School bus driver’s family experiences pain of broken immigration system

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by Félix Pérez

Aurora Vigil is no different than school bus drivers in towns and cities all across America. They are the first to greet students on their way to school and the last to bid them goodbye. A central part of their job is ensuring student safety.

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But Vigil, a driver for the Clark County, Nevada, school district for 20 years, differs from her peers in one significant way: she and her two school-age daughters were forcefully separated from her husband and their father by a broken immigration system.

It has been three years since her husband, a foreman with a plumbing company, was deported while in the process of “trying to do the right thing” and become naturalized, the step before citizenship. He had gone to Mexico to fill out some paperwork, as directed by U.S. immigration authorities, when he was denied re-entry because he visited Mexico twice in 1998.

Vigil and her family.
Vigil and her family.

“I took him the last of his clothes in December. His part of the closet is now empty. It’s like when someone dies,” said Vigil, who has become a staunch advocate for immigration reform so that her husband, the DREAMer students who ride on her bus every day and their families “can come out of the shadows.”

“For the last three years, our life has been on the phone. We’re just waiting,” said Vigil. She and her daughters, 8 and 15 years old, speak by phone to their father every day. The youngest has taken to reading her father passages from her favorite books.

Vigil has been following the immigration debate in Congress closely and makes a point of participating with her daughters in immigration rallies, forums and other activities. Vigil and her daughters are American citizens.

I understand [my husband] made a mistake, and he was trying to do the right thing to correct that mistake. I would tell the people in Congress to close their eyes for a minute and walk in the shoes of immigrants, my husband’s shoes. The biggest thing is being with your family, said Vigil.

She and her husband remain hopeful, but “it’s sad for my daughters not to have their father. It’s hard for him because he’s very protective of the girls.” Family visits are limited to Christmas holidays and summers, and Vigil worries how much longer she can afford the visits on her income alone. She had to refinance her car and was in jeopardy of defaulting on her mortgage.

While immigration reform has stalled recently in the House of Representatives because of the Syrian crisis and the budget impasse, there are indications that Republican and Democratic leaders in the House and, most recently, the White House will make a renewed push next month. Meanwhile, educators, DREAMer students, their families and representatives from the religious, business, labor and civil rights communities are urging House Speaker John Boehner to allow an up-or-down vote on an immigration bill with a pathway to citizenship.

“It’s time for [Congress] to do the right thing,” said Vigil, as she made final preparations for the afternoon bus ride home with her students.

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