Danny Franco-Torres thought he was legal.
He has been granted employment authorization cards for the last six years by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. He has an Oklahoma driver’s license and an Oklahoma non-driver identiﬁcation card. His name is on the mortgage of his house in east Tulsa. He is married to a U.S.-born citizen, and together they have ﬁve chil-dren, all born in Tulsa, where they are parishioners of St. Francis Xavier Church.
Mr. Franco-Torres ﬁled and paid in-come taxes from three dif-ferent jobs over the past 13 years. He sought and believed he had been granted political asylum in 1993 from war-torn El Salvador.
Mr. Franco-Torres was with his children when he was arrested Oct. 14 in his Tulsa home by Im-migration and Customs Enforcement ofﬁcers, and he was deported Nov. 28.
Left behind is his wife, Raquel, whose problem pregnancy forced her to give up her job as a customer services representative for AT&T and whose precarious health means she cannot yet return to work, one-month-old Johnaythan and the couple’s four older children.
Mrs. Franco-Torres is three months behind on the mortgage and keeps most lights in the house turned off to save on the electricity bills that also are piling up.
“I got rid of all my stuff,” she said, referring to her car, the family television set and other furni-ture. “All I have left is his car, and I don’t want to sell that because if I can get a job I’ll need it,” Mrs. Franco-Torres said Jan. 11.
“I need to ﬁnd a job more than anything, but the doctors tell me I have to wait.” She also has been diagnosed with pre-cervical cancer.
The Gabri-el Project – a parish-based outreach to pregnant women established by the Family Life Ofﬁce – is seeking to help the family, said Family Life Ofﬁce Director Erick Bell.
Meanwhile, her husband is back in El Salvador, where he was born in 1974. The story of how Mr. Franco-Torres came to be deported after years of living legally in this country was patient-ly recounted by his wife.
Granted refugee statusIn 1992, a brutal and bloody 12-year civil war was slowly coming to an end in El Salvador. Government death squads were responsible for more than 75,000 murders. Catholic clergy, nuns and lay people often were targets of the killings that included the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero and the highly publicized rape and murder in 1980 of three nuns and a Catholic relief worker.
According to Mrs. Franco-Torres, her hus-band worked as a bodyguard for “an important person” in El Salvador, and he received a death threat. Mr. Franco-Torres left on a boat in early 1993 and landed on the eastern coast of Mexico. From there, he walked for two weeks with several other refugees to Laredo, Texas. A few days later he was arrested by INS agents in Houston.
While in custody, Mr. Franco-Torres learned that because of the war, he could apply for political asylum. He ﬁled the paper-work and moved in with a sponsor family in Tulsa.
Her husband’s mistake, Mrs. Franco-Torres said, came when the sponsor family moved to Oklahoma City, and Mr. Franco-Torres stayed in Tulsa. She said he never received the notiﬁcation of a pending hearing mailed by federal authorities.
The ICE agents who arrested Mr. Franco-Torres in October told him he had missed a 1995 court date pertaining to his immigration status. Mrs. Franco-Torres was told that the creation of ICE in March 2003 provided the immigration service manpower to follow up on old case ﬁles. Before then, federal ofﬁcials simply didn’t have the time.
‘My dad started crying’
After doctors told her to quit her AT& T job, Mrs. Fran-co-Torres earned some extra money translating for local Hispanics and was working at St. John Medical Center when her husband was arrested in October.
Jovany, 8, said the agents allowed his father to call his mother’s sister to come watch the children before Mr. Fran-co-Torres was removed from the home.
“They surrounded the house and then knocked on the door. My dad started crying, and then they told us they had to take him away. Then we started crying,” Jovany said.
Mrs. Franco-Torres said that while the children were waiting for their aunt, 5-year-old Esmeralda packed her clothes and told the ofﬁcers that she wanted to go with her daddy.
Mrs. Torres’ lawyer has told her that she could ﬁle a petition to re-open her husband’s case, but attorneys cost money.
“There’s no way that I have enough money to start the process. I need to work. I know that. I’m just living one day at a time. I have to. I’d go crazy otherwise.”
Plus, efforts to reverse the deportation will be difﬁcult because of another mistake Mrs. Franco-Torres admits she and her husband made. He was arrested in 1996 on a domestic violence complaint.
“That’s why the judge said he would never be allowed back in this country. Early on, we had our problems. He hit me. I hit him. I had him arrested. But we were young and didn’t know what marriage was. That’s all behind us now. He paid his debt for that. He’s a great father and husband now.”
A spokesman for the Tulsa County district attorney’s ofﬁce said there is no record of the 1996 conviction. Because Mr. Franco-Tor-res admitted his crime, served his time and paid ﬁnes, the conviction may have been ex-punged, as sometimes is done to encourage people to live lawfully in the future.
‘Home’ is an aluminum shed
While worrying about her family’s difﬁculties here, Mrs. Franco-Torres also is distraught about her husband.
“Right now, he’s just walking around (El Salvador) with the clothes on his back.” Mr. Franco-Torres worked brieﬂy pick-ing coffee beans for $5 a day but the coffee harvest is over, and he is looking for odd jobs. Mrs. Franco-Torres says her husband is living in an aluminum shed and has no prospects for permanent work. “The economy is so bad there. It costs about $10 a day just to live. He can only afford to call home about once every two weeks.”
Mr. Franco-Torres is an only child, and his parents are de-ceased. He has no family or friends left in El Salvador and built his life in Tulsa.
“I can’t leave him over there. He’s the base of our family. It’s like me killing him to leave him there.”
.. So, here’s what we can do right now:
4) If you know ANYONE in San Miguel, El Salvador who can take Danny in while this mess gets worked out would be a huge relief. [Sounds like we have matched Danny up with some assistance locally. More on the 24th.]
Finally, I’m a huge proponent of immigration done the “right way” and vocally opposed to those who would skirt around the laws of our land (as vague and convoluted as they can be at times). It is my impression this is not what has happened in this case. Please, as my final appeal to you… do what you can to help.