Chuck lay semi-conscious for some undeterminable amount of time before he noticed the stars moving above his head. He also felt the ground move beneath his sore back and realized someone had control of his arms. In fact, he recognized two voices, whispering in Spanish, a female and another voice that he couldn’t make out. The two unknown people rolled him onto a tough plastic canvass and proceeded to drag the tarp across the road and along the embankment.
Chuck’s ankles raked the hard, dry clay and kicked up a cloud of dust. His vision blurred. He couldn’t make out the faces of the pair that gripped his forearms and hoisted him across the desert.
The moon followed overhead as the mystery Samaritans maneuvered him down the road, across the gutter and onto a short stretch of pavement.
The stars twinkled. The breeze tickled his face. And then, the stars disappeared. The last feeling Chuck recalled of the evening was of four arms struggling to lift him off a cement floor onto a small, creaky cot. The cheap two-inch-thick mattress felt so inviting to his weary body, he couldn’t help but curl his legs into his chest and drop to sleep.
Stephanie sat at a dark oak conference table in Rupert’s small, but exquisite office. His assistant left for the evening. Rupert retrieved papers from the large ornate desk in his adjourning private office.
Stephanie stewed, recalling an argument with Britney just prior to leaving for the appointment with her lawyer over her lack of engagement in the college searching process.
“Have you looked through the list of colleges you bookmarked?”
“Have you studied for your SATs?”
“Have you researched any of the application deadlines?”
Britney’s lack of initiative boiled Stephanie’s blood, especially given the added pressure of Chuck’s sudden disappearance from their lives.
“I’m just not sure college is for me,” Britney moped, slumping on the couch in her pajamas. “I think I need to take a gap year.”
“The hell you do,” Stephanie replied.
“I just need to find myself,” Britney countered.
“You’ve got three mirrors in your room,” Stephanie barked at her. “You’re right here. You don’t need to find yourself. You need to apply yourself. Your grades are down. You haven’t taken a damn step forward in the college process. I’ve done all the work for you. You have to care about your life a little bit.”
Britney’s final pronouncement still rang in Stephanie’s ears.
“Well, I don’t,” Britney said before bounding up the stairs to her room.
Stephanie’s train of thought snapped with Rupert’s quiet clearing of his throat as he re-entered the room.
“Did the faxes come in?” she asked him.
“Senator Sanchez came through for us,” he said. “She sent them to me just before you got here.”
“What did she find out?” Stephanie beamed. “Anything helpful?”
“Well,” Rupert cleared his throat again. “I just need to remind you that this process won’t be easy.”
“I know,” Stephanie replied. “You’ve told me to temper my expectations. I get it. Do they know where he is?”
“Well,” Rupert cleared his throat and applied his reading glasses. “There are eight most likely cities where they may have taken him.”
“May have taken him?” Stephanie spit her words, repeating Rupert’s last phrase. “They don’t know?”
“Don’t they keep records? How can they send someone away and not keep track of where they take him?”
“They’re not very efficient,”
“No shit. They’re worse than the Goddam DMV. What does the fax say?”
“There are eight likely cities to which deportees are typically expelled,” Rupert read from the thin fax paper in his right hand, before scanning and paraphrasing. “There’s Tijuana and Mexicali, but those cities are typically used by the California unit.”
Stephanie held her hand to her mouth as Rupert listed the names of Mexican cities that, as far as she perceived, had tough reputations as rundown, dangerous, drug cartel-infested havens.
“The wild card cities are Nogales, Agua Prieta, Cuidad Juarez and Reynosa,” Rupert said. “From what Senator Sanchez could find out, they’re the most likely places. But there’s also a chance he could be in Piedas Negras or Cuidad Acuna.”
“Why do they go to so many different places?” Stephanie asked.
“They have an agreement with the Mexican government to avoid concentrating people in any one place,” Rupert said.
“And what happens when they get there?”
“They’re greeted by volunteers that escort them to shelters so they can get a hot meal and a place to sleep for the night.”
“Like a homeless shelter?” Stephanie asked, sheepishly.
