“I don’t get it,” I said to my mom as we took the ramp into the departure wing of the Leafton airport. My mom just stared straight ahead, her eyes red and puffy. She wasn’t crying anymore, but I chose my words carefully so that she wouldn’t start again. “Why are Rosela and her family being deported? What did they do wrong?”
“Nothing.” My mom spoke in a low, serious tone. I wasn’t used to it.
“Then why can’t they stay?” I wondered innocently. “Isn’t Canada all about immigration and multiculturalism?”
My mom parked the car and together, we walked to the airport. She explained in a hoarse, tired voice, “when Rosela’s dad filed their paper work, four years ago, he applied for refugee status.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“A refugee is someone who can’t live in their own country. Someone who is persecuted against, or in danger, or starving.”
I raised my eyebrows, “is that what Uruguay’s like?”
“Don’t be stupid!” My mom snapped at me, “of course it’s not. That’s why Canada denied their status and is deporting them.”
I frowned. I still didn’t get it. I cautiously questioned, “why would he apply for refugee status if Uruguay isn’t really a refugee country?”
My mom shrugged. “I don’t know. He’s stupid. Maybe he thought the benefits were better, or it would be faster than the immigration process. He tried to fool the government.”
“But now that they’re not refugees, can’t they just apply to be regular immigrants?” It seemed so simple. I spotted my mom’s cousin, my Tia Eva and my two second cousins, Rosela and her little brother Marcos standing across the front hallway with my grandparents.
“Not from here. They have to go back now.” My mom sighed sadly. “And even then, they probably won’t be able to afford to come back.”
Just then, Rosela spotted us and ran in our direction. She flung her arms around my neck and sobbed into my shoulder. I stared into her frizzy black hair, through the strands at her pink school bag on her back. I had a matching one in purple. We’d bought our backpacks together that year before starting high school. Before we knew they were being deported. It wasn’t fair. We were the same age, but we weren’t being given the same opportunities.
I was conflicted. Part of me strongly believed that if you do something wrong, like wrongfully apply for refugee status to benefit from the government, you should be punished. Rules and laws exist for a reason. But that wasn’t Rosela. That was her dad’s fault. Her dad that today was characteristically missing in action. Because of Rosela’s dad, her recently single mom, Rosela and Marcos were being deported. The three of them hadn’t done anything wrong, but my beloved country was sending them away.
I squeezed Rosela a little harder remembering the day her mom told us that she’d caught her dad cheating. Remembering the afternoon she came home with her leg bleeding because a classmate had stabbed her with a pencil for not speaking English. Remembering the night Rosela, Marcos and Tia Eva had to stay over at our house because their Leafton apartment had been broken into. And now, after probably 4 of the hardest years of their entire lives, they had to leave! What had been the point of it all?
Waterfalls of tears unexpectedly fell down my face. I hadn’t expected to cry today.
My grandpa walked over, placing a hand on each of our shoulders. “Don’t worry girls, you’ll see each other again.”
And I knew deep inside that we would.