Benefactor helps deported woman, family regain shot at future
With help from an Edmonds man, Ana Reyes and her family have moved to the Mexican border town of Juarez so her two American-born daughters...
Seattle Times staff reporter
With help from an Edmonds man, Ana Reyes and her family have moved to the Mexican border town of Juarez so her two American-born daughters can go to school on the U.S. side in El Paso, Texas.
The 41-year-old mother of four last week accepted the offer of real estate investor Joe Kennard, who helped the family move from Mexico City. Reyes had been jobless and living in relative poverty there since being arrested at her Burien home last year and deported.
Reyes was the subject of an April 6 story in The Seattle Times that told of her life in the 10 months since she returned to Mexico City with her young daughters. Her two adult sons, whom she had brought to the U.S. illegally as children, were also deported last year.
Last week, she and her family flew north to Juarez courtesy of the 68-year-old Kennard, who traveled to Juarez and met them for the first time. A grateful Reyes described Juarez as "the same as Mexico City, only smaller and with not as many people and pollution. My daughters are now closer to the U.S. and I hope they can have a better future by going to school in El Paso."
Kennard, a member of Westgate Chapel, an independent Pentecostal church in Edmonds, said his desire to help the family flows from his Christian faith. He wants Reyes and her family to be the model for a support network he's organizing for deported families with U.S.-born kids.
A Texas native who moved to the Seattle area 12 years ago, Kennard said he's been calling on wealthy investors across the country and is using his church contacts to help establish a network of churches on both sides of the Texas border.
Kennard said he's working independently of Westgate. Under the effort he's calling Organization to Help Citizen Children, churches on the U.S. side would help place the American-born children of deported families in U.S. homes during the school week. Churches on the Mexican side would help their parents settle there and find jobs.
"What we are doing is pursuing lawful ways to help these families," Kennard said. "We're not advocating illegal re-entry."
In Juarez, Kennard has paid two months' rent on a small, two-bedroom home for Reyes and her family that's 10 minutes from the U.S. border, and he provided them enough money to get by until they can find work.
"There's more employment on the border than in the interior of Mexico," he said. "That's why this makes sense."
He's also arranged for Reyes' two daughters, Julie, 13, and Sharise, 6, to attend school in El Paso, staying with a pastor friend and his schoolteacher wife during the week.
Julie was 12 and had graduated from elementary school in Burien the day her mother was arrested by immigration officers. Sharise finished kindergarten in the United States.
Shortly after they joined their mother in Mexico City last year, Julie enrolled in school but soon dropped out because she couldn't keep up, unable to read or write Spanish well.
For now, the pastor's wife will tutor Julie so she can make up the lost year and enter the eighth grade when she starts school in El Paso in August.
"My sister doesn't want to go because she doesn't want to leave my mom," Julie said. "I don't want to separate from my mom either, but I really want to study in the U.S."
Julie has said she wants to go on to college and would like to study law. Kennard said he's committed to helping her.
"I told her if she goes to college we'll figure out a way to make that happen," he said. "She can go to school right here in Texas."
An urge to give back
The son of an Irish father and Mexican mother, Kennard grew up in El Paso, across the Rio Grande from Juarez, and graduated from the University of Texas branch there.
His wife, JoAnn, grew up in the Seattle area and the couple made their money over the last 30 years developing land near Dallas. They moved to Seattle 12 years ago.
"The Lord's been good to us," Kennard said. Their own children are grown, he said, and "we have resources that allow us to do things like this.
"If we can help a dozen families, that would be more than what's happening now. But I can dream bigger than that."
Kennard said he began thinking of ways to help the Reyes family — especially the children — after first reading about them in a December article in The Times.
He said the network of people and resources he's putting together will include immigration attorneys, including those who will volunteer their time to try to help families who qualify to gain legal entrance into the U.S.
His main focus, he said, is getting U.S.-born children the education he believes they are entitled to.
"I told Ana and her family that there is always some good that comes of a bad thing," he said. "I want to use them as a model. This is the first step in showing how it's done."
Still formidable obstacles
By the time she was picked up by a U.S. immigration fugitive team last summer, Reyes had been living in the U.S. for 17 years, first in Eastern Washington and then in Burien. She was working as a maid at a SeaTac motel.
After she was deported, she returned to Mexico City, where she grew up, but was unable to find work in part because of her age, her long absence from the country and the lack of high-school education. She and her children shuffled between her brother's and sister's small homes in dangerous Mexico City barrios.
In Juarez a week now, she said she's been looking for work cleaning houses, and in restaurants, stores and maquiladoras — the U.S. assembly plants that feed on the region's cheap labor.
But many of the barriers that she faced in Mexico City exist in Juarez, too. The assembly plants are not hiring, she said: "They tell me that the job season is low right now and they tell me 10 percent of people lost their jobs."
Juarez, like other border towns, has considerable crime. An active drug trade has led to outright war between competing drug cartels, forcing the Mexican government to call in the military.
Kennard said he knows this, and saw evidence of it when he was there just last week. But "frankly, I've not been able to come up with any better alternatives. For now, it's all I've got."
For Reyes, it's more than what she had in Mexico City. "I am going to try to stay here and get a job and try to make it work for Julie and Sharise so they can go to school. The main reason I'm here is for them."
Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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