Deportation Rips Apart Family Engaged in Ministry

By Stan Friedman

TURLOCK, CA (July 27, 2011) – Members of Turlock Covenant Church, almost entirely an Anglo congregation, had gathered for worship last November 7 when the photograph of Maria Isobel Chaparro was illuminated on the screen at the front of the sanctuary.

Maria had attended the church with her family for three years. She sang in the choir, volunteered her services to translate for chaplains ministering to hospice patients, led Bible studies, participated in a variety of other community outreaches of the congregation, and assisted residents of the Covenant Village Care Center, a skilled nursing facility.

Pastor Steve Carlson told the worshipers that on Thursday morning, Maria had dropped off her children – Alex, 12, and Kaylee, 10 – at their school. She then returned home to gather up clothing she intended on donating to an impoverished family with 12 children.

That was when three Homeland Security officers showed up and arrested her. She was being deported. By that Saturday night, Homeland Security had transferred Maria to Arizona – from there she was going to be sent back to Honduras.

“People were just appalled. They couldn’t believe it,” Carlson recalls.

Since that day, the congregation in this politically conservative Central Valley community have been endeavoring to get Maria returned to her family, of which the church consider themselves a part. “The people here really love her,” says Carlson.

During that November worship service in which Carlson broke the news, members signed 117 letters that were shipped to the officer in charge of the Arizona detention facility. They included a copy of a memo from a U.S. immigration official sent to field officers that instructed them to focus on apprehending violent illegal immigrants and give low priority to people caring for minors or the elderly.

That did no good. Two weeks to the day after she was arrested, Maria was flown back to Honduras. Left behind were her husband, Cesar, 42, and two children, all of whom are American citizens.

Few, if any, of the congregation knew that Maria, 44, had come to the United States illegally some 25 years earlier. Just 19 at the time and having suffered from abuse and poverty, she sought a new life here.

Maria gave birth to a son, Dalman, now 25, and moved to Turlock where she started working at a menial job, she told the Modesto Bee in a recent interview. Shortly after arriving in the United States, she became a Christian and started taking English language classes.

Maria met Cesar, a legal resident from Mexico, and they decided to marry. She wanted to become a legal citizen before they wed, though.

Maria paid $500 to a man who widely advertised himself to be an immigration attorney. He turned out to be a fraud and was later arrested in Atlanta and sentenced to prison for his far-reaching scam.

The con man filed asylum applications, but never told his clients when their hearing dates had been scheduled. As a result, Maria and others like her failed to appear, and judges issued deportation notices.

Since that time, the Chaparros had worked with three other attorneys trying to secure her legal status, but eventually gave up after their money ran out. Following her arrest, the church hired a private detective to look into issues connected with the con man and is entreating elected representatives to intercede on her behalf.

They face an uphill battle. There is a three-year wait just to get a hearing on whether Maria can return to the country, based on a waiver that would allow her to return because her family continues to suffer undue hardship.

Typically, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service requires that any person who has lived illegally in this country at least a year and leaves the country for any reason, including deportation, must wait at least 10 years before coming back.

The family is keeping in almost daily contact with Maria via Skype, but it isn’t the same as being together as a family. Cesar, a machinist, has been reluctant to accept much financial assistance, but the congregation, where he operates the soundboard on Sundays, raised money so the family could visit Maria.

When Maria was flown to Honduras, she was dropped off at the airport and left to fend for herself. She eventually made her way to a distant relative’s home.

Since then she has become involved in a church there. It had little discipleship material, so she is now using material from Centro Hispano de Estudios Teológicos (CHET), the Covenant’s Hispanic training center. She also is using the Covenant’s Hispanic Bible study material, “El Pacto con Dios.

“That’s one of the things that has kept her sane down there,” says Carlson. “She’s doing ministry.”

Carlson adds he was disgusted with responses left on the Modesto Bee website in response to the article. The paper removed the discussion due to the vitriolic nature of the comments.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

No Comments

  1. I called on small retailers in Danbury, CT for a period of 5 years, ending a couple of years ago. Many of my clients were from Central or South America, in fact as a percentage of the population, Danbury probably has more foreign-born Spanish-speaking than any other city in the state. I met more than a few that had been here in the states since they were under 4 or 5, but at 18 found themselves “illegal” despite the fact that their parents were now legal immigrants. There’s no question that INS (now ICE) is seriously backlogged and understaffed. Why anyone would assume a person is “illegal” by their own intention is beyond me.

    I pray the congregation of Turlock Covenant Church is able to collectively make a big enough racket to get someone’s attention so as to right this obvious wrong. I’d be happy to use any political connections I have here in  Connecticut to afford your effort any advantage they might afford. Feel free to contact me regarding this.

    Yours in His name;

    Doug Hageman
    doug (at) ctgop16.com
    Connecticut Republican State Central Committee / 16th District
    PO 555 Marion, CT 06444-0555
    860 919-8315

  2. This story make me angry beyond words. Maria didn’t get deported because she was bad, or because she was here illegally. Maria was deported because the people in the powers that be know fully well that if immigration continues the way that it is right now, in about 50 years many things will no longer be the same and they will no longer be – the powers that be. This is about power. Not immigration folks. While yes, we need to pray for immigration reform, we need to pray more for the hearts of those people who are doing this.

