Her phone and computer are her only links to a life that is no longer her own.
Unexpectedly, Letty Stegall was deported to Mexico. Her husband Steve and her daughter Jennifer stayed in the family’s Kansas City home, now without her. The family was blindsided by her deportation and are trying to cope and stay as close as possible through technology.
Every day, Letty FaceTimes with her daughter. She encourages Jennifer to complete her schoolwork and together, they recite prayers in Spanish before bedtime. When her husband goes to the grocery store, Letty still makes the grocery list. At the bar where she worked and still runs online, she continues to warmly welcome customers and during dinner time at home, her face joins the family dinner from a laptop window.
The family tries to continue the daily routines through technology. Her smile is missing from the home and neither Steve nor Jennifer can hug Letty. She appears only on a screen and her words come through shaky cellphone connections.
Letty is separated from Steve and Jennifer by 1,600 miles.
“I would like to be there. It’s the only thing I want,” she says of her life in Kansas City, Missouri. “I want to be with my family again.”
After Letty was deported, the family faced incredibly difficult decisions:
Should she get Jennifer out of the only world she knows, where her dreams of going to college and having a career seem so possible? Should Letty ask Steve, born and raised in Kansas City, to leave the business and his house to move to a land whose language he does not speak and whose safety could be compromised by the drug cartels?
“I lost it all. I am alone.”
Steve misses his wife greatly. While they watch Netflix *together,* talk every day, and Letty continues to manage the restaurant through the online cameras and chats, her absence is sorely felt. At the bar she co-owns and manages with her husband, family, friends and clients rallied to tell her story and raise awareness.
Living in Kansas, Deportation
In Kansas City, the fear of being caught without papers had dissipated over the years. The rhetoric of Donald Trump in the Presidential campaign worried Letty a bit, but the future President spoke more than anything about persecuting rapists, murderers, and gang members, not people like her.
Letty was leaving her house for the gym on the morning of February 26, when three cars blocked her. Some agents came out, opened the door of her vehicle and told her she was detained. She asked them to review their papers and thought it was a mistake.
“ I am married to a US Citizen. I have a daughter who is an American.”
The pull-over had to do with an incident that happened six years prior when the police had arrested her a few blocks from her house and had accused her of driving while intoxicated. She cries when she remembers that incident, knowing that she would not be in her current situation if she had not been behind the wheel that day. She says she is paying the price for that mistake yet is convinced that her deportation was unfair.
Letty wonders why the government is persecuting people like her, who committed minor infractions, and not on the “bad hombres” that Trump condemned.
“They didn’t deport dangerous people. The murderers are still back in the US. The bandits are still there. The rapists are still there,” she told SinEmbargo, Mexican press.
There are a greater number of arrests for convictions for minor offenses, such as driving while intoxicated ( 59,985 arrests in 2017) than arrests of people convicted of homicides, rapes or kidnappings (in total, 6,553 in 2017), reports SinEmbargo. Arrests of people without convictions increased significantly during the Trump administration. Under the presidency of Barack Obama, there was a change of tactics. ICE was instructed to act with discretion and put on hold the deportations of people with children or Americans who live in the country since before 2010 and never got into trouble.
The drunk driving arrests were seen as “an intermediate priority,” according to Randy Capps, deportation expert at the Institute for Immigration Policy, and people like Letty Stegall were generally allowed to remain in the country during the last stage of the Government’s Obama. They had to report regularly to ICE offices, pay commissions to process their cases and stay out of trouble.
Four days after being arrested in February, Letty got her deportation adjourned pending a hearing. But by then the ICE had already handcuffed and sent her on a flight to Brownsville, Texas, where she was instructed to cross the border on foot and return to Mexico.
Her family did not know she was gone.
Shirley Stegall, Steve’s mother also expressed her grave disappointment for her daughter-in-law’s deportation. She said she felt ashamed and thought the US would deport gang members and criminals when US president made election promises.
“She’s not dead,” Jennifer said when talking about her mother. “But she’s not here.”
All the important moments in Jennifer’s life – her senior year in high school, Christmas, graduation, college – will be overshadowed in part because the person she loves most will not be there to share them.
“My God,” Jennifer wrote to the immigration judge who takes her mother’s case, “my own country is the one that has caused me so much pain.”
“You get your mother’s love on the phone, but not her hugs, not her touch, not her special warm feeling you get from your mom.” said Jenny.
In her most recent interview with Telemundo, Letty told the reporter, “the greatest hope I have is that I get a call tomorrow and they tell me that I can go home.”
That day is far and uncertain, but Letty continues to hope that it will come.