Alonso Guillen came to the U.S. from Mexico as a child. He died here, too: On Wednesday, he disappeared when his boat capsized while he was rescuing survivors of the flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area.
Family members recovered his body on Sunday from a creek in Spring, Texas, according to The Houston Chronicle ― just hours before reports emerged that President Donald Trump will end the program that shielded Guillen and others like him ― so-called Dreamers ― from deportation.
Guillen, a 31-year-old disc jockey who came to Texas from Mexico as a teenager, never became a U.S. citizen. But he had a work permit and protection from immediate deportation as part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program ― DACA ― that then-President Barack Obama established in 2012.
Last week, he headed south from his home in Lufkin, Texas, with a borrowed boat, insisting he wanted to help rescue flood survivors. His father, a legal permanent resident, wept on the sandy banks of Cypress Creek on Sunday as his son’s body was pulled from the water, the Chronicle reported. Jesus Guillen recounted to the paper how he asked his son not to go on the rescue mission with two friends, and that he thanked God for the time he had with his son.
His mother, Rita Ruiz de Guillen, was contacted by Chronicle at her home in Piedras Negras, Mexico. “I’m asking God to give me strength,” she said.
She also told the paper that U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials denied her entry at the border, despite her pleas for a temporary visa to come to Texas for her son’s burial.
On Monday, however, the customs and border agency said it had no record of Guillen’s mother applying for admission to the U.S. in 2017.
In a statement, the agency said it has “offered to work with the Mexican Consulate and non-governmental agencies” to allow her entry “in order to attend her son’s funeral.”
The agency also offered its condolences to Alonso Guillen’s family.
The boat that he and his two friends were in capsized when it hit a bridge around midnight Wednesday, according to the Chronicle. One of them was rescued after clinging to a tree but the other, Tomas Carreon Jr., also was lost to the flood waters. His body was discovered Friday.
The backstory to Alonso Guillen’s arrival in the U.S. is unclear. But the timing of his death spotlights the contributions he and other Dreamers have made to the U.S.
Trump reportedly will announce on Tuesday his decision to end the DACA program. His termination order won’t be enforced for six months, according to the reports, which gives the White House or Congress time to craft an alternative to deporting the nearly 800,000 Dreamers. But that also creates little but uncertainty for those who, like Guillen, crafted lives for themselves in the U.S.
Many leading Republicans ― including those committed to cracking down on illegal immigration ― have been urging Trump not to end DACA. In a radio interview in Janesville, Wisconsin, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said “there needs to be a legislative solution” addressing the status of Dreamers. He said he counseled Trump not to end DACA in part because “these are kids that know no other country.”
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) told The Washington Examiner Sunday evening he would support legalization for Dreamers if Congress also took action to toughen other parts of immigration policy. “We ought to take care” of the Dreamers, he said, adding that they weren’t to blame for coming to the country illegally.
But Trump has used the immigration issue to build a political base since he began his presidential campaign with a 2015 speech in which he called some Mexican immigrants “rapists” and called for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. As president, he has beefed up the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which boasted a 41 percent increase in arrests during Trump’s first 100 days in office. Arrests of non-criminal offenders doubled.
The White House plan to eliminate DACA puts Republicans in the House and Senate in a bind, forcing them to either act to stop sweeping deportations or renege on public statements promising a compassionate approach to Dreamers.
Guillen’s family, meanwhile, is left to mourn him. “When we are with God, there are no borders,” his mother told the Chronicle. “Man made borders on this earth.”
This article has been updated with a statement from U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency saying it is working with others to allow Guillen’s mother to come to the U.S. for her son’s funeral.