America at Large: Brothers’ shot at a better life ends abruptly

Repatriation has already begun of those brought to live in the US as children

The scene was a high school soccer game on Long Island last September. The best player on view was Hispanic, and after he scored the clinching goal one of the parents of his opponents decided to vent his fury. “Don’t worry,” shouted the father, “Trump will send him back when he gets in!”

Horrendous as it was to hear, two months out from the election, most people assumed that type of presidency was never actually going to happen. Yet here we are in a place where the repatriation of those brought to live in America as children has already begun.

Lizandro Claros Saravia was 10 years old when he arrived in the United States from El Salvador on an illegal passport. Accompanied by his 14-year-old brother Diego, the pair were immediately detained by customs agents. Eventually allowed to join family members in Germantown, Maryland, they remained in constant contact with the authorities from that day in 2009 forward.

Even after several appeals to be granted legal status were thrown out, they opted to register regularly with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials rather than disappear into the shadows like so many others. They figured this was their best hope of ever going legit.


In the meantime they got on with their lives, learning English, restarting formal education, and, mostly, prospering.

While Diego finished Quince Orchard High School and got a job as a car mechanic, Lizandro looked set to do even better. A promising youth soccer player with Bethesda, the younger brother graduated with a diploma and a soccer scholarship to Louisburg College in North Carolina. Not a sporting powerhouse but a wonderful opportunity for a teen desperate to wring every drop from the better life America was affording him.


On July 28th, the brothers fetched up at the ICE offices in Baltimore for their annual check-in, and in Lizandro’s case to ask if he could report to an office nearer the school where he hoped to study engineering.

At which point the duo were arrested. By revealing his intention to go to university, Lizandro had, according to the agent’s judgment, displayed definite intent to stay in the country permanently. Grounds for deportation. At least under the new regime.

In 2012, President Barack Obama had introduced DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), giving certain rights to immigrants who arrived in America as children without proper papers before January 1st, 2007.

While the Claros Saravia brothers didn’t quality for that, they benefitted from a laissez-faire administration that did not encourage the pursuit of cases like theirs as long as the individuals stayed clear of the law. Even before he announced the end of DACA this month, Trump taking over had already prompted a heightened zeal for enforcement of every kind.

Within days the duo were escorted on to an aircraft and sent back to a country that Lizandro, in particular, scarcely remembers at all. They returned to live with an aunt in a village outside Jucuapa, a large town where coffin-making is a boom industry due to the country’s rocketing homicide rate.

Don’t have a future

"I don't know what we're going to do," said Lizandro in an interview with the Washington Post from El Salvador last month. "I feel like in this country we don't have a future."

As their case garnered attention in the Washington media, Lizandro’s former team-mates at the elite Bethesda soccer club rallied on his behalf. They knew him as a kid who never missed training even though his journey to the field involved hopping several buses rather than being dropped off by his parents.

In his name they staged a protest outside the department of homeland security, and when it became obvious their clamouring was not going to reverse the decision they started fundraising to help him and his brother continue their studies in El Salvador.

“It’s important to go after MS-13 gang members, but it is an insult to decency and common sense for Diego and Lizandro to be targeted for deportation,” said Democratic senator Chris Van Hollen, one of several politicians to speak on their behalf. “Diego and Lizandro should not be victims of inaction in Washington or this administration’s disturbing efforts to punish those who have done nothing wrong.”

Long overdue

Plenty of people around the US are not bothered in the slightest by the plight of the brothers. To them this deportation was long overdue, and Lizandro being expelled has merely freed up a scholarship opportunity for an American player of, no doubt, inferior ability.

They see justice being served. Come here legally or do not come here at all. And they may have a point even if it’s difficult to figure out just how a boy being brought to a country at the age of 10 is guilty of anything other than doing what he is told.

In their minds he is somehow deserving of treatment more befitting a criminal, dispatched back from whence he came, and warned it will be 10 years before he can reapply for legal entry to the country where his parents and sister still live.

In this toxic political environment it is a story of its time except it ends on a positive note. A couple of weeks back, Keiser University, an American institution with a satellite campus in Nicaragua, offered both men soccer scholarships and a shot at a college degree and a better life. Again.