The American Dream turns into an American Nightmare for a family

The American Dream turns into an American Nightmare for a family
Victor Lopez, and Nichole Cummings Lopez and one of their daughters

[UPDATE: Since the publication of this article, the father, Victor, has been deported to his native Honduras. An American wife is without her husband, and their American children are without their father. No, President Trump, we do not all have the same heart as you stated in the State of the Union Address.]

 

The Republican Party likes to talk a lot about families and values. They talk about the sanctity of the family, and how US law tears families apart. They say they are the champions of families.

Nichole Cummings and Victor Lopez are husband and wife. They have two children together, and another baby on the way. They are not wealthy, and Victor works very hard to support his growing family.

They live in a tough place. They live in Kankakee, Illinois, a small city about an hour south of Downtown Chicago. A once proud manufacturing city, it now is run down, and crime-ridden.

Once upon a time, the streets were filled with kids on their bicycles going to parks and playing baseball in the summer. There were jobs and prosperity.

The factories left, and like so many other cities, local kids went to college and moved to places that offered opportunity. Kankakee just has not been able to reinvent itself, unlike surrounding communities.

There has been a reinvention and not a good one. As Chicago recovered from the manufacturing exodus, gentrification began on some of the mean streets of the city. Section 8 and low-income highrises that had become gang turf so tough cops feared to go into them when called started closing. Mayor Daley was reshaping Chicago, and places like the notorious Cabrini Green were not part of the plans.

Many of the good people from the tough streets made the short drive south to Kankakee. It was not just the good people trying to escape the gangs.  The gangs came too, forced from their apartments by Daley’s rebuilding plans.

In a place where factories used to build stoves, furniture, and engine parts, heroin, crack, and prostitution became local industries. It is against this backdrop that Victor Lopez met Nichole Cummings and they fell in love and started a family.

Victor works hard to support his family. They have two daughters and a third child on the way. Victor is an undocumented worker. Age 33, he came to the USA when he was 17. Victor is from Honduras. He believed in America and believed in the American Dream.

Like nearly all our forefathers, he came to America to find an opportunity that doesn’t exist in his native land. He came and took the jobs Americans don’t want. He works hard and doesn’t create problems.

“We’ve been ripped off many times,” his wife Nichole told me in an interview. People would hire Victor and not pay him or underpay him.

They moved to a house on Washington Avenue in Kankakee by a Jewel grocery store. The area is well known to locals as a place where you can pick up a loaf of bread, a prostitute, and heroin all on the same block. Drive by any evening, and you can see women walking the street looking for business.

Prostitution is so bad in the city that a resident started confronting prostitutes and their customers and recording them as they emerged from a bike local bike path. The man posted the videos on Facebook. For years, the police had done nothing about the problem.  After the incident, the police stepped up patrols in the area.

The police are not very responsive to community complaints unless they become public. The city makes an effort to hide the crime from the public eye. The city’s response has been to hide crime rather than be more responsive to the public.

Nichole told me in our interview the problems began when their landlord rented an apartment in their building to some heroin addicts.

“I’ve had to call the police 30 times,” Nichole tells me, “I watch drugs being dealt on our porch. The police do nothing about it.”

Things came to a head three weeks. Victor was in the bathroom, and when he came out, someone was in his living room with his kids. It was one of the addicts. Protecting his family, Victor confronted the home invader on the porch.

An argument ensued, and Victor went back to his apartment. Someone called the police, and in awhile there was a knock on Victor’s door.

Victor’s English is not good even though he has been in the USA many years. Victor is a Latino, and Spanish is his native tongue. To the cop at the door, Victor was a Mexican. He kept calling Victor a Mexican even though Victor explained he isn’t a Mexican.  It became obvious to Victor that the policeman didn’t care for Mexicans.

According to Nichole, the person who walked into their home lied to the police. In her view, the police took the word of the home invader over the word of her husband just because he is Latino.

The cop arrested Victor and charged him with assault and home invasion. At the booking, Nichole told me that the arresting officer kept calling Victor Mexican. Victor asked the arresting officer’s name and told him he was going to charge him with racism. The cop laughed at him and refused to give Victor his name.

I called the Kankakee Police Department for their comments. They didn’t return my phone calls.

Nichole hired a local lawyer who gave her assurances the charges were ridiculous, and the charges won’t stand. The court date came, and as Nichole and Victor walked to the courtroom, two men approached Victor and Nichole.

“Are you Victor Lopez?” one officer asked Victor. Victor said yes, and the men told him that he must come with them. The two men are with Immigration and Naturalization. They picked up Victor and planned to send him back to Honduras.

The court in Kankakee has suspended the charges pending the outcome of the immigration case. Nichole had no idea where they had taken Victor. She called INS, she called the local Sheriff, and she couldn’t find her husband.

Nearly frantic, she started reaching out on social media and finally found someone with the right phone number of where to find Victor.

Victor’s employer, who doesn’t want his name made public paid for one of the best Immigration Attorney’s in Chicago. Kathleen Vannucci sees this kind of case nearly every day. “Things are different now,” she told me in a telephone interview. “In Obama days, we probably wouldn’t be here right now.”

Victor does not qualify as a Dreamer. Victor came when he was 17 years old. Under the current law, to qualify as a Dreamer, one must enter the USA at age 16 or younger.

“Congress is discussing whether to raise the age to 18,” according to Ms. Vannucci, “But will it be too late for Victor?”

Victor has another problem, a more looming problem that complicates his case. In 2004, an Immigration Judge ordered Victor to leave the country. Victor’s English was very poor in 2004, and it is unclear Victor understood the order.

What is also unclear is how INS learned of Victor. “It could have happened when they ran his fingerprints. Or, the police could have called INS,” Ms. Vannucci said. “In either case, there is not much I will be able to do for Victor.”

Ms. Vannucci added, “The policy is just wrong. Here are three American Citizens being denied their father. Here is an American Citizen being denied her husband.”

Ms. Vannucci also pointed out actions like this add to crime. Why would an undocumented worker call the police to report a crime? The outcome may be worse for the victim of a crime than for the perpetrator. Victor’s case is a clear example.

Congress will take up the Dream Act in the next few weeks. The lawmakers will speak in platitudes and make policy in a vacuum. It will all be nameless and faceless. For Nichole and Victor, it is all too real.

“He’s a good man; he’s a great man. I just want him home where he belongs,” Nichole told me. “The things we dreamed about for our girls I can’t give them alone.”

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