“Yes,” Rupert continued. “They have big facilities in Tijuana, Nogales and Cuidad Juarez, but sometimes they fill up. When they do, it can become dangerous for an American deportee to be in these cities without the guidance and assistance of the volunteers and the shelters. So, if the shelters are full on a given day, ICE takes them to alternate locations in hopes there will be volunteers available to help them in these smaller cities like Piedras Negras, Cuidad Acuna and Reynosa.”
“Oh my God,” Stephanie quivered. “Do you think he made it into one of the shelters? Are you saying he could just be dumped onto the streets of some random Mexican shithole slum and left there to die?”
“Senator Sanchez is working with her contacts to find out exactly where he is,” Rupert placed his hand on Stephanie’s shoulder. “We have to remain hopeful that he’s ok. I promise I’ll hound the Senator to get us the answers we deserve.”
“Damn right,” Stephanie said, elevating the volume and pitch of her voice. “They drum up these bullshit charges, send an innocent man with a wife and three kids to the middle of nowhere in a dangerous foreign country. How can this be legal?”
Stephanie’s throat tightened and her voice cracked repeatedly.
“They can’t do this,” she pounded the table. “What right do they have to do this? What did he do wrong? We should be suing them. He’s never done anything illegal in his life.”
“There’s another document,” Rupert said quietly, after a considerable pause.
“What other document?” Stephanie asked, fighting through the tears that filled her big brown eyes.
“It’s a dossier on Chuck’s case,” said Rupert. “Senator Sanchez obtained the underlying information supporting the action they’ve taken against him.”
“It’s totally bogus,” Stephanie said, her voice and face turning from defiant confidence to panicked doubt. “Right? It’s all just made up bullshit? Isn’t it?”
Rupert paused. His eyes dropped and he exhaled subtly. Stephanie’s eyes widened.
“He had a fake Texas driver’s license,” he said, slowly and deliberately. “And, he had an illegal, black-market passport.”
Stephanie gasped at the phrase “black-market passport”. Rupert continued reading from the file.
“Possession of the passport broke federal law,” he said. “It’s a felony under Title 18, Code 1543; Forgery or False Use of a Passport.”
Stephanie raised her hands to her forehead and then buried her face into her fingers. More tears exploded and absorbed into her sweaty palms.
“They’re charging him with the most severe violation of the code, under chapter 2331, surmising a terrorist agenda for the use of the false federal identification.”
“They think he’s a terrorist?” Stephanie jolted her head out of her hands. “That’s ridiculous.”
“It’s a tough one to fight,”
“What proof do they have?”
“They have the illegal passport,” Rupert replied. “And they know the Texas ID is a fake as well.”
Stephanie swore to herself and shook her head in disbelief.
“What can we do?” she finally managed to expel from her quivering lips. “Can we sue the government? Can we find a judge to overturn this?”
“I grilled Senator Sanchez on that,” Rupert replied. “We can’t appeal. We can’t take this to a judge. There’s no constitutional leeway. We have not identified a viable legal option at this point.”
Stephanie moved her gaze to the wall behind Rupert. She raised her eyes to the ceiling and a new wave of rage overtook her. Her thoughts turned from her husband’s plight to the impact on their three daughters; her beautiful babies.
“How could he lie to me?” she asked the empty air above their heads. “He lied to my face for all those years?”
Rupert looked at her with sad, empathetic eyes.
“All those years,” she repeated, as her eyes puffed red and leaked down her cheeks. “All just lies.”
Emily sat in her favorite corner table of the library. Wedged between a window, a heating unit and a towering row of books, she felt isolated and inoculated from the pity-filled eyes of her classmates. None of her friends knew how to comfort her. And, their hollow words of uninformed support only reminded her of the desperation of her father’s situation.
She heard every perspective from empathetic outrage to aggressive support of the government’s action in her father’s case.
“They should deport the President,” said one of her classmates in stark contrast to the feedback she received from another of her peers after her gym class.
