Deportation of husband devastates Tulsa Catholic family

By Dave Crenshaw
Catholic News Service

TULSA, Okla. (CNS) -- Danny Franco-Torres thought he was legal.

He has been granted employment authorization cards for the last six years from the Immigration and Naturalization Service. He has an Oklahoma driver's license and an Oklahoma nondriver identification card. His name is on the mortgage of his house in east Tulsa. He is married to a U.S.-born citizen, and together they have five children, all born in Tulsa, where they are parishioners of St. Francis Xavier Church.

He filed and paid income taxes from three different jobs over the past 13 years. He sought and believed he had been granted political asylum in 1993 from war-torn El Salvador.

Danny Franco-Torres was with his children when he was arrested Oct. 14 in his Tulsa home by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, and was deported Nov. 28.

Since then, his wife, Raquel Franco-Torres, said she and the couple's children have been living one day at a time.

Her lawyer has told her that she could file a petition to reopen her husband's case, but attorneys cost money.

"There's no way that I have enough money to start the process. ... I'm just living one day at a time. I have to. I'd go crazy otherwise," she said in an interview with the Eastern Oklahoma Catholic, newspaper of the Tulsa Diocese.

After being out of work for some time, she finally has found a job again. A problem pregnancy when she was expecting the couple's youngest child, now a month old, forced her to give up her job as a customer service representative for AT&T.

But she still doesn't know how she'll pay for day care. She fell behind in her mortgage payments and keeps most lights in the house turned off to save on the electricity bills that also are piling up.

"I got rid of all my stuff," she said, referring to her car, the family television set and other furniture. "All I have left is his car."

The family has received assistance through the Gabriel Project -- a parish-based outreach to pregnant women established by the Tulsa diocesan Family Life Office. Catholics in the diocese have donated $7,400 to help the family.

Meanwhile, Raquel Franco-Torres' husband is back in El Salvador, where he was born in 1974. She recounted his ordeal to the Eastern Oklahoma Catholic.

He left war-torn El Salvador after receiving a death threat. He left on a boat in early 1993 and landed on the eastern coast of Mexico. From there, he walked for two weeks with several other refugees to Laredo, Texas. A few days later he was arrested by U.S. immigration agents in Houston.

While in custody, he learned that because of the war he could apply for political asylum. He filed the paperwork and moved in with a sponsor family in Tulsa.

His mistake, according to his wife, came when the sponsor family moved to Oklahoma City and he stayed in Tulsa. She said he never received notification of a pending hearing mailed by federal authorities. When agents arrested Danny Franco-Torres in October, they told him he had missed a 1995 court date pertaining to his immigration status.

In addition, any effort his wife might undertake to get his deportation reversed could be complicated by the fact that he was arrested in 1996 on a domestic violence complaint.

"That's why the judge said he would never be allowed back in this country. Early on, we had our problems. He hit me. I hit him. I had him arrested," Raquel Franco-Torres said. "But we were young and didn't know what marriage was. That's all behind us now. He paid his debt for that. He's a great father and husband now."

However, a spokesman for the Tulsa County district attorney's office said there is no record of the 1996 conviction. It may have been expunged because Danny Franco-Torres admitted his crime, served his time and paid fines.

So, Raquel Franco-Torres is not only worried about her family's difficulties, but also is distraught about her husband.

"Right now, he's just walking around (El Salvador) with the clothes on his back," she said.

He worked briefly picking coffee beans for $5 a day but the coffee harvest is over, she said, and he is looking for odd jobs. She said he is living in an aluminum shed and has no prospects for permanent work.

"The economy is so bad there. It costs about $10 a day just to live. He can only afford to call home about once every two weeks," she said.

Danny Franco-Torres is an only child, and his parents are deceased. He has no family or friends left in El Salvador and built his life in Tulsa.

"I can't leave him over there. He's the base of our family. It's like me killing him to leave him there," his wife said.

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