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How is Deporting My Brother a Solution to Gang Violence?
( This article originally appeared at YO! Youth Outlook )
Today, my step-brother Frank, 23, was deported back to El Salvador. The thing I remember most about him is seeing him laugh. He would laugh about everything, then hide his face to drown his loud mischievous laugh. Frank is about eight years older then me, but I have always been a little bit better at video games. We could play for hours, Frank and my brothers Carlos and Irvin and I.
Frank was deported after being arrested and incarcerated for armed robbery. He had shot someone, but luckily did not kill him. I was in disbelief when it happened, all I could say was: "Frank isn't that stupid." Meaning I knew he was sort of dumb, for joining a gang, carrying a gun, taking pills and drinking, but I never thought he would actually hurt someone.
Many people like to say that their relatives are innocent and that they are good people inside, well, I won't bore you with the same story. Instead, I will tell you that my brother is guilty. He was affiliated with gangs and deserves time away from society, but he was paying for his time by being locked up. His incarceration really seemed to change him for the better. But, in sending him back to El Salvador, I worry that he'll have to resort back to gang life to survive because he won't have any family or support system.
My mother and father are both immigrants to this country from El Salvador. They were dating since before they came here. My mom came over first and got a job in a restaurant near Jack London Square in Oakland, washing dishes and serving food. She then saved up enough money to bring my dad over in the '80s. They got married then divorced six years later, when I was about three years old. After that day in court, I did not see my dad for about two years. He had traveled back to El Salvador to forget his problems for a while.
Meanwhile, my mom got together with my stepfather. When my father came back, he had a new wife. When my dad took my brothers and I to his house for the weekend, I was surprised to meet his new step-kids: Frank, Sulma and Mercedez. I never really resented them or my parents for the divorce. I consider them all my family, because they are as much a part of my life as I am a part of theirs. Frank was around 12 or 13 years old when he came to the U.S.
When I met my brother Frank, I was a very young, but I remember he ate a lot. One good memory I have of him is when he took my brothers and me to the theater to watch The Amityville Horror. I was so scared during the movie that I started to eat my pound of watermelon-flavored jellybeans in a rush. And I remember him telling us how he always wanted little brothers, since he only had little sisters.
I knew Frank was in a gang. He showed my brother Carlos the gun he was carrying, not to frighten him, but to prove that he was "bad," that he was "down" with gangs. I still remember that smile on his face when Carlos called him an idiot. I suppose Frank just took it as a joke. When I heard about it, I thought: "My brother is going to shoot someone, or get shot, what do I prefer?" I do not remember talking to him about gang life too much, but he did tell us how he would punch and kick rival gang members, wipe the blood off his shoes with a dirty shirt then throw it away.
I always saw gangs as people who lost their way. I was never interested in the whole idea that a gang serves as your "family." I have no need for such a family; I have always had my two older brothers, my little sister and my mother. I was not alone because I had my family, but most of all my brothers. They were people I could look up to and always did, but Frank didn't have anything like that. He had no brothers, no one he could connect to and had a lot of pressure being the oldest of the family and coming here as an immigrant. In my opinion, he did all those things that ended up getting him deported to seem brave, to seem cool for all the people in his gang. He wanted to be noticed maybe, have someone look up to him.
Even though I knew about Frank's activities, I was still shocked when he was arrested and I had a hard time imagining that he could hurt anyone.
I remember when my dad and I went to visit him in prison last summer. He was dressed in an orange uniform with a white undershirt. I remember watching him as he folded the orange shirt over and over making lines in the fabric. It was easy to tell he was scared in there -- he had lost a lot of weight and had not seen outside in months. It was the first time I had visited someone in jail, and hoped it would be the last. A feeling of pain and sadness could be felt through the walls of the building. It was very depressing seeing my brother through a piece of glass.
I remember being able to talk to him about a bunch of things, and mainly about girls, and we reminisced about the good old days. I heard a voice on a speaker, and I knew it was time to say goodbye until our next visit. Afterwards I talked with my dad about his experiences in jail for drinking and driving. Then he went on and on about his experiences in the military during the war in El Salvador.
I did not know exactly what to think or say when I heard my brother was going to be deported. My step mom, Lydia, was really sad about his crime but she knew he would eventually get out. My brother Irvin wrote letters to him in prison and told me that Frank had gotten very "philosophical", giving him advice about all sorts of things. I care about my brother, but he made a lot of mistakes that have caused him to be where he is today. For that very reason is why I stay away from gangs and drugs, and always will.
I miss my Frank. I miss how he was always able to say something funny to make people laugh. I am realizing how you never notice things about people until they are far away or just gone. I think it is unjust that my brother is far away from his family, without a way to get back. Lydia still has three daughters, whom she must take care of, which means she can't go to El Salvador to see him.
This October 31, I -- along with a big group of people -- protested in front of the San Francisco ICE office, with the purpose of stopping the raids happening in Sanctuary Cities, such as San Francisco and Oakland. It was one of the first major protests I have attended and I felt proud to be out there making a stand for all immigrants who are being treated unjustly.
Again, I know that Frank committed a serious crime but I believe it is unfair that my brother is being deported, because it does not solve anything, there are still gangs in El Salvador. If someone does a crime make them do their time, but do not move them far away from their families, it not only hurts them but their families as well.
The last time I talked to him on the phone, was about four days before he was deported. He sounded like the same Frank I knew. When I asked him if he was going to still be in a gang after all that happened he simply said "no." None of his gang friends visited him during the time he was in jail. One of his friends did write letters to him. All the people in his gang that were his "family" never visited him. On the other hand, his mother, sisters, my dad, my brothers and I visited him every chance we had. Now he is alone in El Salvador, because his only family is here.
Just before the call ended, the dial tone buzzed, and a woman's voice said: "This call has ended." Frank said to me: " Be safe, bro," and I said, " Yeah, you too."
Oscar Servelleon is a writer for YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia