Utah family says deportation would be a death sentence

Immigration • Deportation to El Salvador equals death sentence for her and four sons, woman says.
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Taylorsville • Ana Cañenguez weeps about the looming deportation to El Salvador for her and four teenage sons, and says it is not just because it would again split her family as two younger children would remain in Utah as U.S. citizens born here.

"They will kill us if we go back," she cries in Spanish, as her children gather and hug her. She explains a gang will try to kill them there because she attempted to smuggle four of her sons into the U.S. instead of paying a ransom the gang had demanded for their safety.

"They are typical of many families that can be torn apart and threatened if President [Barack] Obama and Congress don't fix immigration quickly," says Raymi Gutierrez, with the Salt Lake Dream Team, a group that tries to help undocumented immigrants and lobbies on their behalf.

It called a news conference Monday at the Iglesia Pentecostol Luz y Verdad (Pentecostal Church of Light and Truth) to again call for immigration reform and also urge phone calls on behalf of Cañenguez and her family.

"We would like officials to defer action on them and others like them," Gutierrez says, "until the immigration debate is resolved."

Cañenguez acknowledges entering the United States twice without documents. The first time, she says, it was because the father of her older children "was an alcoholic, and I didn't have anything to feed our children" in El Salvador. So she came to Utah to work as a hotel maid and send money home. "It was hard to leave them behind, but harder to hear they were hungry."

After living in Utah for eight years — and in that time meeting a new partner, and having two children who are U.S. citizens because they were born here — the father of her older children in El Salvador said a gang had threatened to kill the older boys unless they paid a ransom. It was more than the family had, so Cañenguez left Utah to try to smuggle the boys into America.

People whom she paid to help them cross the border left them stranded in the desert — and they became so lost she says she used a cellphone to call the Border Patrol to rescue them. The family is in Utah awaiting an appeal to their deportation, which was originally ordered for December.

Gutierrez says they don't qualify as refugees because U.S. law does not give refugee status for threats by gangs. She says they also appear not to qualify for the deferred action ordered by Obama last year that allows illegal immigrants between ages 16 and 30 and who are attending school and don't have a criminal record to avoid deportation and obtain a work permit that is good for two years.

Cañenguez says her family is spending much of its money on lawyers in its appeal, but they still view it as only delaying deportation and the death they fear is inevitable. "It's like having cancer and going through chemotherapy," she says.

Erick Ramirez, 13, one of her sons facing deportation, stood before TV cameras to read a letter he wrote to Obama. "If I am sent home, they might kill me," he says. Erick adds that a gang called Mara 18 tried to recruit him and his brothers. "They make them [members] kill people. I don't want any part of that."

Job Ramirez, 18, says he has been attending Bear River High School in Tremonton for the past couple of years living with his family there as their case has been heard. He dreams of going to college and becoming a journalist, which he says may happen if he can avoid deportation.

"But if I go home," he says, "they will kill me."

The two youngest children of the family, Luis Granda, 7, and Kathy Granda, 5, held hands before TV cameras as Luis said, "President Obama, don't let my mom and my four brothers go to El Salvador."

Two pastors of the Iglesia Pentecostol Luz y Verdad also made appeals on behalf of the family.

"I testify in the name of God that this family is a good family," says Pastor Pablo Moreira. "They are not criminals. They are a family of God."

Pastor Jimmie Warren III adds, "These people are good people. ... Keep this family together."