“Good,” said one girl from her English class in front of a crowd of like-minding classmates. “There’s a reason they’re called ‘illegal immigrants’. They don’t belong here. They’re illegal and should be deported according to our laws.”
At a table just around the bookcase from her, she could hear the debate rage.
“They should be compassionate,” said one tall, muscular boy in a varsity wrestling jacket. “They’re just people trying to survive and have a better life for themselves and their family. Doesn’t everybody deserve that?”
“Not if it negatively affects legal citizens in our country,” replied another boy in a San Antonio Spurs t-shirt, with his arm slung around the shoulders of his girlfriend. “We have enough of our own problems without taking on the problems of other countries. We just can’t take on everybody else’s poor, desperate refuges, or our quality of life will suffer.”
“And Mexico,” the girlfriend added. “I don’t want to be racist or anything. There are tons of perfectly good people from Mexico, I’m sure. A lot of kids in our class have Mexican parents. But the statistics don’t lie. You see it on the news all the time. Illegal aliens tend to be more violent than regular citizens – especially from Mexico. It’s only common sense.”
“Not for nothing,” the wrestler replied. “Any time you find yourself starting a sentence with ‘I don’t want to be racist…’, you’re probably at least treading the line.”
“I’m half Mexican myself, dude, screw you.” the girlfriend continued. “You’re not racist, just because you discuss your perception of issues pertaining to race. Otherwise, we’d never be able to have meaningful discussions about important topics. I don’t know all the answers. I only know what I see on the news and hear from the people around me.”
“Bottom line,” the football player interjected. “Illegal is illegal. You get what you deserve if you break the law. Compassion is important and a nice ideal. But so is consistent application of our legal process. Without it, we can’t maintain the appropriate order in this country that so many other countries don’t have. It’s what makes America so great.”
Emily huddled in the library with the incessant commentary echoing through her mind. She sheltered herself behind the propped monitor of her laptop re-reading all the same internet articles she had browsed the previous evening. She scoured the web, recasting her search criteria multiple ways to try and find a new, undiscovered answer to the mystery of why the government had sent her father away and what she could do to help him return.
“Immigration laws,” she entered into the search window. “What is DACA… Why people get deported... How to fight deportation... How to get people back from Mexico... How to find someone in Mexico...”
None of the searches returned any new insight, but Emily reworded her search repeatedly for her entire study hall period trying to uncover some hidden gem of information that might help them find a way to bring home her father.
“You’re going to be late for gym class,” Jennifer Singer said to Emily as she rounded the corner to return some books to an empty shelf.
“I’m not going to gym class,” she said. “My, uh, ankle hurts.”
Jennifer nodded her head.
“I can get you a pass,” she said.
Emily didn’t look up from her search as Jennifer quietly slid books from a cart into the shelves next to the heater.
“You know,” she said to Emily, without looking directly at her. “My boyfriend is a reporter for the Express-News. Maybe he could help do some research; maybe put some pressure on the government.”
Emily stopped. Her mind swirled, cleared the useless information she gathered over the past 45 minutes and looked at the librarian.
“Ed?” she asked, recalling the name that flashed on the console of Miss Singer’s car. “With the unusual last name?”
“Ylbitzski,” she suppressed an impulse to chuckle. “It sounds like Libitski.”
Emily mustered a smile and closed her laptop.
“Right,” she said. “The guy who doesn’t want to get married?”
“The very one,” Jennifer smiled with a wistful look away. “He’s married to his work.”
“He could find out about my dad?” Emily asked tentatively as if holding back from turning hopeful.
“I can’t guarantee he can help in any way at all,” she tempered the expectations. “But I’d be happy to ask him what he might be able to do to help.”
“That would be really nice,” Emily muttered with her lips angling into a meager smile. “I’d appreciate that.”
“I’ll talk to him tonight,” Jennifer said. “It’s a big newspaper. They have a lot of reporters and researchers. They investigate immigration issues all the time. They even have an immigration editor. I think they may have some resources and experts that could help out.”
Emily stood, looked at Miss Singer, reached out and hugged her.