Joanna Garcia Salazar is wrapping up a hectic workday at a middle school in San Leandro, California, a suburban town on the eastern shore of the San Francisco Bay. Her work desk is adorned with folk art by Bay Area artists, family photos, and artwork by her husband, Javier Salazar, who is currently living in Tijuana, Mexico. There is also a family portrait taken when her husband was incarcerated. Her daughter, Juliana Garcia Uribe, works at the school part time while also completing her third year in college at a nearby university.
Javier Salazar had been serving a 12-year prison sentence for an armed robbery committed in Reno, Nevada, of which he completed 11 years, serving the last four under the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s Conservation Camp Program. The state’s program has roughly 3,700 inmates working at fire camps across 27 counties.
Salazar was deported to Mexico, a country he left as a baby when his family immigrated to Oakland, California. Ironically, he boarded the plane to Tijuana at the Oakland International Airport, the city he had called home up until his incarceration. According to the San Jose Mercury News, between 2010 and 2018, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) chartered nearly a thousand flights in and out of Oakland carrying almost 43,000 detainees to either be transferred or deported—even though Oakland is a sanctuary city. “A lot of people don’t realize what happens after you get deported, what we go through,” Salazar says. “We have to adapt to a different life.”
For Garcia Salazar, her husband’s deportation shattered her family. While they have been accustomed to visiting Salazar in prison, the separation was painful and took a toll on the family’s finances. “A round trip to Tijuana was almost $700,” Garcia Salazar recalls. “This is not going to work. I was mentally preparing myself for that.” It wasn’t until a friend told her that the cheapest route was to fly into San Diego and cross the border on foot. As a U.S. citizen, she would have no problem making the trek into Tijuana as many times as the family’s finances allowed for it. Her travels by plane were becoming increasingly expensive; one way to alleviate some of the money spent was for Garcia Salazar to bring merchandise to sell back home.
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