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Medford mother of two faces deportation

Martha Elena Ruiz Garcia has less than a week left to spend with her two sons and her husband, who suffers from Parkinson's disease and diabetes and is undergoing dialysis because of kidney problems.

A Portland immigration court has ordered her to be out of the country by Friday.

"I'm really sad. It feels like my heart is broken in two. I would rather be with them," said Ruiz Garcia, who speaks both English and Spanish, but was helped during an interview by her 17-year-old son, who is fluent in both languages.

Ruiz Garcia came to the United States illegally in 2002 to work, but immigration authorities caught up with her in 2009, triggering a long legal process that has culminated in the order for her to return to Mexico.

She can apply to come back to the U.S. on humanitarian grounds. But humanitarian programs are typically used as a last resort, and it can be difficult to qualify for re-entry, said Joshua Medina, a lawyer with the Center for Nonprofit Legal Services in downtown Medford.

The center helps low-income residents with noncriminal legal issues but lacks the resources to take on the complexities of deportation cases, Medina said.

Ruiz Garcia said she checked into hiring a private lawyer to help her but was told the fees in the case would be approximately $5,000, and he would not be able to stop her deportation anyway.

"That's the sad situation people find themselves in when they get these removal orders," Medina said. "It's pretty common for the fees that accompany these cases to be high because of the complexity."

In November 2014, President Barack Obama issued controversial executive orders that would have allowed people like Ruiz Garcia to stay in the country and receive work permits. Under certain circumstances, people in the country illegally could have stayed for a period of time without fear of deportation if they have children who are legal citizens.

Ruiz Garcia's 12-year-old son was born in Ashland, making him a citizen.

However, implementation of the executive orders was put on hold by a federal appeals court after 26 states fought to block the orders, saying they would face burdensome costs. Another 14 states, including Oregon, support the orders and have said implementation would boost tax revenues and economic growth.

The court case is pending, with oral arguments expected this summer.

Debra Lee, a lawyer and executive director for the Center for Nonprofit Legal Services, said families like Ruiz Garcia's are being hurt.

"This highlights the tragedies that occur when the executive orders are not implemented," Lee said.

In 2012, the president used an executive action to create the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows some people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children to stay here and work.

"It's a really, really fantastic program," Medina said. "We've seen it help out so many different people."

Applicants must show a commitment to education by being enrolled in school, being a high school graduate or obtaining a GED. They cannot have a felony or serious misdemeanor on their records, Medina said.

Ruiz Garcia's 17-year-old son benefited from the 2012 executive action and can work legally in the U.S. He was brought to the country as a 6-year-old. Last week, he started a summer job, and he rises early each morning to work at a local pumpkin and squash farm.

A bright, soft-spoken and polite teen with strong bilingual skills, he will be a senior in high school next fall and hopes to pursue a career in the high-tech sector.

The pending departure of his mother is weighing on him.

"I'm very sad. I want her to stay here with me," he said while sitting next to his mom at their kitchen table in a Medford apartment. A colorful banner proclaiming "Happy Birthday" still hung from the ceiling from a recent family celebration.

The Mail Tribune agreed not to use his name or the name of his 12-year-old brother because of their ages.

Ruiz Garcia's husband, Jose Montelongo Lopez, came to the United States illegally in 1984 but was granted permission to stay in the country under a 1986 amnesty program signed into law by President Ronald Reagan.

Montelongo Lopez started work in the U.S. picking lettuce, then later had jobs as a construction worker, mill worker and builder of ornamental water features.

In late May and early June, Montelongo Lopez was hospitalized for dehydration. Doctors discovered his kidneys are not functioning and he had to begin dialysis. Because of his health problems, he has applied for disability, Ruiz Garcia said.

Local physician Linda Harris, who is familiar with the family's medical and immigration problems, said she often sees families being torn apart because of immigration issues. More commonly, a father or husband is being deported, rather than a mother or wife, and he must leave his wife and children behind, she said.

Ruiz Garcia said she hopes her story can help others not make the same mistakes she did in coming to the U.S. to work without permission and proper identification.

Although she knows there is little chance she will be able to stay, Ruiz Garcia can't help but hold on to a shred of hope.

"I'm hoping something will happen so I don't have to leave," she said.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.