Former Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Perez, a mother of four, has been on the front lines of a decade-long battle of dealing with the mental and physical impact of the separation from her husband, Marcos Perez, who was deported by ICE following a traffic stop.
After an honorable discharge from the Marines in 2009, Elizabeth never imagined that a stroll down the street would lead her to meet the love of her life, Marcos.
"We were inseparable from that day on," says Perez while sitting in her Cleveland Heights home.
In 2010, Elizabeth said her life changed again when a simple traffic stop led Marcos to be deported back to Mexico. Marcos was in the country illegally and did not have a valid driver's license.
"I moved my children to Mexico several times over the years to be with Marcos," Perez said. "Each time we feared for our safety and were forced to return to the United States."
Elizabeth says that the separation has really taken a toll on her kids, and there is little doubt that other families are going through the same struggles as Perez’s family.
Sarah, a social worker in Ohio, agrees. "The trauma on an emotional and psychological level is so much more obscure and difficult to identify, kids shove it down and you think they are fine and then you realize that they are having really bad thoughts." Sarah said. Her last name is omitted to protect her safety.
"When your brain is usurped by fear, you are set up for a future of anxiety and potential learning disabilities, which only contribute to social challenges in our community," she said.
Elizabeth remembers the sinking feeling she felt when the police called her after Marcos was detained.
"It was really hard," Perez remembers. "The house was empty, and he wasn’t coming back. I didn’t know if he’d ever come back."
Elizabeth is concerned for her children and how they are coping with only being able to see their father on video calls.
"All four of them have issues with their Dad not being here in different ways," she explained. "Their level of anger is completely out of control."
Elizabeth says that she has her entire family in counseling to try to address all of their anxiety and anger with Marcos still being in Mexico and not being able to return to the United States.
Elizabeth herself suffers from major anxiety, leaving her unable to focus and find a job. "We all sleep in the living room because I’m paranoid about something happening to them," she said.
Perez has been fighting to get Marcos back to Ohio for the last nine years, and has gone down every possible route to get him home, including traveling to Washington, D.C. and speaking with all of the Congressional members in Ohio.
Marcos is eligible to apply for a visa in 2020, and Elizabeth will keep fighting for him and her children with the hopes that they will all be together again soon.
"Hopefully two years from now he's back here and helping me, and my sons are benefitting and my daughters are benefitting, I’m benefiting, he’s benefiting and we all are just living the dream."