Written by Sydney Bouchat, a Campus Progress blogger
Hector Lopez is arrested before he knows his crime. At the age of twenty, the Portland State University sophomore discovers he is an undocumented immigrant while sitting in a federal holding cell in Portland, Oregon. After spending ten days at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington, and before he could find a lawyer, he is deported to Mexico, knowing neither the people nor the language. This is only the beginning of what becomes a grueling four-month ordeal for Hector, away from his home, family, and friends.
You were arrested on August 23, 2010. What was that experience like? It must have been very difficult.
Absolutely, especially when you’re not expecting anything to happen, and with me not knowing anything about my legal status. At first, you’re kind of . . . you think it’s not real. Like, ‘Oh, you must have the wrong person.’ But after you realize that it is you that [the authorities] are after, it quickly puts you into a panic.
So you were not aware at the time that you were an undocumented immigrant?
No. I have a Social [Security number] and a driver’s license. And, you know, usually when you hear about people with immigration problems, you hear of them changing names or doing things to fit in, but I never had to do any of that. I figured if I was [illegal], my parents would have told me.
How exactly did the US immigration authorities go about taking you out of the country?
I thought that as soon as I talked to a judge, someone would come to their senses and realize that this shouldn’t be happening and everything would be okay. And then, [immigration] just said, ‘Hey you, you’re leaving today.’ And I said, ‘Well, I don’t know anyone. I don’t speak the language. What do you want me to do?’ They said, ‘Well, we can’t give you legal advice.’ At around 9 a.m. [September 1, 2010], I was taken from my cell. I was given my clothes back and then handcuffed at my waist, wrists, and ankles. Then I was put on a prison plane. It made three stops. It was a twelve-hour process. We landed in Brownsville, Texas, at about 9:30 p.m. that same day. From there, [the other deportees and I] were driven to the border and made to walk across.
You were made to transport yourself across international lines?
They kind of just drop you right off at the border. You can’t go anywhere because you’re immigrant of a federal area, so you only have one way to walk, and that’s toward Mexico.
At this time, where was your father? Was he with you?
No, my dad was going to ask for asylum, but when I got deported before him for no reason, he gave up his right to fight for his case so he could be with me in Mexico. He was deported about two weeks after me because he gave up his case. But this whole situation when I was deported was by myself.
You were in Mexico for two-and-a-half weeks before your father gave up his right to asylum to be with you. Describe that experience.
That [first] night, I went to the bus station that was a little ways away from the border. There was a group of about 150 of us that had just been deported. My phone was dead, so I couldn’t call anybody. I couldn’t ask for a hotel. Three people had gotten murdered in that area a couple hours beforehand. I found a gentleman who spoke some English and he told me I probably shouldn’t be leaving the bus station because it was dangerous. So I slept at the bus station that night. The next day, I called my mom, who told me to get a bus ticket to Mexico City, where a lady who was my mom’s old neighbor was going to take me in for a while. I took about a sixteen-hour bus ride from the border to Mexico City. The lady picked me up when I got to the bus station in Mexico City. I stayed there for almost two months.
What was it like living in Mexico?
I saw moms and children sleeping on the street. They were homeless. And I thought, ‘You know, where I grew up, we don’t let that happen.’ I wasn’t used to seeing things like that. I didn’t want to be there, but I couldn’t leave. The majority of the two months I spent in my room by myself. It was almost like I didn’t even have a life. It was too much to handle, and you just kind of hide yourself and try to deal with it.
Photo from Noah Jaquemin via flickr creative commons
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