did not have.
For her, that was the defining moment of what her life would be like — the sense of belonging was shredded and the newborn dream of citizenship would become an ongoing goal that would seem unreachable.
While in her teenage years, Vanessa became a mother and soon after married a U.S. citizen.
"I thought since the father of my child was a citizen, I wouldn't have to struggle so much," She said. "But I continued to struggle because now we just couldn't afford it."
In discovering how expensive the process to naturalization would be Vanessa became discouraged, and as a mother, her sole focus was to remain in the United States to find the little work she could to provide for her child.
Today, Vanessa finds herself a single mother who is the sole provider for five children.
"I pay everything at my house," she said. "I pay rent, I pay all my bills…I don't know how I do it, but I just do."
In 2012, Vanessa was cited for a traffic violation. Through that incident, authorities discovered that Vanessa was an illegal immigrant and she was transported to The Wichita Detention Facility where she was placed on a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) hold.
ICE is the investigative department of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security created in 2003 to enforce immigration laws, including apprehending and removing individuals who reside in the United States illegally.
"A lot of people are in there," Vanessa said about the detention center. "They treat you like a criminal, they handcuff your feet and your hands — my gosh, it was hard. You feel like you did something really wrong."
"But then, I realized it was a good thing I got caught because then you are demanded to go to court and they give you information on who to talk to and the things you have to do — it's kind of a way out — but financially, emotionally, it's not."
After two weeks, Vanessa was let out on a $3,000 bail, a bond she was able to pay by selling her vehicle.
On a case-by-case basis, individuals are permitted to post bail under the conditions that they obtain an attorney right away to begin the legal process to obtaining residency.
According to Vanessa, she obtained an attorney who asked for an upfront fee of $6,000 promising to begin the legal process by filing all the paperwork necessary, including appearing at court hearings on the defendant’s behalf.
"I had to ask everyone I knew for money in order to pay him," she said. "But in the end, I lost that money – some lawyers rob you – you have to be real sure on who you're talking to."
Vanessa said the attorney she hired had not filed any paperwork and had not communicated with her to keep her up to date with her case, forcing her to obtain a new attorney.
"When I obtained my new lawyer, she verified that nothing had been filed with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services," she said. "Now my new lawyer had only two weeks to do everything that my previous lawyer had not done."
Vanessa hired Angela Ferguson with Austin & Ferguson L.L.C out of Kansas City, Mo.
"In Vanessa's case, we are applying for cancelation of deportation," Ferguson said. "We are going to base it on the time she's lived here and on the fact that she has five children whom all are citizens."
According to the Kansas City attorney, under the Obama administration, 2 million people have been deported.
"He promised immigration reform," She said. "We don't have comprehensive reform yet, they keep moving up the bar and in the meantime, these families will continue to be devastated."
Ferguson said that the judge in June's hearing will take into consideration Vanessa' time of residency in the U.S., her moral character and the hardship her children would suffer if she were to be deported.
"[Her children] are a wide range of ages. They are the ones the judge will pay the most attention to." Ferguson said. "She has a beautiful family, her children will suffer extremely if she's deported. I've had her children in my office crying – the stress this puts on the children is horrible."
Vanessa, whose oldest most recently graduated from high school and whose youngest is learning his first words, said that if deported her children would remain in Dodge City in the care of family members.
"My boys have talked about it. They said they would go with me but Mexico is a scary place, there's so much violence," Vanessa said. "And they've all already formed a life here, I could not bring myself to make them live there with me."
"I think about it every single day. I’m sorry, I get emotional," the young mother said fighting through tears. "I have sacrificed everything, right now I'm driving my dad’s car since I had to sell mine, I don't have any money...I'm not even sure how I'm going to pay my attorney. I feel stressed every day. You think you have so many friends but when it comes down to it, no one is there. The only people you can count on is your family — I hope I get to stay — only then, I’ll finally be able to breathe.”
Vanessa's hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, June 4, when the judge will determine if he/she believes Vanessa is eligible for an immigrant visa and then will submit judgement to the prosecutor with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
But even then, If Vanessa is granted a visa, it is not known when she will actually receive it.
According to Ferguson, only 4,000 visas are allowed for the entire nation for the entire year. If all the visas are accounted for, for the year of 2014, Vanessa will be placed on a waiting list and that's not to say 4,000 are not already waiting for next year's visas.
While on the waiting list for a visa, individuals are immune to deportation and are granted a work card and driver’s license.
In the event that Vanessa is denied residency and deportation is ordered, she has the right to appeal the order after a year while remaining in the U.S., if the appeal is denied, Vanessa will be deported to Mexico and will not be allowed back in the U.S.