On Tuesday, the Trump administration rescinded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, giving Congress six months to pass replacement legislation. But as illegal immigration is debated nationally, it’s also affecting a small community in northeastern Montana.
Nate Hegyi drove to the town of Circle to meet with the family of an undocumented Mexican ranch hand who was recently arrested and detained by immigration authorities. He also asked local residents for their thoughts on immigration.
As I’m driving towards the Delp Ranch near Circle, Montana, I pass a sun-bleached American flag rattling in the wind. In the distance there’s a green tractor, wheat fields and then a little ranch house with an ATV in front of it. Inside, Amparo Orozco is sitting on a couch next to her oldest son, Juan.
They’re surrounded by pictures of their family celebrating Day of the Dead, Juan playing high school football, and there, in the corner, a photograph of his father, Audemio Orozco- Ramirez. He’s been gone for more than a month. Her son, Juan, is translating for me.
NATE HEGYI: "What does she miss about your dad?"
JUAN OROZCO: “Que extrañes de papa?”
AMPARO OROZCO: "Todo."
AO: "Es que nadie tiene las palabras para decir todo lo que se siente, todo que nos ha pasado aquí. Es bien dificil."
JO: "She says no one has the words to say what we’re feeling or what we’ve been through. It’s very difficult.”
In early August, her husband was picked up for immediate deportation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. While a judge put a temporary block on that deportation pending a federal appeal, Audemio is still in ICE custody in Colorado, more than 500 miles away from his wife and eight children. Juan, his nineteen-year-old son, says he misses the sound of having his dad in the house.
“You could usually hear dad up at 5:30, making his coffee, making weird noises to bug us," he says. "Talking to the radio to his friend up in the yard. Now that he’s not here, it just feels weird not seeing the normal routine.”
Juan, along with his mom and dad, are considered “low priority” undocumented immigrants. They were all born in Mexico, and the only crime they committed was crossing the border illegally in 1999. They settled in southern California for awhile, before migrating north to work in the Bakken oil fields in 2013. But soon as Amparo arrived there, she says she got a bad feeling:
AO: "... Yo sentía algo diferente. No me gustó."
JO: “She says she just didn’t feel comfortable, you know? It’s not like when you go to other places and you can feel, kinda, sort of, like you’re wanted, you know? And not here, she felt like an outsider pretty much.”
Within a few months of arriving in Montana, her husband, Audemio and a friend were pulled over by a local cop. He determined Audemio was in the country illegally and sent him to an ICE-contracted facility in Jefferson County. There, Audemio alleges he was raped by a cellmate. He was released back to his family pending an investigation, and eventually sued the county for damages.
Late last year, Jefferson county agreed to pay Audemio $125,000 to end the lawsuit without admitting the rape had occurred.
Juan thinks back to that day in 2013 when his father was first arrested.
JO: “I just felt like a bunch of stuff just changed, right away.”
NH: “Like what kind of stuff changed?”
JO: “Well my whole life. It hurts to talk about it because at the time I was what, 16, knowing my whole life just changed. Taking over my family as a young kid. Just, I just knew that everything wasn’t going to be the same in between dad and the family, the social life I had.”
In Montana only three percent of the population is Latino. That’s especially true in the small, wind-beaten town of Circle. This is where Juan and his siblings go to school.
Some of the streets are gravel. There are rundown mobile homes, a sign warning about the dangers of meth, and a little main street where I meet Sue and Diane.
Those aren’t their real names. They wouldn’t let me record unless I used pseudonyms because they own businesses in town. I ask Sue and Diane what they think of Audemio’s situation.
Sue, the first woman, says she helped the Orozcos look at some land to purchase a couple of years ago.
SUE: “Hard-working, good people. And it’s a bad situation but ultimately I don’t think it’s fair to everybody to have them be able to be here if it’s a burden to taxpayers, I guess.”
DIANE: “I know some of their children personally. Extremely good people. There is a legal way to get into the United States and I think, as a country, we need to monitor who is coming in and why. Because nationally, there’s too many people that are, uh, committing crimes that are illegals, that have committed crimes in the past. That is not fair to our taxpaying citizens. To be paying for that garbage repeatedly and having our own communities harmed by that. It’s insane to put up with that.”
NH: "Does it change your feeling when you know somebody, like you know his kids, like Juan…"
DIANE: “In my heart, absolutely, in my head, no. You cannot write rules to backup emotions. Laws have to be what laws are.”
And then Diane asks why foreigners think they have a right to live in the United States:
DIANE: “We are not some big angel in the sky that is here to save anybody and everybody. We have people in our own nation, some of them veterans, that need lots of help and we’re not helping them. Why are we supposed to be helping anybody and everybody that feels like crossing a border?"
NH: "The argument would be that that’s what makes our nation our nation. Every single one of us here came from families who were immigrants. Crossing, give me your poor give me your hungry and everything else like that. Are you saying we need to draw a line, we need to stop?"
DIANE: “I’m saying we need to get a handle on it, and it needs to be selective and it needs to be legal. Bottom line. It needs to be legal. No exceptions.”
Back at the ranch, Juan’s eyes look tired.
Much different from the photographs hanging on the wall of him playing football, smiling, standing next to a cute blonde who’s holding a sign saying, “you may be #72 on the field, but you’re # Juan in my heart.”
Juan graduated last spring. Now he’s covering for his father on the ranch, fixing swathers, and trying to decide whether he goes to college or stays here to take care of his mom and siblings.
“One of my sisters, she has, like, really bad depression," Juan says. "She doesn’t even want to go to school. She wants to be homeschooled because she misses my dad. My little brother, how old is he, four? Wakes up in the middle of the night crying and asking where dad is. And I have to make up an excuse and tell them, oh, he’s out working, he’ll be home soon. It’s just, knowing that my siblings are hurt, being hurt. It hurts me, I mean. We just want my dad here. I mean, we miss him and need him.”
The ranch’s owners, Rob and Carla Delp, were adamant I not speak with them on the record, but Juan says they’ve been extraordinarily helpful. He says the family is staying at the ranch for free and the Delps have hired a lawyer to help with Audemio’s case.