The father of two teenagers, including a special needs student at Scripps Ranch High School in San Diego, was deported to Mexico Thursday following U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials ruling.
Gaston Cazares said he moved to this country illegally when he was 16 years old, leaving behind his family and everything he knew to chase the American dream, KTLA sister station KSWB in San Diego reported.
But because of tougher enforcement of immigration laws that began when President Donald Trump took office in January, Cazares will be sent back to his native country.
Cazares said before Thursday's hearing with ICE that he is heartbroken at the thought of leaving his wife of 23 years and both his teenage children, all of whom are American citizens, but his greatest fear is for his son, Ivan, who has autism and relies heavily on him.
"We watch movies together or go shopping or help me shave my beard," Ivan told KSWB.
"I tried to explain to him. I'm not sure that he understands everything," Cazares said. "The only thing he knows is they want to take me far from here."
Ivan is already struggling, having recurring nightmares.
Cazares' daughter, Yahaira, a senior at Scripps Ranch High School, says there's no time to be a typical teenager.
"I've never had the issue of complaining about my parents. I can't take them for granted," she said.
Yahaira vividly remembers how it all began in 2011. Her dad was arrested in front of her when the Pacific Beach restaurant where he works was raided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
"He was taken and we didn't know where or for how long... and about a day or two later, we got a call, " Yahaira said.
In 2012, ICE granted Cazares a "stay of removal" based on Ivan's special needs. And every year since, he's checked in, and ICE has extended the stay for one more year – until this year's presidential election.
"Everything changed. Everything changed from night to day," Cazares said.
Nicole Leon, Cazares' immigration attorney, explains it this way: "Under the Trump administration, ICE is no longer exercising its discretion in this way, and so anyone who is subject to removal under the law is being deported regardless of circumstances."
The facts that Cazares is the breadwinner, pays taxes, has no criminal record other than his illegal immigration offenses, and has an autistic son were not enough to keep him with his family.
"My dad – he's important to me. He protects me, and I protect him," Ivan said.