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Illegal immigrant living in Oklahoma City decides to leave the American dream

Gabriel, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, has decided to return home after his family was broken apart by the deportation of his son and wife.

BY RON JACKSON Modified: June 3, 2010 at 12:09 pm •  Published: May 30, 2010
Family means everything to Gabriel.

Only God ranks higher for this devout Catholic, husband and father of three. Everything else is a distant third on his priority list, even the American dream he began chasing 11 years ago when he left his native Mexico. He rose to the position of foreman for a commercial construction company, paid taxes and bought a small home on Oklahoma City's south side.

Then that dream was dissolved by the enforcement of laws he knowingly broke as an undocumented immigrant in pursuit of a better life. Within a span of 20 months, Gabriel watched helplessly as federal authorities deported his oldest child, Gabriel Jr., then his wife, Maria. His youngest son — Mario, 18 — later chose to join them in Mexico.

Now, with his family divided by an international border, he will sacrifice his dream. He will voluntarily leave the United States with his 16-year-old daughter, Marisol, and return to his impoverished and increasingly violent homeland.

"We tried to do all the right things by working hard, paying taxes, buying a home,” said the soft-spoken Gabriel, who asked that his last name be withheld for fear of being deported before he can settle his affairs in Oklahoma. "I wish the law took more consideration into families like mine, but I'm thankful to this country for the opportunity.

"The separation of my family is just more than I can bear.”

Gabriel's story speaks to people on all sides of the immigration debate.

People who advocate the immediate deportation of all illegal immigrants — and who helped pass House Bill 1804 in 2007 — will likely view his story victoriously. Others will question its humanity in a society that has often turned a blind eye to a population here illegally serving as farmhands, servants, cooks, roofers, hotel maids and factory workers.

For people like Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform — an organization that helped craft language for HB 1804 — an illegal immigrant is nothing more than "a criminal” who breaks the law, or someone akin to a tax-evader. He argues that their fates are steered by their own hands.

"Is it right?” asked the Rev. Raul Reyes of the Little Flower Church in Oklahoma City, which the family attended. "All I can say is this family has endured a lot of suffering to live in Oklahoma, and they are hurting.”

Gabriel said he realizes House Bill 1804 had no direct role in the deportation of his wife and son. But he blames the "anti-immigration” bill for creating what he says is an unnecessary climate of fear.

"House Bill 1804 is the worst thing to come along,” said Gabriel, 39. "All it did was make people — good, hardworking people — afraid.”

The price
Gabriel Jr., 20, Mario and their mother now live with relatives in Juarez.

"Life is dramatically different here,” said Gabriel Jr. in a recent phone interview. "One day, shortly after my arrival, I was riding a bus to school. I looked out the window and saw a decapitated head hanging from a bridge.”

Nearly 6,000 people have been killed in Juarez in the past two years by warring drug cartels. In recent weeks alone, federal and local police have been assassinated in broad daylight as the Juarez and Sinaloa cartels battle for control of key drug routes to the north.

In November, Gabriel's sister, Irma, was kidnapped in Juarez. Gabriel said her abductors gave the family 12 hours to pay a $50,000 ransom. The family paid, but now lives in constant fear.

U.S.-Mexican law enforcement officials have said the cartels will pay $200 per kill to hit men, many of whom are recruited from the estimated 15,000 gang members in the border city of 1.3 million.

This is where Gabriel Jr. — immersed in American culture since age 9 – must now survive.

"In Oklahoma, I played on my high school soccer team and wrestled and hung out with my girlfriend,” he said. "Here, it's pretty dangerous to be on the street after dark.

Unenforceable provisions

Several legal challenges have been brought against HB 1804. Currently, three portions of the law are unenforceable due to appeals and district court decisions. One would prohibit retaining undocumented workers if legal workers are fired. The second would require businesses working with private contractors to obtain documentation that workers are in the country legally. If they can't get the paperwork, the provision would require the business to withhold taxes at the highest rate. A district court judge must decide whether to grant a permanent injunction barring enforcement of the provisions.

An appeals court in April overturned a preliminary injunction against enforcement of a part of the law that would require employers to use a federal computer database called E-Verify to check the eligibility of workers.

In a separate challenge, a Tulsa County judge ruled one provision of the law is not germane and therefore unconstitutional. The provision would allow higher education regents to eliminate from eligibility for resident tuition those illegal immigrants who have successfully completed the General Educational Development certificate program.

Did you know?

In 2006, 570 immigration-related bills were introduced, 84 laws were enacted and 12 resolutions adopted. As of March 31, legislatures from 45 states had introduced a combined 1,180 bills and resolutions relating to immigrants and refugees. Thirty-four state legislatures had passed 107 laws and adopted 87 resolutions, and another 38 bills were pending a governor's signature.

Source: National Conference of State Legislatures



Momentum begins in Oklahoma to designate English as the official language in the state. The English-only bill is defeated in March 2003.


Then-Rep. Kevin Calvey, R-Del City, proposes legislation requiring state employees to report illegal immigration. The bill fails to get a vote in the full House.


Rep. Randy Terrill's House Bill 3119, a bill that would have required proof of citizenship when getting identification cards at school, registering to vote or seeking public assistance, is killed in a Senate committee.


→Jan.19: HB 1804 filed; the bill makes it a violation of state law to transport or shelter an illegal immigrant, requires proof of lawful presence for public benefits and for identification documents issued by public agencies.

→May 1: House concurred with Senate amendments, passed the bill 85-13 and sent it to the governor.

→May 8: Signed by the governor.

→Nov. 1: Law took effect.


Terrill files "Son of 1804,” the Oklahoma Real Immigration Enforcement and Reform Act of 2008. The bill would set up a fund for law enforcement to be trained and certified to perform federal immigration law enforcement.


→The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, The State Chamber, the Oklahoma City and Tulsa chambers of commerce, and the Oklahoma restaurant and hotel and lodging associations file a lawsuit against HB 1804 challenging its constitutionality.

→March: Terrill's "Son of 1804,” known as the English-only bill, does not advance.

→April: Tulsa District Judge Jefferson Sellers decides a lawsuit against HB 1804 will go forward.


→U.S. District Judge Robin Cauthron grants a preliminary injunction against the law, stopping the enforcement of some employer-related provisions.

→The 10th U.S. Court of Appeals opens an appeals case for the Oklahoma attorney general to challenge Cauthron's decision.


→Feb. 24: Terrill's HB 3384, a bill requiring school districts to report to the state the number of students who are illegal immigrants and how much it's costing to educate them, passes a House committee.

→March 10: HB 3384 passes the House, 71-26, and goes to the Senate. It doesn't make it out of a Senate committee.

→April 19: The 10th Circuit refuses to reconsider its decision barring Oklahoma from enforcing parts of a law.

→April 23: Arizona's immigration law signed by Gov. Jan Brewer


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