She paused, then began to cry. “I hope to God it is true.”
Rosalda, a pizza cook who entered the United States illegally, doesn’t want to give her last name for fear of making her family’s immigration calamity worse. Her husband of five years, Arturo, was deported in January after being picked up in a sweep of undocumented workers.
It’s been hard all year, with most of the family’s meager income gone and wrenching “Where’s Papa?” questions from their two U.S.-born children, 3 and 2. But December is even worse.
“We will have Christmas on the phone with him,” said Rosalda. “I can get a card for 30 minutes.”
At a time when political momentum for significant immigration reform seems to be building, the holidays remain an especially difficult stretch for families caught up in the system’s fractured, grinding machinery. After record numbers of deportations in recent years, tens of thousands of families find themselves split at Christmas.
Immigrant aid groups say they brace for extra demands at this time of year, when the strains — and even the celebrations — of the holidays can amplify the financial and emotional stress of having a mother or father in exile.
“It’s a difficult time for them,” said Marianne O’Riley, director of the Herndon Community Resource Center. “We have one grandmother who is trying to take care of two kids, with both of their parents having been deported. They have so little — a lot of times they have to worry about putting food on the table before they can even think about presents.”
Last week, the center had an evening gift giveaway, with dozens of immigrant families stopping by after work to collect a few toys to wrap for their children. Most had provided wish lists to Reston Interfaith, the nonprofit group that operates the facility. The group then asked donors to supply the requested Lego sets and soccer balls and video games.
“He wants a skateboard, but I don’t really know if I want him to have one,” said Marta Portillo, who arrived at the storefront center in a Herndon strip mall with her son Jose, 12, and Alicia, 4. “His father used to buy all kinds of presents. Too many presents.”
But they haven’t seen her husband, an auto mechanic, since he left for work one Friday three months ago. He called from a county jail to say he’d been stopped for a traffic infraction, and authorities discovered he had an outstanding warrant for a missed court appointment from a 2007 immigration proceeding. Just over a month later, he was deported to Honduras.