The past two-and-a-half years have been very difficult for Gaby Espinosa, a Norwalk teen who is among the thousands of American youth forced to live without a parent because of deportation.
Her father, Alex Espinosa, was removed to his native Colombia in 2011.
“My dad used to spoil us all the time. When he was gone, it was like … this is real. You’re on your own now,” Gaby said.
“It’s the worst thing that can happen to a human being. Being separated from the family is terrible,” Alex Espinosa said. Alex Espinosa’s journey began in 1989.
Fearing for his safety, he left Colombia for a better life in America. He admits he was crossing the U.S./Mexico border illegally when he was stopped.
Alex Espinosa was detained, but wasn’t present at his immigration hearing, where he was tagged with a voluntary departure. He maintains he wasn’t told he had to leave the country by a certain time.
His new attorney, Glenn Formica, said that’s how Alex Espinosa’s legal woes began.
“The immigration court, even in 1989, should have had him in front of the judge, and the judge should have said, 'Mr. Espinoza, you understand that you're being deported today, you understand that you're getting this special condition to your deportation,’” Formica said.
Formica said Alex tried to correct his status for years.
Although he paid taxes and didn’t have a criminal record, ever-changing immigration laws in the 1990s complicated Alex Espinosa’s quest for citizenship.
“What Alex’s case highlights more than anything, is someone who tried to do it right, someone who did try to follow the rules,” Fomica said.
Formica said immigration reform is Alex Espinosa’s best chance to be reunited with his family.
Under the current law, he has to wait another eight years to re-enter the country legally. That’s an unfathomable reality for Gaby Espinosa.
“In another eight years, I’ll be 27. My brother will be 23. [My dad will have] missed our entire youth. It hurts me that he’s going to miss all that,” Gaby said.
For now, the only way Gaby Espinosa can see her father is if she travels to Colombia, which is unaffordable for her.
While Gaby Espinosa is hopeful her father will return to America someday, she hopes people understand how difficult it is for kids and families who are separated by deportation.
“[My dad] isn’t a criminal. He’s done nothing wrong. He has a clean record. … For this to happen to him, it just makes no sense. It’s an injustice to our family,” she said.