Earlier today, America’s Voice hosted a special Father’s Day video chat featuring two dads, Pastor Max Villatoro and Brigido Acosta, who were torn from their families and deported due to our nation’s broken immigration system.
Pastor Max made national headlines earlier this year when he was ripped from his Iowa home by immigration agents as his young U.S. citizen children slept nearby.
Despite tens of thousands of petitions from supporters all across the nation — and clear indications that he did not meet priority for removal by ICE’s own guidelines — Pastor Max was deported to Honduras in late March.
Brigido was deported to Mexico from Illinois in late 2013, despite having a U.S. citizen wife, Maria, and two U.S. citizen children.
“I joined up with other activists to halt the deportation bus as it was leaving the area with Brigido inside,” Maria wrote about her husband’s deportation in an op-ed printed in The Hill a few months later.
“Through tears and tinted windows, I told my husband that I loved him, that I wasn’t going to stop fighting and that I was going to bring him back.”
During today’s international broadcast, Pastor Max, Brigido, and their families discussed how they try to stay united as families broken apart by a cruel immigration system, their hopes and dreams for the future, and, in heartbreaking moments, how their lives have been drastically altered following the deportations.
“My life is there,” Pastor Max said about having called Iowa his home for 20 years. “I’m a stranger here [in Honduras].”: 6:00
The two families spoke about various ways they attempt to stay connected even as they remain thousands of miles apart. Brigido and Maria text, speak on the phone, and video chat every day. Pastor Max and his family attempt to do the same, but, even for today’s video chat, he was forced to travel to another town for a reliable internet connection.
Anthony, Pastor Max’s son, spoke about the severe emotional trauma inflicted upon his family following his dad’s deportation, saying he and his younger siblings attend therapy weekly in order to cope with the separation: 16:48
“For my little sisters it’s been very hard, especially for the youngest one. It was very hard for her to understand what was happening, what was going on,” he said.
Maria, Brigido’s wife, also discussed how emotionally and physically damaging his deportation has been on their family. Their teen daughter has been depressed, has been hospitalized, and has resorted to self-harm. Their young son experiences severe separation anxiety, has trouble sleeping, and frequently wets his bed.
Maria said, like Anthony’s family, her children also attend therapy: 18:50
“It’s not just the person being deported who’s punished, it’s the family, the children, the wife who is expected to continue on her life, and pay all the bills, and take the kids to school, and keep working at the same time,” Maria said. “Most of us are US citizens.”
“We just have to keep working to change the laws, to make people realize. People don’t realize that even U.S. citizen wives, children, cannot bring back their husbands that easily. We have to keep fighting to change the laws,” she added.
In a difficult moment, Pastor Max said this would be his first Father’s Day without his family. “I look okay, but inside it’s hard,” he said.
Brigido said he’d gone through the same feelings too. “I told my wife and kids that for me, there are no holidays until I’m with them.” But he’s not giving up hope. “I’m saving all of them and then when we’re together we’re going to celebrate everything.”
“Keep believing, keep fighting,” he said.
Max and Brigido are just two of the millions of stories that exemplify the need to fix our broken immigration system. Neither of their children should have to spend this Father’s Day without their dads by their side.
Watch our full Father’s Day video chat with Brigido and Pastor Max, two dads torn from their families due to deportation, below.