IM4HI Vision Media

My Immigrant Family Separated by Deportation / A Prayer for Hugo


By: Hulissa Aguilar
Prologue by: IM4HI Staff

It is with heavy hearts that we share this prayer for Hugo and uplift the voice of Hulissa Aguilar. Despite tremendous efforts from his family and the local community, we were unable to prevent the deportation of Hugo, a member of the Interfaith Movement family. He leaves behind three children including his 15 year old daughter Hulissa Aguilar. Please read her message written a month before his departure, published in the East Bay Times. (Read below).

Hugo and his family’s story is not new or unordinary in the year 2021. Family separation happens every day at the border and to long-term residents in our communities. These are painful casualties of an unjust immigration system that would rather separate families than increase pathways to safety, inclusion, and citizenship. 

We ask you to pray for Hugo and his family during this time, and to stay committed with us to creating a world without bars and borders where every person is sacred and treated with integrity and compassion.  We will continue to accompany Hulissa who is serving as IM4HI’s youth intern this summer to support other children facing family separation.  

Hulissa’s Message to the Public

Published 5/13/2021 in the East Bay Times

My father will be deported next month. I am 15 years old and am facing the possibility of losing him permanently.

After years of an expensive and stressful legal process, my dad received a final decision on his immigration case. His plea to stay in the United States was denied, meaning he will be required to leave our home and go to Mexico.

He will be forced to leave behind a life he has built here for 25 years. The deportation leaves few to no options for him to ever return.

My father helped build this nation as a carpenter, constructing homes, shopping centers and resorts. He has lived here since he left Mexico when he was 16 years old. While my grandmother, uncles and aunts became citizens or legal permanent residents, my father has been the only one unable to fix his immigration status because of a mistake he made long ago.

In 2005, when he was a young man, he had a drug conviction. He was one of the millions affected by the War on Drugs, which disproportionately incarcerated Black and Latinx people. He spent two years in prison for the offense. If his arrest had occurred today, court programs including drug treatment and mental health care might have been available to him. He might not have gone to prison.

After he finished his two-year sentence, because of his conviction, he was deported under the 1996 Illegal Immigration Act. I was just a baby then. Although he wasn’t supposed to, my father made the decision to come back to the United States to be a part of my life.

Even though my parents divorced when I was young, my dad has always seen me, bought me what I needed and been my biggest advocate. After work, when he is exhausted, he takes me to my soccer games and brings my siblings, ages 3 and 6, and family members to cheer me on. My dad is my biggest fan, and he inspires me. He does whatever he can for those he loves.

In 2017, he came in contact with the police. He was never charged, but that encounter resulted in his direct transfer from Santa Rita jail to immigration custody. He spent 17 months in immigration detention until we were able to get him released.

Current immigration proposals such as President Biden’s U.S. Citizenship Act, which would create a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented residents, would exclude thousands of people like my dad, who made mistakes long ago. We need federal immigration reforms such as the New Way Forward Act, which would reverse the mandatory deportation of immigrants who have served their time and restore judicial discretion.

California needs to pass AB 937, the CA VISION Act (Voiding Inequality and Seeking Inclusion for Our Immigrant Neighbors), which would protect people like my dad, who have served their sentences, from being transferred from jails and prisons directly into custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

My dad made a mistake a long time ago and served his time. He transformed his life and is a valuable person to our wider community. He should not be doubly punished with permanent separation from his family.

I can’t and don’t want to imagine my life without him. Will he be safe? Will he ever be allowed to come back?

Hulissa Aguilar, 15, of San Leandro, is a ninth-grade student at Arroyo High School. She is also a youth leader with the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, a statewide organization working to end the criminalization of people of color in our immigration and incarceration systems.