Deportation deadline splashes cold reality as members of Diaz family board plane to Central America
by: Jonathan House, Luis Diaz Sr. and his wife Irma comfort their 11-year-old daughter Jennifer as she prepares to say goodbye. Irma and her two other children, Monica and Luis Jr., boarded a plane late Tuesday night for Guatemala.

Jennifer Diaz will be forced to celebrate her 12th birthday Saturday without three of the most important people in her life.

Her world fell apart Tuesday night as she stood with her father, Luis Sr., on one side of an airport security gate watching her mother Irma, older brother Luis Jr. and older sister Monica be escorted to a plane heading to Guatemala.

Even as Monica, Luis Jr. and Irma faced an uncertain future and prepared to return to the country they fled in fear more than a decade ago, their thoughts were focused on reassuring the youngest member of their closeknit family.

'It will be OK,' Luis Jr. told his younger sister. 'Stay strong. Stay strong. We love you.'

Even after a day filled with packing, last-minute errands and heart-breaking goodbyes, the Diaz family held out hope for a miracle that would stop deportation proceedings.

As they went through the day, they prayed for a phone call that never came.

And, as their 11:59 p.m. flight neared, they wanted to share their appreciation for the people who stepped forward to write letters, sign petitions and make calls to state lawmakers, congressmen, federal immigration officials and President Bush on their behalf.

'I just want to say thank you for supporting us and helping us go through this,' Monica said.

'We could never have stayed this long if it wasn't for them,' Luis Jr. added. 'Everything people have done means a lot to us even though things didn't work out. Tell everyone thank you.'

Their mother also shared her gratitude.

'To Alice and Gloria, all the people at Heritage Village, St. Elizabeth and Elmonica, I want to say thank you so much for everything,' Irma said. 'I want to say thank you to Nikki and Mrs. Shinn and Sandy and Teresa.

'I want to say thank you so much to everybody. For all the people that supported my family, I want you to keep helping people that need help.'

She prays for a change in immigration laws.

'It is my hope for people to continue the fight to keep families together because the fight isn't done here,' Irma said. 'This is only the beginning.

'In this country, Latinos are not alone or by themselves because a lot of North American people are willing to help us and fight with us for change. They know the kind of people we are and why we are here.'

In a foreign land

Her family came to the United States to flee persecution, to be together as a family and live in peace.

'Really we don't have anything over there,' she said of her native Guatemala. 'Our life is here.'

As she packed her bags, she carefully set aside precious items that she would keep with her in her carry-on.

Jennifer's doll when she was a baby. Jennifer's baby clothes and blankets that she was never without. Keepsakes from Monica's 15th birthday. School pictures. A shadow box containing Luis Jr.'s graduation cap, tassel and medal from Westview High School. Cherished presents her husband and children gave her for Mother's Day and Christmas.

Tears fell as she looked at the plant Luis Jr. gave her for Mother's Day that she couldn't add to her bag of treasured memories.

'I told Luis (Sr.) to take care of it for me,' she said.

As she looked around the room she had shared with her husband, the pictures on the walls and signs of happier times in her family's life, she broke down.

'All of these things, they gave me,' Irma said as she motioned with her arms. 'This is all my life right here.'

She fears for her children's safety in Guatemala. She worries about her husband and Jennifer. She is heartsick for her family's future.

Despite everything, her faith is strong.

'I still have hope,' Irma said.

For the second time in their lives, Monica, 20, and Luis Jr., 21, provided their mother with strength as they prepared to begin a new life in a 'foreign land.'

They stood together as they walked toward an uncertain future.

'We came with nothing and we'll go back with nothing,' Luis Jr. said as he prepared to go through airport security. 'We succeeded once - we're going to do it again.

'My biggest worry is for my little sister.'

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