When his father goes off to work, 4-year-old Carter Diaz cries inconsolably. So Carter's older sister, Isabella, 16, isn't sure how she'll be able to comfort him if immigration authorities deport her father, a Mexican immigrant who has lived, worked, and raised a family in this country with permission of the U.S. government for more than a decade, under an order of supervision renewed every two years.
"I feel like this will be the same [as when he leaves for work], but this time there's no way that he could come back," she said.
Isabella has been crying nearly nonstop herself since she learned that U.S. immigration authorities, under Trump administration policies, had decided not to renew the authorization for her father, Carlos Diaz, 44. Instead, on Wednesday, they slapped an ankle monitor on him and told him he could be deported by the end of the month.
"Everybody is telling me to cut the GPS tracker off my leg and run," said Diaz, whose quiet life in Quakertown has suddenly become untenable. "I'm not going to run. This is how much I love this country. I don't want to do anything wrong. I wanted to do the right thing, and this is what's happening to me."
If he does have to leave, Diaz said, he's not sure what will happen to his family, all U.S. citizens who do not speak Spanish. He's separated from his wife, who is struggling with alcoholism, and has primary custody of their two kids. On his wages as a mover for Raymour & Flanigan, he also supports his 18-year-old stepson. Diaz can't imagine leaving them behind, but he has nothing to offer them in Mexico — no home or family there.
Diaz first entered the country in 1995, according to his immigration lawyer, Christine Flowers, who also writes a column for the Inquirer and Daily News. He was deported after an arrest for drunk driving around 2000. His girlfriend, a U.S. citizen, married him anyway on a visit to Mexico, and had his daughter, Isabella, in Texas in 2002.
Isabella was born with three holes in her heart, requiring medical care in the United States. As his daughter's health deteriorated, Diaz made a rash choice.
"She was getting open-heart surgery. I decided to cross again, because they wouldn't let me see her," he said. That was in 2006. He was caught but released with the order of supervision — which functions like parole, allowing an immigrant to live in the community while delaying deportation, often on humanitarian grounds.
Every two years, Flowers would help Diaz renew the order of supervision. "Isabella is better now, but Carlos has become the main support for these three U.S. citizens," she said.
Not this year. Diaz isn't sure why the order was rejected, though he assumes it has something to do with the larger policy shift in the region and nationwide. Arrests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) increased 40 percent in the first eight months of the Trump administration. The Philadelphia ICE office has been particularly aggressive, a Pro Publica/Philadelphia Inquirer investigation found; it has been arresting immigrants without criminal convictions in higher numbers than any other in the nation.
Flowers said she had not received any explanation from ICE officials. "It was the first time requesting renewal under the Trump administration," she said. "He has been paying taxes and has work authorization. He's here with knowledge and permission from immigration, and I'm not sure what it was that triggered this decision to cancel. There's basically a zero-tolerance policy not just at the border, but here."
An ICE spokesman confirmed the order of removal, but did not respond to a request to explain the decision. Diaz, known to ICE as Carlos Erasno-Diaz, "was previously granted a stay of removal, but that stay has expired and his subsequent request for an additional stay has been denied. Mr. Erasno-Diaz has been ordered removed from the United States," the official said in an email.
Diaz's situation isn't uncommon. He's one of close to a million immigrants who were ordered deported years or even decades ago, but did not leave. About 90,000 people were living in the country under orders of supervision at the end of the Obama administration.
But as President Trump has shifted immigration-enforcement priorities through a series of executive orders prioritizing removal of even people without criminal histories, those individuals are no longer off-limits. Neither are immigrants who, like Diaz, are married to American citizens, though such ties were once a reliable pathway to legal residency.
Those who report regularly to renew their orders of supervision are particularly vulnerable to official action — and are increasingly facing detention and deportation.
"There isn't a lot of data on this," said Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington-based think tank. "But there have been a lot of reports, increasingly, under the Trump administration of those individuals going to check-ins and being apprehended and deported from the country. There have been enough anecdotal reports that we think this is a new trend."
A Haitian woman, Nirna Pierre-Paul, who had been reporting on an order of supervision for nine years, was abruptly detained this year, and faced deportation before a pathway to citizenship was found.
And Alejandra Juarez, the wife of a Marine veteran and mother of two daughters in Davenport, Fla., learned this year that an order of supervision in place since 2013 would be revoked and she could be deported by August.
Diaz said he understands that his permission to remain in the country is a revocable privilege. It's his kids he worries about.
"Basically, I'm all they have," he said.
In letters pleading with immigration authorities, his wife and her mother seconded that. "I need him to be there for [the children] while I am in treatment," his wife wrote. She added: "It would devastate them if he had to leave." His wife's mother affirmed that her daughter is "incapable of taking care of her children. … Since she is in my home, I don't feel my home is a stable environment for the children."
Isabella, who is going into the 11th grade, recently got her learner's permit. She was counting on Diaz to teach her how to drive.