I’m an American citizen, essential worker and mother of two. Why was my husband deported?

On Dec. 17, 2019, my husband, Rodner, and I went to our local Immigration and Customs Enforcement office with our attorney for a routine check-in, a requirement of his pending green card. About an hour later, my lawyer emerged and told me Rodner was being deported. He wasn’t allowed to say goodbye to me or our two children. We haven’t seen him since.

After the initial shock, things got worse. I’ve spent more than a year as a de facto single parent, working 16-hour days as a nursing assistant. As a front-line worker, I’m proud to be helping my community, but my high blood pressure puts me at increased risk of COVID-19 complications. My children cry when I drop them at school in the morning — and I can’t blame them. They unceremoniously lost their father, and their mother can’t be home to tuck them in at night.

They ask what happened to their dad, but they’re too young to understand the reality: A combination of cold-hearted immigration policy and willful neglect by the Trump administration divided our family.

We followed all the rules

In 2012, I moved from Haiti to Florida as a green card holder to be closer to my U.S. citizen mom. Rodner came to America that same year seeking asylum. A police officer in Cap-Haïtien, in northern Haiti, threatened his life; understandably, he couldn’t seek help from the Haitian authorities.

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We met in English class at a technical college. He was friendly and, when he started talking about how much he loved his mom, I knew I had a keeper. We married in 2016, bought a house and started a family in Orlando. Rodner’s asylum claim was never approved, but he was allowed to remain while I petitioned for his green card, which would allow him to live and work here permanently. I filed the paperwork Feb. 22, 2017.

Since he had a path to lawful status, our lawyer said he was only required to check in with ICE once a year while we waited for a decision. 

Then, on April 28, 2018, I became a citizen. So we upgraded Rodner’s still-pending petition because our lawyer said my status as an American should result in a quick approval. We weren’t approved until March 2020 — several months after Rodner was deported.

Rodner and Anne Valentin Saint Brave pose with their children, David and Chrisha Joanna, in Orlando, Florida, in 2019. (Photo: Family handout)

Weeks later, the Trump administration stopped issuing new green cards. We were left wondering: Was government mismanagement responsible for these crossed signals, or did ICE deport Rodner knowing he had a sure path to permanent residency? Typically, only immigrants with criminal records were prioritized for deportation. But since Trump’s first year in office, he had pressured ICE to deport all undocumented immigrants. 

My cries are still unanswered

I’ve tried to put on a smile at work, but it’s not easy. Several of my patients have told me they’re praying for my family. I appreciate their kindness, but I’m supposed to be easing their pain. Still, it feels good to be appreciated. My patients — if not the government — remind me I am valuable.

In Florida, there are nearly three times as many open health aide jobs than available workers as of 2018, according to the immigration nonprofit New American Economy. Nationwide, we’ll be short more than 446,000 home health aides and 95,000 nursing assistants by 2025. 

Had Rodner stayed, he would have been an essential worker too. Before his deportation, he was a cook, one of the more than 2 million immigrants working in the restaurant and food service industry.

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Meanwhile, I have pleaded with my local congresswoman and the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to let Rodner have his interview, but my cries have gone unanswered. Meanwhile, I’m working nonstop to support my family. I am two months behind on our mortgage and about to lose our home. The longer this drags out, I worry Rodner’s case will fall through the cracks again and we’ll lose everything we’ve worked so hard for. 

In February, President Joe Biden finally revoked the green card moratorium that has kept Rodner in Haiti for more than a year. He has also sent Congress legislation to fast-track essential workers for permanent residency and later citizenship. These policies may sound abstract to many people, but for us — and for so many immigrants like us — they’re life-changing.

After years of despair, the new administration’s commitment to pragmatic and compassionate immigration reform gives me hope. I don’t know when Rodner will return, but at least I know he will. Before you know it, I tell my kids, we’ll be a family again.

Anne Valentin Saint Brave is a nursing assistant in Orlando, Florida.

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