Mom crossed border illegally but wants family to stay together

Published: Monday, Feb. 18 2013 8:00 p.m. MST

Ana Canenguez stands with her family and becomes emotional during a press conference in Kearns, Monday, Feb. 18, 2013, held to urge Immigration Customs Enforcement agents to halt the deportation of Ana and her sons Job Ramirez, Geovanny Ramirez, Mario Ramirez, and Erick Ramirez.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

KEARNS — A community rallied around a single family Monday, begging the federal government to make an exception and not deport the immigrant mother and her four sons.

"Ana does not threaten public safety and neither do her sons," said Raymi Gutierrez, a member of the Salt Lake Dream Team, which advocates for undocumented individuals fighting to win a path toward United States citizenship. She said the family is "a perfect example of how broken the immigration system is" and how badly immigration reform is needed.

"By deporting this family, the United States is deporting them to their deaths," she said.

Some family members are citizens, born in the United States. Others have been snared trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally, including the mother who made a public appeal for help Monday.

Ana Cañenguez, 40, said she understands that she broke the law, twice, but said she "had no other option." The mother, who lives and works in Tremonton, said she believes God has a reason for her to be here, or he wouldn't have saved her in the desert or kept her children from harm in El Salvador.

Coming to America

Her story begins in 2003 when she first immigrated to America to provide for her four young children whom she left with an alcoholic father in El Salvador. She said he wasn't meeting their needs and an opportunity for what she believed would be a better life arose.

She made her way across the border illegally and said she began working for little pay in New York.

"It was hard to leave them behind but it was harder to hear they were hungry," Cañenguez said through an English translator during a press conference held at the Iglesia Pentecostol Luz y Verdad, a Pentecostal church in Kearns, on Monday. She worked in New York for several months, but then moved to Utah to work in a Mexican restaurant making minimum wage.

In 2010, she paid for two of her sons, Job Ramirez, 18, and Geovanny Ramirez, 16, to be smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border. She said her sons had been taunted to join Mara 18, a gang of rebel soldiers, and their lives were being threatened for their dissidence.

Cañenguez ended up going to Mexico herself in 2011, after her other two children, Mario Ramirez, 14, and Erick Ramirez, 13, had been detained while also trying to cross the border.

On their way back to Utah, the three of them became lost in the desert and when she became scared for their safety, Cañenguez turned herself in to U.S. Border Patrol agents and they were arrested.

She said she asked them not to separate her from her children again.

"We were separated for eight long years, to be separated again would break my heart," Cañenguez said, fighting back tears. She and her children were released and allowed to return to Utah at the time, but she was told deportation proceedings were imminent.

Deportation order

In October, Cañenguez and her sons were ordered to be deported.

Erick recently wrote a letter to President Barack Obama, asking for prosecutorial discretion for his family. He said he feared for his life in El Salvador and said he doesn't want to be part of a gang that is forced to kill people.

"I have friends here and they like me. They say I'm a good person," Erick said. "I don't want to go back because this is my home."

The eldest facing deportation, Job, attends Bear River High School, learned English in just over a year, and has been told by his teachers that he is doing well.

"I feel comfortable going to school here, there's no pressure, no gangs and I want to go to college," he said, adding that he wants to become a newspaper reporter.

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