Deported Mormon glass artists making new life in new country

Published: Sunday, Aug. 19 2012 2:00 p.m. MDT

The Correa family in Africa after the family was deported from the United States in November of 2010.

SALT LAKE CITY — The Correa family's first few months in their home country of Argentina after being deported from the United States nearly two years ago were miserable.

Buenos Aires didn't feel like home. It was too big and too busy compared with the small towns in Iowa and Utah where they had lived for 10 years. They felt like they experienced the best America had to offer. They missed their friends and neighbors in American Fork. They spent many nights crying.

Accomplished stained glass artists Claudio Correa and Debora Zalazar de Correa didn't know if they would be able to start a business. In Utah, they worked for a studio that makes ornate windows for LDS Church temples and other religious and government buildings. They wondered if they would ever do that again.

All the plans and dreams they had for themselves and their children, Kevin and Magi, seemed shattered.

The Correas' experience provides a snapshot into the plight of illegal immigrants who are forced to leave the country and rebuild their lives. How deported immigrants fare after leaving the U.S. isn't well chronicled. But many likely struggle, at least initially, to adapt to often unfamiliar surroundings.

Feeling sad and depressed in Argentina, the Correas decided to look for new opportunities in neighboring Chile.

At the Chilean immigration office, they were asked to explain why they had come. They told the immigration officer they would like to open a stained glass shop. He wanted to see their work. Zalazar pulled her portfolio from her backpack. He was amazed and told her his church needed a big window. He told her Chile wanted people like the Correas in the country.

"When he said that, we walked out of the office floating in the air," Zalazar, 40, said in a telephone interview from her home in Concepcion, Chile.

The Correas said it was an answer to their prayers. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the family has relied on faith to get them through the upheaval of being forced to leave the United States.

"If you have the gospel in your life, you can make it," Zalazar said. "You don't feel alone."

A week later, the Correas settled in Concepcion, a coastal city about 270 miles southwest of the capital, Santiago.

The couple got the job replacing the stained glass window at the immigration officer's Catholic church and at another Catholic church, both of which had been damaged in the 2010 Concepcion earthquake.

Life, they say, is good, though they still long for America.

"Right now, in this instant, I will tell you that I need to stay and try to build a future for us and for our kids," Zalazar said. "But in my heart, I want to go and die there."

They left Buenos Aires in December 2000 seeking a better life for their young children. Claudio Correa, 48, said he was harassed for working for an American company and being Mormon. He received threatening phone calls, and his house was vandalized with graffiti such as "Go away Yankee Mormon." A bomb threat at his company was the last straw.

They arrived in the United States under a visa waiver — which is very limited in scope and allows only 90 days in the country — settling in Iowa, where they had friends. Correa said he thought his employer would file a labor certification petition on his behalf that would pave the way for legal residency. But that didn't happen.

Correa then learned his family could obtain temporary protected status due to heightened political, social and economic unrest in Argentina. But that legislation was not enacted. Finally, he said he heard about the possibility of asylum based on the persecution that caused them to leave their homeland.

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