From a dream to deportation, a West Michigan family prepares for what's next
Two years ago, we shared with you the story of a young immigrant in Grand Rapids.
Brandon Reyes is part of a generation of immigrants known as dreamers, who arrived in the United States as children.
“At six years old, I had no idea what were the laws or anything,” Reyes said then. “I just know my mom said ‘We’re coming over here for the great opportunity.’ I didn’t know that I would be called illegal as a human, you know?”
In February of this year, Brandon Reyes was arrested by federal immigration officers.
Tomorrow, Reyes’ family says he will go before an immigration judge and voluntarily ask to be deported.
Over the past few years, Brandon Reyes has become known as an outspoken activist for immigrant rights. He’s shared his story at rallies. He’s been on the news.
But more importantly, his mom Marilú Parra-Velázquez says, he’s always been there for his family, including his two younger sisters.
"Brandon understands the positive side of everything," says his cousin Nelly Gudino, while interpreting from his mom. "He's always telling us, well maybe I'm going to Mexico because God knows that someone else needs me over there."
"Sus hermanas dicen que lo van a extraña,” Parra-Velázquez says.
“The girls are going to miss him a lot,” says Nelly Gudino, Reyes’ cousin, who interprets his mom’s words. “And they were saying like, ‘What’s going to happen with Brandon, what are we going to do now?’ There’s nothing else that we could do. Brandon was the one who would always be here, giving his opinion on anything. But Brandon understands the positive side of everything. Like he’s always telling us, ‘well maybe I’m going to Mexico because God knows that someone else needs me over there.’”
I met Parra-Velázquez and Gudino at their home Thursday morning. We sat in the same living room where I first talked to Brandon Reyes shortly after the inauguration of President Trump.
Reyes was enrolled in DACA - a program created by the Obama administration to protect certain young immigrants from deportation.
But last year, he was arrested for a DUI. He’d been working on his probation when officers from Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested him.
“We all make mistakes,” Reyes told me on a phone call from inside the detention center in Calhoun County. “But that one mistake came back to me and it came back to my mom as well, so that hurts a lot.”
Brandon’s mom was in the car with him when he was arrested. She was picked up to, though now she’s out on bond, waiting for another court hearing.
She could go with her son to Mexico, but because of her status, she wouldn’t be allowed back.
And living there isn’t an option.
For one thing, Gudino says the family came to the United States originally to flee Reyes’ abusive father. She says Brandon’s mom was threatened after they fled.
“She received a phone call from Brandon’s biological father saying if they went back to Mexico they were going to get killed,” Gudino says.
That phone call was 15, maybe 16, years ago. The family says their lawyer told them it can’t be used as a reason for an asylum claim now.
Reyes has decided it’s better not to fight his deportation case.
So he plans to ask a judge to leave. Within weeks, and without a chance to gather his things or see his friends, he’ll be sent on a plane to Mexico.
His family will stay here, but now they say his political activism is their political activism.
Next week, on May 1st, there will be a march for immigrant rights in Grand Rapids. Brandon won’t be there. But his family says they will be.
“Todos son iguales,” his mom, Marilú Parra-Velázquez says.
We’re all equal.
“No somos diferentes.”
We’re not different.
“We should have equal rights,” she says.