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The power of one little story among 11.7 million undocumented immigrants

My grandfather, Jack Helsell, with the hay rake he made by hand. Credit: Photo: Berit Anderson

A few weeks ago, the Western Washington Society of Professional Journalists chapter (of which I am a board member) hosted its annual awards gala to honor some of the Northwest's best journalists.

This year, the board selected Danny Westneat as Journalist of the Year. In his speech that night, Danny questioned his role in the Northwest media ecosystem: He hadn't, he said, uncovered any major government corruption this year or gone undercover to reveal abuse at any giant, overstepping corporations.

Instead, he had told the "little stories" — stories so obvious he wasn't sure he could really call them news. The impact of those little stories though, wasn't so little.

Today, Danny Westneat has told another of those powerful little stories — the story of Jaime Rubio-Sulficio, an undocumented immigrant who is both married to an American citizen and the father of a 15-month old American son, but who is nonetheless facing deportation. 

My family has its own immigration story, which was also splashed across the pages of the Seattle Times this spring. It is the story of Ben Nuñez-Marquez, the sawyer who runs my 90-year-old grandfather's old-style Orcas Island sawmill.

Like Jaime Rubio-Sulficio, Nuñez (he goes by his first last name) crossed the border into the U.S. illegally from Mexico to find a better life for himself. We didn't know that when we hired him, but by the time my grandfather found out, Nuñez had already proved himself the hardest worker he had ever met, had already become a part of our family.

For better or worse, we don't fire our family members.

He was caught at the ferry terminal in Anacortes, as he was trying to drive a sick elderly island neighbor to the hospital. It was just after 9-11, when islanders had resigned themselves to being stopped by border patrol agents as they got off the ferry — even though they weren't crossing any borders.

A few weeks ago, when I was on Orcas, I visited with Nuñez. He was, he said, in a state of limbo. "I just have to wait," he kept saying. Just a week or two later, his deportation was stayed for another year. What does that mean? For my grandparents, another year of their livelihood. For the island, the affordable specialty lumber that only that practically antique mill can provide.

For Nuñez, it's one more year of living in his community, in his house, doing what he loves. It's also another year of waiting. 

Jaime Rubio-Sulficio isn't so lucky. He's scheduled to be deported June 20th. His story, Westneat's story, might seem "little," but to at least one pair of American citizens — Jaime's wife and 15-month-old son — it's a very big story indeed.

Update: Monday, June 2nd, 11:03 a.m.

That very big story has a happy ending. On Friday, I received the following email from Keiko, Jaime's wife.

Hi Berit, 
I wanted to let you know that my husband received a stay of removal today!!!! It is one year temporary stay, and you know what it is like. But, we are celebrating today!
The office of Congressman Jim McDermott and Senator Patty Murray's office contacted ICE HQ with the list of media coverage, including Seattle Times and Crosscut yesterday. Then today, ICE HQ overturned Seattle office's decision!
It is amazing and we are still in shock. Honestly, we didn't think it will happen. My attorney was crying with happiness, too.
Thanks again for taking our family story on Crosscut. It definitely changed our life today.
Truly grateful,
Keiko, on behalf of Rubio's family

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