Diaz family reunites with mother's return from Guatemala

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Irma Diaz hugs her son Luis Jr. at Portland International Airport after spending seven years in Guatemala, while waiting to return home to the United States.The Diaz family is together again.

Deported seven years ago to Guatemala, Irma Diaz returned home to the welcoming embraces of her entire family Friday evening at the Portland International Airport.

For her youngest daughter Jennifer, who turned 19 on Monday, it was an early birthday present she had wished for since she turned 12 in 2006.

Irma’s homecoming also marked the first time she met and held her three young grandchildren. Irma’s 27-year-old daughter Monica Ramos is the mother of 23-month-old Carter and 7-month-old Jaylynn. Irma’s son Luis Jr. is the father of 6-month-old Mateo.

As Irma’s husband, Luis Sr., watched his three children rush to the arms of his wife, his heart was full of happiness and a heavy weight lifted from his shoulders, he said.

“All of my children, Luis, Monica and Jenny, have had smiles on their faces since their mother came home,” said Luis Sr., who was granted permanent resident status in October 2011, after first applying for political asylum in 1991. “It’s amazing. It was an answer to our prayers.”

Sitting between her parents, Jennifer nodded in agreement.

“It felt so good to have my family together again after so long,” said Jennifer, who graduated from South Salem High School in June after moving with her father from their Beaverton home at the beginning of her eighth-grade year. “I always had hope my mom was going to come back eventually. I am just so happy she is finally here, and we are all together.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Surrounded by friends and family, Jennifer Diaz holds a sign as they wait for her mother Irma to arrive from Guatemala.

The long wait

Several milestones have taken place since October 2006, when Irma, Monica and Luis Jr. faced an uncertain future and returned to the country they fled in fear more than a decade before. For the second time in their lives, Monica, then 20, and Luis Jr., then 21, provided their mother with strength as they began a new life in a “foreign land.”

Meanwhile, Jennifer, who was born in the United States, remained with her father as he waited for a resolution in his political asylum appeal case.

As days stretched into years, the Diaz family stayed connected through regular phone calls and an unshakable faith that they would be reunited.

Monica, who graduated in 2005 from Westview High School, eventually married her longtime American boyfriend, Jason Ramos, on June 30, 2007. In 2008, the United States government granted a request to allow Monica to join her husband. The couple started a family in Aloha, complete with a son and daughter. Monica became a U.S. citizen in January of 2012 and serves as a resident manager for an adult foster home.

Luis Jr., who graduated in 2003 from Westview, married his American sweetheart, Britany Stott, on Jan. 3, 2008. He was allowed to re-enter the country and join his wife in Aloha in February 2010. The couple welcomed a son in March. The new father works for Fix Auto Beaverton and Fix Auto Sunset as well as The Home Depot in Beaverton. He plans to apply for U.S. citizenship.

As Luis Sr. worked to support his household with Jennifer and his family in Guatemala, Jennifer went through her teen years and high school without the guiding presence of her mother. She also lived with an ever-present worry about her loved ones’ safety in Guatemala, forcing the once bubbly pre-teen to become withdrawn and struggle for a time in school.

“Jenny was the one who suffered the most,” Irma said on Monday. “She grew up missing her mom and brother and sister.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Finally relieved, Irma, Jenny, and Luis Diaz Sr. talk about their ordeals of the past seven years, and the optimism they hold for the future.

Holding onto hope and faith

When asked what gave them strength, Irma pulled out a porcelain circle from the center of a cross that she has carried with her every day for more than seven years. The circle is decorated with flowers and the words: “Trust in The Lord.”

“These words,” said Irma, holding out the circle. “This fell from a cross when we were looking for an attorney to take our case and found Tilman (Hasche). I have held it ever since. It was a sign.

“I had a lot of confidence and faith that he would help us.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Irma Diaz holds a pendant stating 'Trust in The Lord' that she picked up after it fell off a cross. She held unto it every day for the past seven years, trusting that one day her family would be reunited.

Luis Sr. agreed. “We had faith — we knew we were going to be reunited again,” he said.

“We never lost hope,” Jennifer added.

“One by one my family has come home,” Luis Sr. said. “Tilman told me that first we would focus on Monica, second Luis Jr. and finally Irma. Everything worked the way he said.”

Since taking the family’s immigration case in 2005, Hasche has become a member of the Diaz’s extended family.

“We can never thank Tilman and everyone in this community who supported us with everything enough,” Irma said. “We will forever be grateful.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - The Diaz family's immigration attorney, Tilman Hasche, hugs Irma after her arrival at Portland International Airport from Guatemala. Hasche's pro-bono work for the family was instrumental in their reunion.

Monica and Luis Jr. both expressed a feeling of relief in closing this chapter to bring the final member of their close-knit family home to America.

“Some people are not as lucky as we are,” Monica said. “Some families have to wait 10 years and not know if they will ever be able to return.

“I feel complete now. I have no more worries.”

“I like to think this was a journey we had to go through to make our family stronger,” Luis Jr. said.

As the family looks toward a bright future together, Irma relishes every moment with her grandbabies and her baby, Jennifer.

“I am so happy that we are going to be together forever, until the day I die,” Irma said. “I knew one day I would return. We accomplished our dream, and I am home.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Reunited after seven years and one day, Irma (holding granddaughter Jaylynn Ramos) and Luis Diaz Sr. finally can breathe a sigh of relief.

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