Deported Mormon glass artists making new life in new country

Published: Sunday, Aug. 19 2012 2:54 p.m. MDT

By that time, though, they had been in the U.S. more than two years and an asylum petition must be filed within 12 months of arriving. An immigration judge ultimately denied their petition and subsequent appeal in 2006.

The Argentine couple moved to Utah to work on projects that reflect their deeply held religious beliefs. They found jobs with Lehi-based Holdman Studios, which does much of the glass work for LDS temples. Zalazar worked as an artist and designer and trained her husband, who was a professional photographer in Argentina, to do etching and other duties.

Over the years, the Correas received advice from various attorneys and others, some good and some bad. They said they were under the impression that immigration officials would reopen their case after 10 years, so they never left. They said they never received a written deportation order.

On Oct. 22, 2010, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents knocked on the door of their American Fork home and took Correa to jail. Zalazar scrambled to sell off the family's possessions and pack what she could into a few suitcases. Two weeks later, the family was on a plane for Buenos Aires.

Correa said maybe he made some mistakes, but he didn't purposefully try to skirt the law.

"We tried to do our best," he said.

Going back to Argentina felt like being on a sinking ship and having to swim for the nearest island, he said. Once he realized he was alive, he looked for a better island and landed in Chile.

"It's OK here, for now," he said.

Correa still wonders what might have been had the Obama administration's policy allowing illegal immigrants an opportunity to stay in the country and apply for a work permit come out before last August. He held a job, paid taxes and never received so much as a traffic ticket.

The Correas said the LDS Church has been the constant in their lives and that their family has grown closer together through their ordeal.

"Members of the church are your brothers and sisters wherever you go. I don't feel like an Argentinian. I feel like I'm LDS," Zalazar said.

"As you know, we're eternal," she said. "That is what is important to us."

The Correas have managed to maintain their stained glass shop, Debora Zalazar Studios, and have even been working with Holdman Studios on projects.

They recently returned from a month in Ghana working on the LDS temple there. They hope to get contracts for the new Concepcion Chile and Cordoba Argentina temples. They're trying to introduce their glass work to residences, malls and schools in southern Chile.

"We are making enough money to live on," Zalazar said.

They say they developed skills they didn't know they had.

"I never thought we could make our own business," Correa said.

The Correa children have adapted as well. They had only vague memories of Argentina, and Chile is new to them. They grew up American.

Kevin attended American Fork High School and was expecting his driver's license when the family had to leave. He misses snowboarding and BMX riding at the local skate park.

Magi was an honor student at American Fork Junior High School.

Their adjustment to Chilean schools was difficult. Kevin spoke Spanish but couldn't read and write it well. Magi at first translated all of her homework into English before completing it in Spanish.

Kevin, 18, graduated from high school this year. He'll begin serving as an LDS missionary next week in the Chile Santiago North Mission. He said it will be a "cool experience" but concedes he wanted to go farther away. He wants to enroll at BYU after he returns.

"I don't see myself here forever," he said.

Magi, 15, couldn't help but notice a lot of stray dogs running around the city. She spent her money on dog food and brought several puppies home, much to her parents' dismay. They finally let her keep a curly haired dog she named Lilo.

"It's just comforting to have an animal to help me out. She's a real blessing for me," she said.

Magi also discovered a talent for distance running. She belongs to a local track club and has won several races. "And I want to go to the Olympics," she said.

But which country would she represent? That's hard, she said, noting she was born in Argentina, grew up in the U.S., and Chile "saved us when we were sad."

The Correas said they don't know what's still in store for them.

"I think everything has a purpose in life," Correa said. "It's like a movie. We're in the middle of the movie. We don't know the end."

E-mail: romboy@desnews.com, Twitter: dennisromboy

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