DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – You either agree or disagree with how our country handles immigration, but there are real people sometimes caught in the middle.
Immigration experts say authorities are increasingly reviewing their files to find people in the U.S. illegally.
One of those recently tracked down and deported is a pregnant Dallas mother, Betty Lopez.
Every night, her husband José Lopez and their three children pray that the woman they love most will be able to come home.
José Lopez says he and his three children pray every night for the woman they love the most. He says, “I cry and pray, pray a lot.”
On March 1, as the children were getting ready for school, they say Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents entered their Dallas house and took Betty away in handcuffs.
José Lopez says his family hasn’t seen her since. “They left my three kids crying.”
The couple’s 12-year-old son, also named José, remembers, “It was just terrible. I couldn’t understand that. I knew I couldn’t do anything about it. I was just scared.”
ICE agents accused Lopez of being in the U.S. illegally, but the family’s advocate, Ralph Isenberg, says it was ICE that acted illegally. “It’s not only illegal, it’s immoral. It’s unconscionable.”
Lopez is now five-and-a-half months pregnant.
Isenberg says ICE violated the law deporting Lopez — because they believe her pregnancy is high-risk, and because her husband and all three of her children are American citizens.
“Our president, not to mention the director of homeland security, and the director of ice have said ‘hey, we have to get priorities straight, we’re not going after families, we’re going after criminals.’”
Carl Rusnok, a Dallas-based spokesman for the agency says they can’t comment on this case. But, he says they regularly deport pregnant women who are here illegally, unless it’s medically inappropriate to do so.
Two weeks after ICE agents removed Betty from her house and deported her to Mexico, she tried to sneak back into the U.S., but she was caught.
She was charged with two felonies that were ultimately downgraded to a single misdemeanor count of illegal entry.
Lopez pleaded guilty and she received time served. But because of a prior immigration violation, Lopez has now been deported again.
In 1997, Betty and José had just married in Mexico. He was already a permanent resident of the U.S. and she wanted to be with him.
Authorities say Betty tried to enter illegally in 1997, and falsely claimed to be a U.S. citizen even though the family says other government documents show she never made that claim, but she was still deported for the first time.
She returned again — and in 2000, her husband tried to change her status. Their request was rejected in 2004 because of the previous violation, but the government waited until this past March, seven years later, to deport Lopez again.
But even immigration attorneys who often criticize the government defend ICE in this case. They say ICE does have discretion, but that Lopez’s prior deportation order carries weight in the agency’s decision.
While the legal battle plays out her children are writing letters to anyone who’ll read their story, hoping it helps their mother.
Now, they wonder when they will see her again.
The couple’s seven-year-old daughter Mariel says, “Without my mom, this house is not beautiful without her. I kiss her pillow every night because I miss her so much. I want her to be here.”
The Lopez family says they don’t know what they will do now.