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COUNTY REPORT: A Message Hits Home : PROPOSITION 187 : Family Torn by Planned Return to Mexico : Aftermath: Oxnard mother prepares to leave with her two children but without her live-in fiance.

November 20, 1994|FRED ALVAREZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The land of opportunity has never held much for Silvia Alfaro.

But nothing, not the poverty of farm work or the uncertainty of being an illegal immigrant, has ever shaped her life as much as Proposition 187.

The Mexican native is packing her bags and returning to her home state of Oaxaca. Her two children--both of whom were born in this country and are therefore U.S. citizens--will go with her, becoming foreigners in a country they have never known.

"I walk in fear," said the 20-year-old Oxnard resident, who will catch a plane out of Tijuana early next month. "I'm afraid to take my children to the doctor. I'm afraid to wait for the bus. I'm afraid to leave my house."

Alfaro's live-in fiance--the father of her youngest child--will head to Minneapolis when she leaves, a place where he hears work is good and where he knows for sure there is no Proposition 187.

"It's hard, because this is all the family I have. But it's better this way," said Felix Rubio, who illegally immigrated to the United States about four years ago. "If we didn't have this oppression with 187, then we could stay. But we can't."

*

Before the measure won landslide approval nearly two weeks ago, immigrant-rights advocates warned that it could result in the splitting of thousands of families statewide.

And while there are few reports of illegal immigrants packing up and returning home, the advocates fear this is only the beginning.

"This is exactly what I expected, and I don't know how people could have expected anything else," said Eileen McCarthy, a lawyer with California Rural Legal Assistance in Oxnard.

"For all the people who voted for this initiative, and who assuaged their consciences by telling themselves this was only sending a message to the federal government, this is the grim and tragic reality."

For Alfaro and Rubio, the reality of the United States has always been something short of the promise for a better life.

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Driven by the deepening poverty of their homeland, the couple immigrated here at different times. He is from Veracruz, she from a tiny Oaxacan town by the name of Santiago Asuncion.

Alfaro first came to the United States about 1990. She was married at the time and had a child the same year. She and her son returned to Oaxaca when her marriage fell apart, but came back to Oxnard two years later.

She and Rubio met in a strawberry patch: both poor, farm workers and illegal immigrants.

Rubio toils from dawn to dusk, earning minimum wage doing various types of farm labor. Alfaro rarely leaves home anymore, an unfurnished room at an Oxnard house for which they pay $350 a month.

"Life has always been very hard for those without (legal) papers," Alfaro said. "We don't have much. We can't buy clothes, we barely have enough to put food on the table."

But until the passage of Proposition 187, Alfaro and Rubio had no plans of leaving Oxnard.

*

They may not have had much, but at least they had each other. They also have two children--Adrian, 3, and Eduardo, 3 months--both of whom are U.S. citizens and both who stood a decent shot at fulfilling the American dream that eluded their parents.

Now, however, staying put is a luxury the couple no longer can afford.

"My oldest son will soon be 4 years old, and I'm scared to put him in school," Alfaro said. "They say they will use the children to find parents who are here illegally."

In Oaxaca, Alfaro said, there is poverty. But there is also family, her parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters. She will return there and wait for Rubio to send money.

They will meet again and be married in Mexico, hopefully in six months or so.

"I'm never going to leave her. Never," Rubio vowed. "I consider her my wife. She's the mother of my child. We'll meet again soon."

For Alfaro, the choices at this point are simple. She could continue to live in fear, worried that every contact with a doctor or a police officer would result in her deportation and perhaps separation from her children.

Or she can return home voluntarily, her family intact and her mind at rest.

"It hurts me that it has to be this way," Alfaro said. "But if everything here was really so good, we wouldn't have to go anywhere."

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