Sunday, August 2, 2009

Fredy Zepeda

This story in the Boston Globe has really gotten me down today:

A Guatemalan immigrant named Fredy Zepeda was killed in a hit-and-run accident outside of his house 2 weeks ago. His family raised the money to send his body home to Guatemala and the burial happened recently. Zepeda had left Guatemala in 1998, leaving behind a 9-month-old baby. His son, who is 11 now, met his father for the first time in the coffin. Zepeda could not return to Guatemala sooner because he did not have any immigration status in the U.S. Under the current immigration laws, if you are in the U.S. without status for over a year and you later leave, you are not allowed to come back for 10 years. So a lot of immigrants get here, fall out of status, and then are stuck. In Zepeda's case, his wife and 1-year-old son lived here. His older son was in Guatemala. So either way, Zepeda was separated from immediate family.

Although I never met him, this guy could have been my client. Or he could've been someone I met during a consultation. I do a lot of consultations for people for whom there is absolutely nothing I can do to help them. In Zepeda's case, it wouldn't have mattered that one of his kids was a U.S. Citizen. You can't gain legal status through a child until the child becomes an adult. And even then, if you entered the U.S. illegally (ie: sneaking across the border), it is almost impossible for you to ever gain legal status in the U.S., even if you have U.S. Citizen relatives.

There are lots of people who come to the U.S. to work because it's the only way they can support their families back in Central America. I don't agree with his decision to leave his son back in Guatemala, but a lot of people think they have no choice. What's going to become of his kids now? They have pictures that show where Zepeda's father lived. The poverty in Guatemala is just horrible.

I don't think that the U.S. should encourage illegal immigration, people sneaking across the border and such. But don't we want people like Zepeda to be here? He worked as a dry-wall hanger. That's hard work. He was killed as he was strapping his son into a car seat. There really needs to be some way for people like Zepeda, hard-working people with established lives in the U.S., to gain legal status in the U.S. It is just heart-breaking that he returned to Guatemala in a coffin.

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