What is the worst that can happen? This is the question we all ask ourselves as we navigate the sometimes-turbulent waters of life.
For many of us, the focus is on life’s petty annoyances… flat tires, traffic jams, missed appointments, personal problems with spouses, co-workers or bosses.
But for some members of our immigrant population, the worst that can happen literally becomes a question of life and death.
Gabriela Sánchez lives in a trailer park in Garden City with her two children: a 20-year-old daughter and an 8-year-old son. Three years ago, her husband, Hermenegildo Garcia, worked as an auto mechanic at a local repair shop before he was arrested by Garden City police and charged with a traffic violation. When his fingerprints were run through a federal database, the charge was upgraded to “unlawful reentry” and he was summarily deported to Mexico.
“It was very sudden,” Gabriela remembered. “He was here working and taking care of his family and then suddenly he was gone.”
Once he arrived in Mexico, Garcia moved back to his home state of Oaxaca. Gabriela sent his tools to him and he resumed his work as a mechanic.
“We stayed in touch by telephone,” she said. “It’s been very hard. He missed the birth of his only grandchild.”
A year and a half ago, Garcia decided to try and rejoin his family in Savannah. This time he was captured by Border patrol agents in Texas and spent forty days in detention.
“He nearly died there,” Gabriela said. “ They would not give him his diabetes medicine and he grew very weak before they sent him back to Mexico once again.”
Last month, Garcia decided to make one more attempt to rejoin his family and made his way to Matamoros, a Mexican border city located on the southern banks of the Rio Grande across from Brownsville, Texas.
“I had a phone call from him on February 8th,” Gabriela said. “He was getting ready to cross the river and told me he was placing his cell phone inside a plastic bag to keep it dry. That was the last time we ever talked to each other.”
After several days of no news, and frantic attempts to locate him, Gabriela received a call from the Brownsville coroner’s office with news that a body matching her husband’s description had been discovered floating downstream from the city.
“I had to send a friend out to Texas to verify that the body was my husband,” Gabriela said. “He was identified based on his clothing so I had to face the fact that he would never be with is family again.”
Today, a small makeshift shrine tucked into a corner of her living room is all Gabriela has to remind her of Hermenegildo. Votive candles burn softly on a tabletop surrounded by mementos of the small pleasures he enjoyed while living– a bottle of Corona beer and a plump sweet bread covered with sugar sprinkles.
Compounding Gabriela’s grief is the fact that her oldest child, a son, was also picked up by Garden City police several years ago. When authorities determined he was undocumented, he signed a voluntary deportation order and was returned to Mexico.
“I used to dream of having my family all together here in this place,” she said. “But my son is about to marry a girl he met in Oaxaca and I don’t want him to even think about trying to come back here. The journey is just too dangerous.”
Gabriela incurred a debt of several thousand dollars in getting her husband’s body released by authorities and shipped back to Oaxaca. Friends and local churches have established a special bank account to help with burial expenses. The account name is Gabriela Sanchez. The account number is 334014621627. Contributors can call any branch of Bank of America to make a donation on the family’s behalf.