A Salvadoran mother of three from Melbourne, who has been in Florida more than 15 years and has two U.S.-born children, is facing deportation as early as Saturday. Why? What it comes down to is this: In 2012, she was detained in a traffic stop because she wasn’t wearing a seat belt. The officer discovered she didn’t have a driver’s license and arrested her.
She was turned over to Immigrations and Customs (ICE) agents and, because she had entered the country illegally after fleeing the bloodshed in El Salvador, she was ordered deported. But for eight years her deportation was put on hold, as long as she reported regularly to Immigration and Customs Enforcement appointments, which she did. She also avoided any other trouble with the law. But the Trump administration has now decided she must go, despite the fact that she has two American citizen boys at home, ages 11 and 2.
Her name is Vilma Diaz, age 41, and I am the immigration attorney who represents her. She and her husband run a two-person landscaping service. They also are regular attendees at the Nueva Vida (New Life) Baptist Church in Melbourne, where her husband conducts a special ministry.
Vilma also must dedicate much of her time to her 11-year-old son, Axel, who has severe health problems -- asthma, serious gastrointestinal problems, and a congenital heart defect that must be monitored annually by a cardiologist.
Does a church-going housewife who spends all her time taking her child to the doctor and attending church functions pose a threat to society? Is a woman with one traffic ticket to her name one of the vicious killers President Donald Trump has warned us about? Personally, I have five lifetime traffic tickets to my name, and they're still letting me practice law, so I sure hope not.
When she is deported, she will take her U.S.-born children with her to a nation that has been ranked “the murder capital of the world.” This is the home base of the vicious street gang MS-13 we're talking about. As U.S. citizens, her children will almost certainly be targeted by gangsters, who will figure they have U.S. family members with money. Extortion, rape, kidnapping of her or her children, murdering one of them -- none of these things happening to them will surprise me if I hear about it in the near future.
This deportation will be especially dangerous for Axel, who has had to be rushed to the emergency room over a dozen times with asthma attacks. In El Salvador, he'll be a 90-minute drive from the nearest medical center with no vehicle to get there. He regularly has to use his nebulizer, which requires electricity, and electricity in most areas of that country is far from dependable.
Doctors have not yet determined the source of his severe gastrointestinal problem. He vomits frequently, sometimes multiple times a day. Furthermore, there is always a risk that his congenital heart defect could one day result in complications, which could be disastrous if he is not monitored by a cardiologist. In fact, his cardiologist requested that he return this month for a cardiac stress test but that won't happen with this deportation.
Did Vilma want to drive without a license? No, obviously she didn’t. While 14 states in this country allow undocumented workers to have driver’s licenses, Florida has refused to do so. Florida’s three largest industries – agriculture, tourism and construction – all depend on those workers to do the work that the state needs. Arguably, Florida depends more on the undocumented than any other state to foment its economy, but Florida lawmakers look for ways to make the lives of those workers as precarious as possible.
In an area like Melbourne, you have a choice between driving or neglecting your children. You either drive or let your children go without food and go without medical attention when they are sick. Do you miss your child's annual cardiologist appointment in Orlando? Do you miss the meeting at your child’s school where his illnesses are being evaluated and his education being discussed? What is the worse crime -- driving without a U.S. license, or felony child neglect?
It's not something that the threat of a ticket or arrest or even deportation will prevent. Parents will do anything to protect their kids. So, with the kind of laws we have in Florida, you're going to have uninsured drivers on the road no matter what. What other states have learned is that it's safer for everyone if we make sure that even undocumented people can obtain car insurance.
In the end, we are not just speaking about Vilma and her driving infraction but the future of her U.S.-born children. If you want to prioritize the well-being of U.S. citizens over people who entered the country unlawfully, you should do so in this case as well. Deporting Vilma will put the lives of her children at risk, especially Axel. Let this little boy stay where he has access to medical care and English-speaking schools, where he can one day become a contributing taxpayer with a U.S. high school diploma and hopefully a college degree.
If he survives the carnage in El Salvador and returns here as an adult, as a U.S. citizen but with no U.S. high school diploma, what kind of future will he face and what kind of taxes is he going to be paying here? Here is an interesting fact I picked up: Second-generation Americans are the highest-contributing taxpayers of people in their age group. Keeping families together is the best economic stimulus our country can get. That's why Americans cannot stress enough the importance of the family unit. We have to look at what makes sense from both a humanitarian and an economic standpoint.
Deporting Vilma Diaz will not make any U.S. citizens safer. In fact, it will endanger the lives of two of those citizens – her children. It shouldn’t happen.
Karen Iezzi is an immigration attorney based in Satellite Beach.