CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. – A local man spent many years and suffered many hardships while trying to become a U.S. citizen.
But now, the wait is over.
Odilon Lopez arrived in the United States from Mexico in 1999. He worked in Virginia, and then moved to Charles Town, working two jobs to get by.
While working at Casa Gonzales in Ranson in 2002, Lopez met the woman who would soon become his wife. They were married February 28, 2004, and their daughter was born in 2005.
Although his wife, Krista, and their daughter are U.S. citizens, Lopez was not.
“My immigration journey started after I met my wife,” Lopez said. “We got married and had a child, so I really had no reason to go back to Mexico. I had started a family here and I had a job working for my own landscaping business.”
Lopez said he began sending in applications for citizenship in 2004, and waited for two years until he received any response from the immigration service.
“Things went from bad to worse to really, really bad. We made a terrible mistake of trusting a couple of attorneys,” he said. “One of them, a guy from Florida, completely took our money and ran. Then, a local attorney who started working with us did a lot of stuff wrong. She filled out the wrong paperwork, and that really messed up a lot of things.”
Near the end of 2008, Lopez received a deportation notice, which said he had 30 days to pack his belongings and leave the United States. Another immigration lawyer was able to get the time period extended to 120 days, allowing Lopez to sell his business in that time.
“It was very upsetting for me because we had just purchased a home that cost almost $400,000 and we were paying mortgage on it,” he said. “It was a scary situation for me not to be able to determine whether we would have to give up the house. Then the market crashed that year.”
May 3, 2009, was Lopez’s last day in the U.S. before deportation. He can recall the weather that day – it was raining. He also remembers hearing news of the swine flu outbreak, which began in Mexico.
“The airport was like a ghost town, because everybody was scared of the swine flu,” Lopez said. “There were only four passengers on the flight to Mexico.”
Lopez also remembers the storm of emotions when he left his wife and daughter to go to the airport.
“Everything comes back to me so vividly,” Lopez said. “I held my wife for a long, long time that morning. It was six in the morning when I got up. I didn’t want to get out of bed, I didn’t want to take a shower and I didn’t want to do anything, even though my suitcase was ready to go. I packed a very small bag. My daughter was really little, about three years old, and it was very scary for her. I told her Daddy would be back soon.”
After his flight arrived in Mexico City, Lopez then boarded another plane to the city of Juarez, in Chihuahua, Mexico. He had to go to the U.S. Consulate in person, to prove he had left the United States.
Lopez then moved to Saltillo, and lived with some acquaintances. He didn’t want to stay in his orginial hometown, as he said there is a great deal of violent crime there.
Lopez said he had trouble finding work. Having been in the U.S. for more of his life than he spent in Mexico, Lopez knew English better than Spanish, and American traditions better than Mexican culture.
The people Lopez stayed with were heavily involved in activities at a local church, so Lopez ended up volunteering at the church to stay busy.
“I tried to keep my mind occupied as much as I could. I did some volunteer work for the church just to stay busy,” Lopez said. “I talked to my wife for at least 30 minutes every day. We text messaged, or talked on the computer at night. I tried to stay as close as I could to her though this process.”
In 2009, Lopez’s wife told him she was pregnant, which added to the worries that were already on his mind. He knew from experience that while she was pregnant with their daughter, his wife would often get very sick. Lopez also missed his son’s birth while in Mexico.
In May 2009, Lopez received good news.