A CT family is divided by death and the American border

The three Molina children lost their father in a hit-and-run accident in downtown Stamford in April. They were separated from their mother 11 years ago by the United States’ blitzkrieg approach to immigration policy.

Two months after the death of Ronald (Rony) Molina at age 52, his children apply for a humanitarian visa to bring their mother back from Guatemala. Alex, 21, had to suspend his graduate studies at Yale University, while Ronald Steve, 19, was able to complete his freshman year at the University of Connecticut at Stamford. Evelin just graduated from Norwalk Community College. These must be feast days. Instead, they work to save their father’s struggling landscaping business, which paved the way for college.

Everyone, including Rony’s customers, reminds them of what a loving and lovely guy he was. The man who was all heart had his heart grafted into the body of a stranger. A final act of grace.

The five were all together for only a brief moment. Sandra was a teenager when she gave birth to Evelin in Guatemala 29 years ago. Evelin stayed there with her grandparents while Sandra pursued the American dream. She married Rony, they had two boys and settled in Stamford. After becoming an American citizen in 2009, Rony returned to his native Guatemala to adopt Evelin and bring her home to Cold Spring Road.

“I hadn’t seen my mum for many, many years, so it was a big day for me,” said Evelin, 29, during a break from the salon in Greenwich where she works as a hairdresser.

The reunion was brief. While Ronald and the children were legal residents, Sandra was not. She hired a lawyer who advised her to return to Guatemala in 2010 and follow the protocol to become a citizen. This backfired when she was denied re-entry.

Then, Evelin recalls, “Mom was really desperate – she went crazy.”

So desperate that she got caught crossing the border and was detained in Arizona. Sandra was banned from returning to the United States for 10 years. Bad immigration laws were not born in the United States under Trump. This happened during the Obama years, following a botched policy launched under the Clinton administration.

“The Sorrow of the Frontier”

The family was the subject of an Associated Press story in 2012 about the rise in the number of deported relatives. A decade later, nothing has really changed. Yet immigrants remain not only the foundation of the main street economy, but of the leadership of Fortune 500 companies.

“The tearing of the border.” New Haven attorney Glenn Formica, who is handling Sandra’s case on a pro bono basis, repeats the phrase like the refrain of a bullfight. “The tearing of the border.”

Since then, the children have only seen their mother on annual visits to Mexico, where she has moved to escape gangs in Guatemala who attempt to exploit women with what they presume are wealthy American wives (Sandra told the AP ten years ago that his brother was being held for ransom to extort money from his family).

The occasional visitation is expensive, but not nearly as costly as bringing Rony’s body back to his hometown so a second burial can take place.

“Shipping a corpse is really, really expensive, in the thousands,” says Alex. So they set up a GoFundMe campaign to bring him back to Carchá, where they reunited with their mother.

“We transported his coffin to the cemetery,” says Alex. “It was painful, I had marks afterwards.”

“Use my savings for college”

Alex also carries the weight of his father’s business.

He gets up around 6:30 a.m. every morning, talks to the All Seasons Landscaping team, and checks out the equipment. Then he puts on a suit and goes to his administrative internship in Manhasset, NY, at the Department of Family Medicine at Northwell Health. Customers and crew interrupt his shift with calls and texts before he returns to Stamford and connects the dots.

Alex finds time to laugh at one of the consequences of his busy schedule: “So basically I’m very hungry. I only eat breakfast.

He’s also trying to pursue a rehabilitation project his father started as a real estate investment, “with practically everything he had,” Alex says, somehow finding the resolution to laugh at new.

“Basically, we have debts. I’m using my college savings to repair the property. Then I’ll just calculate my $80,000 in student loans after that.

The landscaping business wasn’t quite making a profit, so Alex started it up again. Her father’s paper schedules and records have all been digitized.

As he speaks from the house in Cold Spring, Alex’s gaze falls on a painting of a white horse he once gave to his father. It’s one of about 50 images of couriers in the house that Alex describes as looking like a shack because of his father’s penchant for carpentry. The only thing missing is a real horse. I ask Alex if he’s ever seen Rony on horseback, and he remembers his dad teaching him to ride when he was a kid in Guatemala.

The only criticism I hear of Rony is when his son describes trying to translate business notes into “handwriting that’s not so legible.”

These days, customers tell Alex how Rony would brag about kids.

“It’s something I didn’t know,” he said. “How proud he was.”

Rony has built up a loyal following, primarily in Greenwich, Stamford and Norwalk. When the children were young, customers gave him school supplies every fall. A customer has been sending money for groceries since Rony died.

Alex agrees to pay him in the future. Looks like he already did. After graduating from Brigham Young in three years, he began pursuing his master’s degree in healthcare management at Yale. His passion stems from his time after school at Westhill High volunteering at Sunrise Senior Living.

“It opened my eyes to the healthcare field,” says Alex, who was Westhill’s class of 2018 president. “I fell in love with interacting with patients and improving their quality of life and care.”

“It’s four-wheel drive”

If Sandra could finally return to Stamford, she could take over the business and let her children get on with their lives. Evelin says her mom is able to handle everything from paperwork to lawn work.

“It’s four-wheel drive,” she jokes.

Evelin could also describe herself as she expresses her determination to bring her mother back to Stamford. The office of U.S. Representative Jim Himes, D-Conn., has been notified of their case. A spokesperson confirmed they were involved but could not comment on an active case. Formica, the attorney, has no updates from immigration officials.

“I don’t want to disappoint her,” Evelin said of her mother.

They may have been apart for most of Evelin’s 29 years, but Sandra has shaped her daughter’s journey. When Evelin was young, mom took her to the salon where she worked in Guatemala. During their early years apart, Evelin went to cosmetology school in Guatemala as a teenager. Sandra gave him a first set of professional scissors during their reunion in Stamford.

The thing about scissors is that they can cut, but also create new beauty.

As she hopes for a miracle, Sandra cuts her hair in Mexico. Evelin aspires to use her studies in business administration at CNC to one day open her own salon.

It’s nice to imagine his mom there too. After all, that’s how American dreams should work.

John Breunig is editorial page editor for the Stamford Advocate and the Greenwich Time. [email protected]; twitter.com/johnbreunig.

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