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‘Deportee Wives Club’: Following undocumented husbands to Merida

Television program spotlights dilemma families face when they don't want to be divided by borders

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Hannah Hoover Picot “self-deported” with her husband who had lived and worked in the U.S. for 13 years. Photo: Matter of Fact With Soledad O’Brien

A U.S. television show sent a correspondent to Merida to talk to a group of American women who settled there because their husbands were deported.

The syndicated news program “Matter of Fact with Soledad O’Brien” found Hannah Hoover Picot, who had “self-deported” with her husband who lived and worked in the U.S. for 13 years.

“Matter of Fact” with Soledad O’Brien

“I had never even been to Mexico before,” says Hoover Picot.

Breaking apart a long-standing myth, marrying a U.S. citizen doesn’t automatically give an undocumented immigrant legal status, O’Brien notes when introducing a segment called “Love and Deportation.”

Hoover Picot and her husband, Ramon, started out in Veracruz in 2011 but moved to Merida in 2016, where she says she feels more settled. But she and her husband still yearn to return home to the United States.

“As much as I hate what they’ve done to us, I want to go home. It’s my home, and it’s his home,” says Hoover Picot.

“Merida is a cultural haven,” says reporter Leone Lakhani. “Thousands of visitors flock here every year to absorb the local history, the rich heritage, the Mayan culture. But for many of the women we came across, they said they felt trapped here because of circumstance.”

A lawyer advised the husband to leave the country for 10 years to begin his immigration problems. He agreed, and his wife and three children came along.

Crystal Parra moved to Merida in 2016. Her husband, Josue, had lived his entire 36 years in the United States, but he had been brought in, undocumented, at just eight months old.

They had already resolved to move to Mexico “on purpose” when Josue got pulled over in a traffic stop and was deported, the show reports.

“We don’t really have any plans to go back to the U.S.,” Parra says. “The only thing we really miss are our people.”

She said she wants to share her experiences to help hundreds of women like her using online support groups like South of the Border Sisters or the Deportee Wives Club. She was also shown hosting a mixer for other women in her situation.

Mia Manuel Mendez, 22, had just met her beau in Texas where “we were just starting our life” when ICE agents picked up her husband and deported him.

He had lived in Texas since the age of 4, but was undocumented.

“I had to leave my mom and that was really difficult,” she said of her decision to follow him to Mexico.

The cultural adjustments have been hard for both. They plan to figure out Manuel’s paperwork so they can go home to Texas where they both feel they belong, Lahkani reports.

A voluntary departure doesn’t guarantee a future path back to the United States, says O’Brien. It just means that a forced deportation isn’t on their records.

{ Related: Facing deportation, veteran’s wife takes refuge in Merida }

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