Stephanie sat at her laptop on the desk in her bedroom with her wet hair wrapped in a towel and her naked body covered only by a flimsy bathrobe. Her argument about applying to college with her eldest daughter still rung in her ears even after her second cup of coffee and her long, hot shower. Water dripped down her neck from errant strands of hair outside the towel bundle and rolled briskly down her cheek and neck into the terry cloth of her robe.
All three daughters left the house two hours earlier, together in the family’s third car for school. She occupied the deathly quiet house by herself. But, in her preoccupied state of mind, she couldn’t hear the silence around her. Instead, she poured her sole attention into the document that lit her screen.
“Where do I see myself in five years professionally, personally and spiritually?” the heading of the page read.
Above the document, the file name appeared as; “Britney Domo – College Essay – TCU – DRAFTv1.doc.”
Stephanie pondered the construct of the document, the leading sentence, the three key points and the wrap-up statement for the entire 20-minutes she spent enjoying the tickle of the piping hot shower water against her tense back muscles. Britney had a brilliant mind for literature, music and art. She could be a journalist, a food critic, a screenplay writer. She had an amazing future just waiting for her to rise to meet it. The essay, that Britney refused to write, needed to reflect all that Stephanie loved about her baby, who had grown into such a mature young woman.
But the words evaporated from her head as she sought to capture the thoughts and concepts needed to accurately represent the wonderful constitution of Britney Domo.
Pulling the lapels of her robe closed over the front of her neck, Stephanie moved the document above the virtual trash can icon on her desktop and tossed her reading glasses onto the desk. She removed the towel from her wet hair and rubbed it across the top of her head to facilitate the drying process before clutching the glasses and returning them to her eyes.
With a quick motion, she dragged the document back into the folder labeled “Britney College” and pushed the laptop screen down atop the keyboard in disgust.
She checked her watch and retrieved her white, silk blouse and black polyester pants. She fiddled with her gold necklace before switching to her pearls and then back to the gold with a matching set of shiny hoop earrings.
After blow-drying her hair and spending an inordinate amount of time generating wavy curls with a large round brush, she covered her blouse with a short red blazer and applied her make-up.
As she started the Honda Pilot, she received a text from Emily indicating that she wanted to stay late at school to study in the library for her history exam later in the week.
Britney had not reached out to her in the wake of their argument over whether or not she even wanted to attend college.
“I’m never good enough for you, am I, Mom?” Britney had whined to her as her two sisters finished their eggs and toast. “At least Daddy always accepted me for who I am.”
“No, no, honey,” Stephanie replied. “I just don’t want you to throw away a brilliant future.”
“Daddy loved me the way I am,” Britney continued to rail. “Not you. You hate me. You always want me to be something different; something I’m not. I’m not going to TCU or any other college. And you can’t make me.”
Stephanie sighed at the memory of the tiff earlier that morning before pulling into the parking lot of the non-descript brick façade of the Beckman & Barnes Law office.
“I have an hour until I have to be in court,” Rupert said to his assistant as Stephanie walked in the door. “I’ll be there all afternoon through five. Let me know if she calls before I leave.”
Stephanie stepped slowly into the waiting room and Rupert crossed from his darkened office to greet her.
“How’re you doing today, Stephanie?” Rupert asked as they moved into a conference room adjacent to his private office. “Has he been able to call or contact you yet?”
“No,” Stephanie replied. “Is that a bad sign?”
“It’s unusual, but not a major concern at this point,” Rupert said as he poured Stephanie a cup of coffee. “He probably doesn’t have access to a phone or an internet connection yet, but I expect him to find a café or library shortly and connect with you by text or e-mail or some means like that. I believe it’s just a matter of time.”
“It’s been three days.”
“We don’t know his situation,” Rupert said with a slight somberness that Stephanie noticed. “I contacted the directors of the shelters in Tijuana, Nogales and Cuidad Juarez and he doesn’t appear to be there. That leaves Piedas Negras, Cuidad Acuna, Agua Prieta and Reynosa.”
