Outcast in Mexico, outlaw in Utah

Published: Sunday, Oct. 9 2005 12:00 a.m. MDT

Fernandez-Vargas was last deported in December 1981. He returned to the United States without documentation through El Paso, Texas, in January 1982. He cavorted and drank a lot in those days and didn't think life was worth living. One night in a drunken stupor, he turned a rifle on himself. He bears a scar where the bullet pierced his abdomen.

He considers that a turning point in his life — that moment and moving in with relatives on Kershaw Street next to the woman he eventually married.

I need your support and your help because I do not have any other help than yours and from my son. I need you (all) more than ever. — Bert Fernandez letter

Months behind on the mortgage, Fernandez is about to lose the house she and her husband bought on the street where they met. She has sold off many of its furnishings. Anthony, too, parted with his Nintendo, television, computer and GameBoy at swap meets and yard sales. There weren't new school clothes this year. Anthony, who has asthma, sometimes complains about being hungry.

Last month, Fernandez received a letter terminating her son from the Children's Health Insurance Program.

"People really don't realize who suffers from all this," she said. "We suffer. We have suffered. We are still suffering."

A stay-at-home mom since her son was born, Fernandez has few job skills. The owner of a neighborhood market recently gave her a chance to be a clerk.

As hard as it is making ends meet, the heartache of being apart from her husband is worse.

"I miss this man so much," Fernandez said. "I know if he was here, we wouldn't be going through this."

Anthony Fernandez is quiet and introspective. He obtained a driver's license this year. He joined the ROTC at his high school and has thought about entering the military. He recently found a job busing tables. He had no idea his father was what the government calls an "illegal alien."

All he knows is that his dad adores him and that they did all-American things together. They went on long-haul trucking jobs throughout the West. They camped, fished and hunted together. They watched boxing on TV. They were big Chicago Bulls fans.

Anthony didn't know what to think that November afternoon when his mother told him his father was in jail. He didn't understand. He just cried. He still doesn't understand.

"I just wish it didn't happen," he said.

I get sad because I watch the news when the government talks about deportation, ilegal (sic) aliens, they are talking about my dad. But you know, sir, what happens to their familys (sic), familys like us? . . . I don't understand about what has happened to us. My dad tells me he didn't apply for papers for himself but for me so this wouldn't happen to our family.—Anthony Fernandez letter

Bert and Rita Fernandez have lived together since 1985. A Weber County justice of the peace married the couple in March 2000. Anthony is their only child.

Responsibility and fatherhood straightened out Fernandez-Vargas, that and laying off the booze. For the first time, he felt like a man. "I had a beautiful life, the kind of life I never had."

By all accounts, he has been an upstanding member of the community since he and Rita got together. He worked on a Ogden city maintenance crew and as a truck driver in the metal salvage business until buying his own rigs. He earned as much as $50,000 some years and has consistently filed an income tax return.

"He's not a drain on society and he's not a criminal," said Darnell Fielding, a longtime business associate who was shocked at his friend's arrest. "I just know he's a good citizen."

A citizen he is not. But that desire is what put him in the predicament he faces.

Fernandez-Vargas applied to become a legal permanent resident based on his marriage. The former INS assessed him a $1,000 penalty for re-entering the country illegally in the past. It accepted the payment, and the BCIS issued him a work permit.

Try out the new DeseretNews.com design!
try beta learn more
Get The Deseret News Everywhere