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Split Apart by Deportation, US Family Begins a New Mexican Life in San Miguel


Familia 1

By Jesus Aguado

This month, while many Americans were readying a worldwide protest against the separation of families, the jailing of migrants in camps, and the deaths of migrants in US custody, American citizen Alena Orwin was packing her and her three children’s suitcases.

The young family’s destination was San Miguel de Allende, where they would reunite with Orwin’s husband and the children’s father, Omar Rogel. In the fall of 2018, Rogel was deported after 30 years in the US as an undocumented immigrant, waiting 16 years for a visa interview. After months of separation, the family is now reinventing itself in México, a country where everything is new and unfamiliar.

The family’s story is not unusual among the population of what the Pew Research Center is roughly five million undocumented Mexicans living in the US. More than six million American citizens under 18 live with an undocumented parent, according to the American Immigration Council. Unlike many families who have been separated by a sudden deportation of an undocumented member, the Rogel-Orwins may get a happy ending. Reunited earlier this month, the family is settling into its new life.

A hometown but not a home

Rogel was born in the small Mexican town of San Antonio Solis. His family took him as a three-year-old to the US on a family visa and remained there after it expired. Over time, he acquired a social security number, a driver’s license, and an ID from the state of Georgia. A distinguished student in high school, he graduated from the University of Georgia with an education degree. He married Orwin, and they had three children. Rogel felt like he was living the American dream.

But there were hurdles: when he graduated, for example, he couldn’t get teaching work.

“When I came out of university, it was complicated, because of my immigration status, to get a professional job,” he said. He cleaned roofs instead.

In 2003, hope came in the form of Omar’s mother, who had become a US naturalized citizen. She petitioned the US government for a green card for Rogel. Orwin also tried to sponsor Rogel for a visa.

Sixteen years went by without progress. Then, in September 2018, Rogel received a Department of Homeland Security letter requesting an interview. When Rogel arrived, he was placed into custody.

“…I thought it was to arrange my [immigration] status. When I arrived, they only asked me one question,” he said. “They never opened my case. Only one person decided my destiny. They didn’t see that I had been a distinguished student in high school, that I had a mother who is a naturalized US citizen. They didn’t see that I was married, that I have children who are US citizens. All they said was, ‘He’s here now; we’ll take him out of the country. We’re going to deport you, and there is nothing you can do.’”

Rogel remained in DHS custody for 45 days. Then one night, at 1am, he was told that he was being deported to México. He was flown to Dallas, Texas, in handcuffs. When they reached the border, he was told, “You have to cross.” He found a shelter, where he called his family. For the moment, they could do nothing, and Rogel decided to head to where he was born.

Survival mode

Orwin, meanwhile, remained in Georgia with their children, scrambling to provide for them, as Rogel had been the family’s sole provider. Family and friends came to their aid, and Orwin began working at what she knew how to do: property management and rentals. “But it was not sufficient,” she says.

Friends opened an Internet page and raised $15,000, which helped the family survive. But eventually, Orwin decided it was time for the family to reunite. If they could not do so in the US, she and the children would go to México. Orwin looked online for a city in which to settle and found San Miguel de Allende.

On July 10, the family reunited. Rogel will use his certification as an English teacher to work at Colegio Atabal in colonia El Mirador. The couple’s children will go to school in town, and Orwin will work in real estate. They have also found a network of people who are helping them.

In San Miguel, the family has been particularly supported by an expat from New Jersey named John Bohnel, who is collecting the family’s life story with thoughts of turning it into a documentary.

“We feel well. The community has received us with open arms,” says Orwin. “We were not expecting it. Now we only need to adapt ourselves because everything [in México] is different, even the sounds of horns.”


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