The assistant, who sat just outside the conference room, motioned to Rupert that he had a phone call and he politely excused himself to take it in the private office.
“Sorry,” he said to Stephanie as he exited the room. “I’ve got a situation going on that I have to monitor.”
Stephanie could hear the muffled voice of her attorney through the walls somewhat like at a cheap motel. While she couldn’t make out the content of the discussion, she could tell from the volume and tension of his voice that the conversation had not progressed positively.
He returned to the conference room, exhaled slightly before sitting down and launched right back into his talk track as if he had never left.
“The government is useless,” he said. “But the good news is that aside from Reynosa and Piedas Negras, the other cities are very small. We can conduct a social outreach program and engage volunteer organizations to help us find him.”
Stephanie moved her hand to cover her mouth.
“In almost every case,” Rupert said, softening his gaze and lightly touching the silky blouse that covered Stephanie’s forearm. “The person is able to find a phone or get to the internet to make contact.”
“He could call collect,” Stephanie said with quivering lips. “Couldn’t he?”
Rupert’s cell phone, which sat face-down on the table buzzed and moved slightly toward the edge of the oaken surface. With a quick glance, Rupert opted to ignore it.
“Working payphones are rare in Mexico as they have become here,” Rupert replied. “But the internet is not hard to come by. He’ll reach out as soon as he settles in and gets acclimated to his new surroundings.”
“But three days?” Stephanie’s voice trailed.
Rupert’s phone buzzed a second time. He paused his speech momentarily in distraction before continuing. Stephanie nodded her head, using her eyes and body language to give Rupert her tacit approval to interrupt their conversation. He flipped the phone, checked the message, paused again and closed his eyes briefly before turning to his client with softer, sadder eyes.
“I’m so sorry,” Rupert said, placing his cell phone in his pocket. “I hate to be distracted from important matters such as this by my own personal business. Please forgive me.”
“No worries,” Stephanie smiled and nodded. “I know a little bit about personal trauma.”
“I’m putting together two plans.” Rupert said, moving awkwardly back to the business conversation.
“What two plans?” she asked.
“I’m looking into our legal options,” Rupert replied, looking seriously into Stephanie’s eyes. “And our human options.”
Emily sat next to the radiator in the library sending emails and Facebook messages to her father. Between her texts and voicemails, Twitter posts and other assorted ways to contact other human beings on the planet, she, her mother and her siblings had produced hundreds of messages strewn across the internet, aiming to find and connect them to Charles Peter Domo.
Emily browsed the “Likes” and supportive comments she received under each post and picture of her dad, ignoring the equally length list of hateful replies from the trolls that litter the internet looking to hurt their anonymous fellow humans. When she first posted her plea to anyone with information about her father, mostly her friends and family responded wishing her luck and offering to help in any way possible.
But, as the feedback grew, the number of hateful comments about illegal immigrants and their negative impact on society escalated. As Emily scrolled through the posts, her heart sank at the angry, offensive language used to attack her father and her family for trying to help him.
Emily couldn’t bear to read on and closed her laptop in frustration.
Jennifer Singer heard the noise of the laptop slamming shut and walked over to investigate. She approached Emily slowly, but deliberately.
“I spoke with your mother,” she said. “Ed, is willing to help conduct some research.”
Emily gave a glum, but grateful smile before drooping her eyes and staring at the drab, grey carpet.
“I didn’t mention this part to your mother, because Ed just told me about it,” she said. “He works at a newspaper and his editor knows of a social action group that specializes in helping people like you and your family.”
Emily showed her first sign of engagement in the conversation.
“What kind of group?” Emily asked.
“It’s some kind of underground advocacy group,” Jennifer said, bending at her waist to lower her face to Emily’s level. “They have lawyers and advocates who work on behalf of people who struggle to get the government to help them.”
Jennifer paused. Emily leaned forward in anticipation.
“They provide legal services,” Jennifer tightened her voice to a whisper. “For immigrants who cross the border illegally into the country.”
Emily’s face turned red.
“But my father isn’t in the United States, he’s in Mexico.”
“They might be able to bring him here,” Jennifer said. “They help people like your father to file for asylum.”
Stephanie looked at Rupert, in his $1,000 grey suit with light blue shirt and powder blue and green checked tie. She could hear his phone continue to buzz in his pocket. His words rattled around her brain as she strained to process them.
“What’s the difference between ‘legal options’ and ‘human options’?” she asked.
Rupert leaned as if anyone else in the office could hear them. He glanced quickly at his inattentive assistant before looking Stephanie deep into the eyes from his close distance.
“We may not have a lot of options to succeed from a legal standpoint,” he said. “The current climate in our country is stacked against us and Texas is not exactly the most liberal state in the union.”
Stephanie squinted, trying to gauge where Rupert was taking the conversation.
“We need a back-up plan,” he continued. “A plan B. I might be able to help him, uh, escape from Mexico.”
“Escape?” Stephanie raised her voice in exasperation. “What do you mean, escape?”
“There’s a group that will, uh, essentially, um, for a nominal fee, uh, more of a donation, smuggle him out of the country once we locate him. From there, we can help him apply for asylum.”
“What does asylum mean?” Emily asked the head librarian of her school.
“Well, an, um, an immigrant can apply for what’s called ‘Asylum’ with the government if they believe they have a valid reason to stay here in this country.”
“My dad has a valid reason,” Emily said, her energy level increasing. “He’s got a whole family here.”
“That’s right,” Jennifer replied. “That would be one criterion.”
“What other criteria could there be?” Emily asked.
“Having a spouse and children definitely qualifies an immigrant,” she said. “It’s also designed to protect people from danger or abuse.”
“Do you think…”
“No, of course not,” Jennifer quickly caught herself. “This group helps people like your father reunite with their families.”
“What’s the group called?” Emily asked, her voice gaining its edge and her eyes reigniting with hope.
“It is called the American Legal Immigration Assistance Service and Ed’s boss knows someone at this group who might be able to connect your family to them.”
“How does asylum work?” Stephanie asked Rupert as he glanced furtively at his watch.
“If we decide to try and smuggle him back over the border,” Rupert answered in a more business-like tone than at any previous point. “We can file an I-589 Application for Asylum on grounds that he has a marriage in good standing and American-born children who will be negatively impacted by his absence.”
“The asylum part sounds good, but how do we smuggle him back? And what are the risks if he gets caught?”
“Can they really bring him back to America?” Emily asked Ms. Singer.
“ALIAS has a great track record of successfully helping people return to their families.”
“ALIAS?” Emily asked.
“The American Legal Immigration Assistance Service,” Jennifer replied. “ALIAS is their official acronym.”
“I don’t want to scare you, but as your attorney, I have to be transparent with you,” Rupert replied to Stephanie. “There are two challenges with the ALIAS route. First, there are groups such as the BorderDogs and the Patriotix. They’re like militias of regular citizens who monitor the border using self-defense and “Stand your Ground” laws to fight against ALIAS and disrupt their operations.”
“Are they dangerous?” Stephanie asked. “I’ve heard of groups that patrol the borders with guns and armor.”
“There are some extreme factions,” Rupert said. “The bigger concern is the consequence of getting caught by the Feds.”
Stephanie returned Rupert’s intense stare.
“What happens then?” she asked, prepared for the worst possible answer she could imagine.
“What if he gets caught?” Emily asked.
“I don’t know,” Jennifer replied. “Ed wasn’t sure. He’d have to put you in touch with someone from ALIAS.”
“If he gets caught,” Rupert continued. “He can be expelled for life.”