Fredd Reyes (right) and his wife Valentina Pavone Reyes-Sagastume.Photo: Valentina Pavone Reyes-Sagastume / Valentina Pavone Reyes-Sagastume
For Fredd Reyes, the U.S. is home. He’s lived here since he was two years old and has no memory of his native Guatemala. He was a top student at East Davidson High before attending a local college.
Fredd’s English is better than his Spanish. He is a taxpayer with no criminal record. His younger brother is a U.S. citizen. There was no reason to suspect his past was unusual. Fredd’s friends did not know he was living in the country without documents until he was arrested, detained, and threatened with deportation.
In 1989, Fredd and his parents escaped political and civil unrest in Guatemala with temporary visas. They were at risk because his grandfather was a politician; after her brother was assassinated, Fredd’s mother, Orfilia, received death threats. They arrived in New York City, found jobs, and the waiting began.
Even as they one day hoped to return to Guatemala, the family filed a petition for U.S. citizenship. Years passed while they waited for approval. But in the late 1990s, the family let their visas expire after some bad legal counsel. Finally, when they realized they still could not return to Guatemala, the family tried to renew their political asylum application. A judge turned down the petition, and the family was given six months to leave the country.
By staying in the U.S. to continue the lives they had built over the course of a decade, Fredd and his family members became undocumented immigrants. Their only option was to hope that no one would notice they had not left.
After that, Fredd grew up in the shadows. Throughout his life, a lot of things that other people might take for granted were seemingly taken away from him.
“I was admitted to NYU, my dream college, but I couldn’t go – because I didn’t have a green card,” says Fredd. “I got over $80,000 in scholarships for higher education, but I couldn’t use it because it was government money and I didn’t have a green card.”
It happened again with a job. “My passion is music, I love to sing and I love art. I traveled to Los Angeles and I got a record deal through Sony Records but I couldn’t take it because I needed a green card.”
Fredd says that as an undocumented immigrant, “You can be successful, but only so much. You are living the dream, but you have to hide.”
At times, he felt a lot of hate and resentment. But then came his arrest and detention, which changed everything. He could no longer live in the shadows.
In 2010, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested and detained Fredd for two months. He was luckier than most; his friends and family worked tirelessly to collect over 84,000 petitions requesting his release, and their organizing eventually helped to free him.
The vast majority of ICE detainees are not so lucky. Without a community speaking up for them, thousands of detained prisoners like Fredd—living by the law, contributing to their communities—are quietly imprisoned or deported. As it stands, the system leaves no room for considering these complexities.
The family’s troubles did not end with Fredd’s detention.
After his release, his mother Orfilia was issued a deportation notice. Again a community of family and friends—and this time, AFSC—got involved. They held vigils, wrote petitions, and continually asked ICE to re-open the case because Orfilia was eligible for a readjustment of status. (Listen to Fredd’s younger brother speak about the case and the affect it had on the family.)
On March 28, 2013, the Reyes’ family case was reopened for the first time since the 1990s, making Fredd and his mother eligible to apply for green cards.
Fredd is not yet sure how he feels. “It is hard to describe my feelings right now because I spent so many years of living in fear,” he says. “Everyone has a different case, but I think it’s a mistake to point your finger randomly at undocumented people and send them away.”
“There are so many people I know that are assets to this country, not liabilities,” he says. “You aren’t getting rid of termites or animals, these are human beings, and they are valuable. You need to consider what they are bringing to the country.”
“We must always remember that real lives will be affected by our debates and decisions, and that every human being has dignity and value no matter what their citizenship papers say.”