The human side of deportations

Norma Contreras, far right, with her sons Joel Portillo Jr. and Reynieri Portillo, daughter Yerlin Portillo and husband Joel S. Portillo.
Norma Contreras, far right, with her sons Joel Portillo Jr. and Reynieri Portillo, daughter Yerlin Portillo and husband Joel S. Portillo. Courtesy of Yerlin Portillo

They’re a nice-looking, all-American family, sitting there together in a Charlotte restaurant. But minister Joel Portillo, his wife Norma Contreras and their three kids are in a world of tumult thanks to a confused, ever-changing, politically-roiled immigration policy in the United States. For they’re not Americans. And Norma Contreras is not with the family anymore, She’s being held in Georgia while she awaits deportation to her native Honduras.

Oh, she’s played by the rules, fighting to stay in this country, reporting to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But despite having been a law-abiding person for 17 years in Charlotte, she’s been ordered back to Honduras because of President Trump’s harsh immigration policies, most of which he’s unaware of, beyond the fact that he needs to pander to the hard-right political base who cheered his targeting of immigrants on the 2016 campaign trail.

It’s true that most of the people who are deported by ICE have been convicted of or charged with crimes, something like 89 percent, The Charlotte Observer, which profiled this family, reports.

But then there are people like Norma Contreras, who’s an innocent bystander to Trump’s hardline policies. But she’s getting deported. And, by the way, in Honduras she may well be persecuted, not that the worst persecution of all won’t be separation from her family, which includes two older children and a 14-year-old son, Reynieri. It was he who wrote in an affidavit to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security: “I always thought that only bad people end up in jail. At home and in school they have always taught me that if you are a bad person who has hurt other people you go to jail as punishment. No one every teaches you that good people like my mom end up in jail, too.”

But it’s true, yes, in a country where the Congress is too cowardly to come up with immigration policies that recognize the absurdity of trying to kick out of the country millions of people who are playing by the rules, working hard and raising families, and instead, continues to avoid the issue. Meanwhile, Trump continues to exploit the immigration issue and leave families like this one and all those under DACA in limbo or in the case of this family in an even worse situation.

Yes, it’s fair to say that those in the country illegally who are breaking laws ought to be deported. But to lump all immigrants into that category goes against the founding cornerstones of this democracy, or the principle of welcoming all, such as those who first saw this country on Ellis Island and became among America’s most distinguished and accomplished people.

Federal officials say they’re playing by the rules, going by the book, etc., in their dealings with Norma Contreras. (She was deported years ago but returned.) Maybe they are. But the immigration rules in the country are nonsensical, and attempts by President Obama to help young immigrants who weren’t involved in the decision of their families to enter the country illegally, and to give breaks to those trying to get educations, have been upended by the nonsensical policies, such as they are policies, of a president who cares only for the echoes of cheers during his campaign and not for the consequences of his actions.

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer