A 17-month detention, now an uncertain future

AP News
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Posted: Apr 10, 2011 12:55 PM
A 17-month detention, now an uncertain future

It was supposed to be just a night in jail for Juan Carlos Davalos. He'd serve his time, then go home.

But a drunken-driving arrest _ a misdemeanor _ revealed a past Davalos had concealed for almost 20 years: He had illegally crossed the Mexican border as a teen. He'd scraped by, at first selling fruit in the streets of Long Beach, Calif., for $10 a day, then moving to Arizona, lured by a $4.75-an-hour job washing dishes.

"I was looking for a better life, that's why I came," he says. "It's not because I wanted to do something bad to this country."

Davalos lived undetected for nearly two decades, marrying, starting a family, putting down roots in America. It all imploded one day in late 2007 when he walked into jail to serve a mandatory 24-hour sentence. Suddenly he found himself on a path to deportation with a date in immigration court. His wife, Maria, hired a lawyer, eager for a speedy resolution. "We were hoping and praying it would be fast," she says.

It was not.

A night in jail, a background check and Davalos found himself in federal detention.

As the months dragged on at the Eloy Detention Center, he wanted to give up and return to Mexico, where he still has family. "It's hard when you see everybody lose," he says, referring to others also being held. "You get frustrated, you think, `What am I doing?'"

"He said he could at least help us there (in Mexico)," says Maria, a real estate agent. "He could see us there. ... He said even if we're eating beans, we'll be together."

But she stood firm.

"I said, `No, no, no, we're going to continue to fight,'" she recalls. The couple had divorced before his arrest but reconciled and remarried after he was detained. She visited every weekend with their two sons (they also have a daughter.) "It was just hard coming back home without him," she says.

Without a second income, Maria, now 35, was forced to sell their home. Their son, now 13, struggled, his grades went into a tailspin and he began seeing a counselor.

After a first bid for bond was denied, the couple hired a new attorney, Delia Salvatierra. She worked for months, and achieved the seemingly impossible: Davalos was freed on a $20,000 bond, paid in part from Maria's father's retirement savings. By then, he'd been held 17 months.

Salvatierra also helped Davalos, now 38, secure permission to work. He returned to his job cleaning pools.

Maria says she understands the political sentiment in Arizona that spawned a new crackdown on illegal immigration, but wants people to know there's another side of the story, too.

"It's kind of easy to say just send him back," she says. "But there's a domino effect. This affects his wife, his kids, his family, his friends, his co-workers. I wish they would be open-minded ... and really understand what they're doing to human beings."

Davalos' court hearing isn't scheduled until 2014. He'll have to prove his three U.S.-born children will suffer an extreme and exceptionally unusual hardship if he's deported. It's a very high bar, and Salvatierra knows it.

She already is framing her argument: "He's obviously a good father, a good provider, a good husband," she says, "and he has demonstrated he's a worthy individual to remain in the United States."

Davalos, meanwhile, fears he'll be stopped by police and somehow end up in jail.

"I feel like I have to be the perfect person," he says.

Both he and his wife say there's little to do now but wait

"It's out of our hands," Marias says. "I'm hoping and praying. Where the Lord wants us to be, that's where we're going to be."