Doris Chavez settled in Miami in 2007, a few weeks after crossing the border. She met her husband José Gamez in 2008 and their first child was born here two years later and their second in 2011.
Karla Hernández arrived in 1999, coming to Miami to rejoin her husband who had arrived the year before. Now they have three children.
Hernández and Chávez are among many undocumented immigrants angry at renewed efforts in Congress to deny citizenship to U.S.-born children unless one parent is a citizen, a permanent resident or serving in the military.
In late April, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives held a hearing on legislation filed by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, aimed at ending birthright citizenship for children of undocumented immigrants.
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Birthright legislation emerges regularly in Congress, even though such bills consistently fail to become law. Most lawmakers believe any baby born here, except children of foreign diplomats, is automatically a U.S. citizen. The latest push for birthright legislation came after federal agents raided locations in California that helped pregnant Chinese tourists to travel to the United States to give birth to babies here so they could become U.S. citizens.
But interviews in recent days with undocumented Central American immigrants — including Chávez and Hernández — showed that birthright tourism was not the reason for coming the United States. Their goal was to flee poverty and violence.
Hernández’s story is particularly poignant because her husband, Mario Alcerro, was detained by immigration officials and deported in 2010. Then Hernandez and their first two children born in Miami, Carlos Mario and Karolay, traveled to Honduras to rejoin Alcerro. But growing gang violence forced the family to return to Miami illegally. Now, Alcerro has again been detained by immigration officials and is awaiting trial in Federal Court after being charged criminally with reentering the country after deportation.
If Hernández and Alcerro sought to have “anchor babies” in Miami so they could eventually emigrate legally to the United States, their strategy has backfired. But all the facts in their case point to other reasons for their illegal journey.
“We came seeking shelter from deteriorating conditions in our country, not to have children,” Hernández said.
Alcerro first arrived in the United States in 1998, the year Hurricane Mitch devastated Honduras. Hernández followed in 1999. The couple eventually built a successful business manufacturing granite kitchen counters and had three children here: Carlos Mario, 15; Karolay 12 and Mariano 3.
A traffic stop in 2010 disrupted Mario’s life in Miami. He was arrested for driving without a license and was eventually deported to Honduras.
After trying to raise their first two children by herself, Hernández gave up and in 2011 returned to Honduras to rejoin her husband with Carlos Mario and Karolay in tow. Mariano had not yet been born.
But two episodes involving Honduran criminal gangs convinced the family to return to the United States illegally.
One day, Carlos Mario went to a store near the family house in Tegucigalpa and was held up by a group of gunmen armed with AK-47s who were stealing money and other valuables from passers-by.
Then, students at the school that Carlos Mario and Karolay attended began receiving threats from extortion gangs that demanded regular payments in exchange for security.
“In light of these incidents, we decided to flee Honduras and come back to Miami,” Hernández said. She and her husband came back first in 2011, leaving their two children behind with relatives.
“We did that to spare them possible dangers on the trip,” she explained. “We sent for them once we were settled again in Miami.”
The couple traveled by plane to Mexico City and then by bus to the U.S. border. They crossed the Rio Grande on a small raft and then walked into Laredo.
The couple decided to stay in Laredo for several weeks to avoid Border Patrol detection. Hernández was pregnant with her third child, and Mariano was born in Laredo in 2011.
Eventually the couple made it to Miami and reestablished the kitchen counter business Alcerro had begun in the late 1990s.
Life for the family resumed its prior blissful stability.
The first sign of new trouble came two months ago.
One of their vehicles was stolen from their apartment building’s parking lot, and when they called the police, detectives asked them an unsettling question.
“‘Do you have any enemies,’ one of the detectives asked my husband,” recalled Hernández. The reason for the question is that their second vehicle also had been tampered with and none of the other vehicles in the parking lot had been touched.
Three weeks ago, federal agents showed up to arrest Alcerro. He has since been indicted on charges of returning to the country after a previous deportation.
If convicted, Alcerro could be sentenced up to two years in the federal penitentiary and then deported again.
He has pleaded not guilty and is now awaiting trial, possibly in June.
Follow Alfonso Chardy on Twitter @AlfonsoChardy