  3. How absolutely backwards! I have just tasted a bit of the immigration system in the last year after sponsoring my Brazilian fiance, now husband, to come to the U.S. so we could get married. It was not a difficult process, but it was expensive and took quite a while. It was incredible how much research it took for us to do things the “right way”. And it is scary to know that one small “mistake” or missing piece of information can lead to a plethera of misunderstandings and possibly legal action. The Chaparro story shows that we need a different path for those who want to change their status legally! The laws about not being able to do anything for 3 years and not being able to come back for at least 10 also need caveats to allow for exceptions and particiular situations. Come on US gov, it’s time to reform.

  4. My heart breaks for them. We have crossed a line in the US where the rich and educated can usually navigate (and at times bend) almost any laws they wish and the poor can not. Is this what God considers justice? I know the frustrations of dealing with US immigration because 13 years ago the FBI and INS lost our daughter’s paperwork leaving our family split up for a time. My three year old son (same paperwork, same situation) and I were allowed to come to the US for our missionary home assignment year but my two year old daughter’s paperwork was lost. This left my daughter and husband stranded in a borrowed room in Tokyo in limbo until a powerful person intervened. Several months later at the INS office in Seattle we ran into numerous other families who had been “requested to resubmit their paper work” although they were not clearly told why. I cried when I read about Turlock and Maria and her family, and beg God for change in our legal system so that it protects the weak too and not just the powerful. 

  5. We have a similar experience at Clairemont Covenant. A member had been in the U.S. legally for many years, married, has 2 young adult children, a very sweet wife and had a good job but had not become a citizen. Because of certain long ago circumstances he fought deportation for several years. Our church members wrote letters, he went through so many legal proceedings with lawyers and hearings but a few months ago was deported to Mexico. Where is justice? Is there no forgiveness?

  6. A difficult issue, and tragic personal situation. We must be careful in our expectations to legislate quick answers to difficult situations. Perhaps we must become very pro-active in helping those neighbors of ours who are in such risk in our present anti-immigration culture. I believe the 4th chapter of Ecclesiastes applies to our situation. Check out in particular vs. 10, usually applied to marriage, but perhaps needed in the broader context. “If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” and imagine a nation where people of faith, walked beside their neighbor as friend, to help the one who has fallen under his heavy load.

    That you for reporting, and I applaud your efforts. Some battles are worth the fight, even when victory seems beyond reach.

  7. Thank you for sharing this story. US Immigration policy is indeed unjust, but it is encouraging to know that God’s people are not going to let it go unnoticed. My prayers are with the Chapparo family and Turlock Covenant Church as you continue to fight. I am also praying for Maria that even during this time away from her family she continues to know God’s presence and being His hands and feet to the people of Honduras.

  8. Thank you everyone, I know that God is working in our lives, please keep praying for our family, specially for Isabel she is lonely and is missing her children. God bless The Covenant Church and all the covenant community for all the support and prayers. I’m talking with Isabel right now and she is sending greeting to all of you, God bless you all.

  9. Thank you, Turlock Covenant Church, for showing the rest of us the costly pathway of justice. May God bless with success the effort you are making to reunite the Chaparro family.

  10. Thanks for your compassionate responses to this tragic injustice for our sister Maria Isabelle and her family.  We at Turlock Covenant continue to come along side Cesar with care and support.  He has ongoing legal expenses working with a lawyer to reopen this case and get a hearing in the immigration courts.  There is hope that with the extenuating circumstances of this case, Maria Isabelle’s case will be heard and that she would be reunited with her family.
    If you would like to send a donation toward legal expenses it would be greatly appreciated.  Donations can be made out and mailed to : Turlock Covenant Church – 316 S. Laurel St., Turlock, CA  95380.  (Include note designating “Benevolent Fund – Chaparro Family”)
    Your prayers and support are appreciated.  Blessings

  11. This reminds us again why we also need to vote more carefully. We are so often called to take a position from a place of fear and urged to support very broad-brush “solutions” that run the risk of doing injustice and harming real people while we thought we were just taking a principled stand. Learning to walk in others’ shoes is a good antidote to that. Thank you for this story; may the Lord have mercy on this family and on this strong disciple of Jesus.

  12. Such is the insanity of our immigration policy. Those immigrants who are trying to do the right thing are victimized and deported. Families are ripped apart. Drug thugs from Mexico can cross the border with impunity to buy arms. A Biblical Christian must pray and work for an immigration policy that makes sense to normal people and punishes criminals. Stories like this happen all over our country. We must pray for change.

  13. Thank you for the many ways in which you are demonstrating compassion, while pleading for mercy, and being a voice for justice.

  14. Thank you for alerting us to this event.  I am thankful that the Turlock Covenant church has taken a lead but I pray the greater body of the Covenant brothers and sisters will join them.  Our prayers will be with Maria and her family.  We are reminded that they are representative of many immigrants who have experienced similar injustice.  Let us know how we can join you in another article soon, please.

  15. This story is outrageous and heart-breaking.  It shows all too clearly that legality and justice are not synonyms. Maria should be reunited with her husband and children in the United States. It will take far more than 117 letters to get this done and Turlock Covenant Church must continue to take the lead. Dear sisters and brothers in Turlock, you have a mission – “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed” Psalm 82:3. May God give you strength and courage to persist in it.

  16. While it is hardly pleasant to think in these terms: this is God’s way of getting the people he chooses into the ministries that need them. I will be praying for all involved.

  17. Thank you, Stan, for sharing this story so beautifully. What a terrible heartache. I pray for a great reunion and may wonderful fruit be realized as well. Blessings upon our brothers and sisters of Turlock Covenant Church!

  18. Shows the craziness and brokenness of the immigration system and the desperate need for reform. Our prayers are with this family.

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *