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Deported Father Returns Home

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

In 2017, Jose Escobar arrived at the Houston immigration office for a routine appointment. As a teenager, he had lost his legal status because of an error in paperwork and so for years had been checking in regularly with authorities. But in the early days of the Trump administration, it became a priority to deport every immigrant who was in the country illegally. That day, Jose Escobar was handcuffed, taken to another city and days later put on a plane to El Salvador, a country he had not seen since he was 13. He left behind his American wife Rose and two children, Carmen and Walter, now 4 and 9 years old. We heard about his story through the Houston Chronicle's immigration reporter, Lomi Kriel. And this week, more than two years later, Escobar finally touched down at Houston's airport visa in hand. I started by asking what it was like to be reunited with his children.

JOSE ESCOBAR: When my kids finally saw me walking into the house, she was so happy. She wouldn't let me go nowhere. She wouldn't let me put her down. I was always carry her everywhere. It was an amazing feeling for her and for my - and for my wife, as well.

MONTAGNE: This separation, can you walk us through how it happened? How did it get to this point?

ESCOBAR: It was crazy. All these - all this could have been solved. It was just a misunderstanding. But from that misunderstanding, you know, with the immigration right now, there's no second chances where you get it right the first time or you get it wrong. So that's what happened with me.

MONTAGNE: Basically, the rules were changed, in a sense, that you should have been able to check in or would have previously been able to check in and continue on living here with your wife and your children. But when you had to go back, when you found yourself back in El Salvador, how much of a shock was it for you?

ESCOBAR: A much in that when they put me on the plane, one of the guards coming to my bunk and they say, Escobar, get your stuff ready, you're going home. So, you know, I thought, great. I'm going home. When I got deported, I got deported from Laredo. So I talked to myself, OK, I'm going back to Houston, you know? But that was, like, around 3, 4, 5, almost 4 o'clock in the morning. Thirty minutes later, they just rush me to the airport, and they just flew me out. I didn't even get a chance to call my wife, any family member or anyone to at least have someone to go pick me up at the airport. And that - what the scary part was I was only with, I think - what? - $17 or $18 in my pocket. So with those $17, I was able to, you know, make a phone call from El Salvador back to Houston so can - Rose could find someone to come pick me up at the airport.

MONTAGNE: Boy, and, of course, going home this was not your home anymore. But - what? - your aunt - your great-aunt picked you up. I mean, you managed - you did have one family member there.

ESCOBAR: Yes. Yes. One of my aunts that I - I think the last time I saw her I was, like, 5 or 6 years old. She was the one who kind of made her way to the airport halfway to go pick me up.

MONTAGNE: And how different was living there with your aunt? I mean, could you work? Did you have hope that you would get back to the United States?

ESCOBAR: Well, I never lost hope because I knew my wife was doing everything and her - I mean, she did a lot. I just asked God, you know, just give me patience because I know I'm going to come home because there were some days that I got so desperate because - I mean, after 18 years going back to a country that I left when I was teen, it's different. All the people that I used to grew up with, they're all gone or they've moved out. Some of them are in prison. That changed. You know, because they see you are different. And they know that you're different. They know that you're not belong there. So that is a really dangerous situation because they could easily confuse me if I'm a gang member. So that's why when I was in El Salvador, I was basically literally in the house the whole time. I didn't go out nowhere.

MONTAGNE: Two and a half years.

ESCOBAR: Two and a half years, that is correct. Yeah.

MONTAGNE: So how do you begin to live your life again?

ESCOBAR: Like, my son - like my son Walter said it, we're closing a chapter and now we open up a new one. And that's what we're going to do. We're going to start a new one with new memories to make. Like, before I wasn't able to go outside Texas. Like, now I can take my family wherever I want to go. If I wanted to go on the weekend just - I'll tell my wife, you know, pack your stuff and then we just go out. I don't have to tell ICE where I'm going. It's a life that I want to do what I want. But it's impossible for me. But I'm going to do little by little, trying to close a chapter and make new memories, make my wife and my kids happy and forget the chapter that happened to us.

MONTAGNE: Jose Escobar, who's returned to his home in Texas after being deported to El Salvador over 2 1/2 years ago, thank you very much.

ESCOBAR: No, thank you for having me.

MONTAGNE: And one more thing - after that interview, I asked Jose Escobar about his job prospects. He said he had multiple offers from employers for jobs he had had to leave before he was deported. And he'll pick the one that's best for his family. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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