As a pastor in Guatemala, Ardani Rosales preached the word of God to Guatemalan youths and encouraged them to not join the violent gangs that run rampant in that Central American nation. His actions to minister to that country’s youth led to his being severely beaten and threatened with death by one of the world’s largest gangs, the Guatemalan criminal organization known as La Mara Salvatrucha.
Fearing for his life, Ardani came to the U.S. in 2005 and applied for a humanitarian visa. He settled in Phoenix, and was living and working there when he and his wife Naira Zapata had a child, their son Pablito, in 2011.
Ardani was arrested in December 2012 after a traffic stop while on his way to work. He was taken to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in Eloy, where he was jailed for over a year awaiting deportation. While he was incarcerated at the detention center, he and Naira’s second child, a daughter, was born.
As Ardani Rosales continued in legal proceedings for him to stay in the U.S., his case began to receive more widespread attention from the American public. Because of this, ICE acted in conflict with their internal policies (and basic American values) and, rather than allowing him the right to continue his legal appeals, deported him to Guatemala in December 2013.
I met Ardani Rosales on April 2, 2014, as he was preparing to cross the border with his attorney Ray Ybarra Maldonado to request re-entry to the United States and humanitarian parole. Earlier that morning, he had reunited with his three-year-old son Pablito for the first time in well over a year, nearly half of young Pablo’s lifetime.
As we stood in a dusty lot next to the border fence, people began appearing from a nearby street and coming toward us, walking in groups of two or three, until more than 20 had gathered around Ardani, including two local musicians who had come to sing for him.
This very unassuming young man seemed a bit surprised and overwhelmed by the attention he had attracted. The group sang a song for him, and he sang a religious song in Spanish, tears running down his eyes. He thanked the crowd, who then formed around him to connect themselves to him and each other with their hands, and say a prayer. The scene was both uplifting and sad, considering the connection between the man and many friends and strangers who supported him, along with the circumstances of what he had been through and still had to go through to get back to his family.
The group posed for pictures with Ardani before following behind him and his lawyer as they walked to get in line to cross into the United States at the Morley Border Crossing in Nogales. As supporters chanted “No estás solo” (you are not alone), musicians played songs as the group somberly walked along to join the line at the border crossing.
When Ardani and his attorney reached the turnstiles on the U.S. side of the border, U.S. Customs officials slammed shut the metal doors at the border entrance, abruptly cutting off the two from the people who followed them. He was then handcuffed and loaded into a U.S. Customs van.
They say that Ardani’s case is unique in that he returned so quickly after having been deported. In my eyes it is also unique because thousands of immigrants from Central America have been admitted to the United States under humanitarian exemptions with much less of a direct threat than he had received and violence he had experienced. And not one of them had been able to initially demonstrate the solid values that Ardani had shown having lived in the U.S.
The story of Ardani and his family serves to exemplify critical flaws of the current immigration system. Here is a good person of upright moral values who fled tyranny to dedicate his life as an upstanding person to work and contribute to this country. He started a family, worked and did everything right here. But he and his family were forced to live in the shadows, in fear of being discovered and being separated from each other. Until a routine traffic stop made that nightmare a cold reality of everything that is wrong with this country’s immigration system.
Ardani Rosales is currently at the privately run ICE corrections facility in Florence awaiting a hearing to determine his fate. If you have an extra minute today, you may want to say a prayer for Ardani, his family and others who are in similar situations. And then call your senators and congressperson to demand just and reasonable immigration reform that not only benefits this nation, but all of those who are striving to dedicate their lives not only to support their family and enjoy their lives, but to contribute to the greater good of the United States.
See more photos of Ardani’s return on Virtual Nogales.