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Leticia Stegall, “In her own words”

In depth report

In an exclusive phone interview with Kansas City Hispanic News Leticia Stegall shared her heartfelt pain of being taken away from her daughter Jennifer Uscanga and husband Steve Stegall and being deported to Mexico. She goes one on one with Hispanic News to explain how she got herself in this situation and how difficult it is for her and her family.

When Leticia Stegall saw on the news in late February that a colleague of one of her friends, an undocumented immigrant, had been deported, she felt a tinge of relief flood over her.

“When I found out, I was watching it on the news, and I said to my daughter, ‘This happens to so many people, but thank God it doesn’t happen to us,” she recalls.

After all, Leticia, herself an undocumented immigrant from Mexico who had been living in the U.S. for nearly 20 years, had built a life for herself here in Kansas City. A co-owner of Blue Line Hockey Bar and Restaurant in the River Market, Leticia was a well-respected businesswoman who never met a stranger. Her employees weren’t just her employees – they were her friends, her family. So were her customers. And then there was her husband, her daughter – they meant the world to her; they were her life. She regularly counted the blessings afforded to her in the U.S.

The relief turned to panic only two days after Leticia turned on the news. Pulling out of her driveway to head to the gym, Leticia, affectionately called “Letty” by her friends and customers, was seized by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents who had been waiting for her to leave her home all morning. It was 8 a.m.

No, no, this can’t be happening. This happens to other people. This doesn’t happen to me, Leticia thought, her head swirling with panic. What about her husband, Steve? Her 16-year-old daughter, a studious young woman who had dreams of going into medicine? What about her business?

Leticia’s deportation was swift and unmerciful over the course of the next few hours. She recalls being shackled and still bears physical scars from her detainment.

“They are snakes,” she bluntly says of the ICE agents. I have scars on my legs from the cuffs. They chained me around the waist. They didn’t give a damn.”

ICE agents ushered Leticia onto a plane bound for Brownsville, Texas, where they left her at the Texas-Mexico border, alone and scared. It was 9:30 p.m. and dark outside. Leticia had awoken that very same morning in her home, next to her husband. Only 12 hours later, that home, that life had been taken from her, and now she had to start over.

“Why am I here?” she asks KC Hispanic News. “I paid my taxes. It feels awful. It feels devastating. I’m the one who always says good night to my daughter. I know (my husband and daughter) need me.”

Leticia’s husband, Steve, has the same question. He and his wife had been on a path to get her legal status for years – and in fact, a judge had only recently granted Leticia a stay as she made that progress. The only run-in with law enforcement she’s ever had was an arrest for driving under the influence in 2012.

“But they took me anyway,” she says simply, adding that she had a work permit. “They never told me why. We even had a letter saying my case would be reopened.”

Steve says he shares his wife’s frustration, calling her deportation unlawful.

“We were blindsided by this because we thought we were doing the right thing,” he told Fox 4 in a recent interview.

According to the article, when he discovered his wife was going to be deported, Steve’s lawyer was able to file a writ of habeas corpus, stating that Leticia be kept at the Platte County Jail until mid-March. His lawyer sat outside the ICE office to make sure Leticia wasn’t forcefully deported – but only hours later, Steve received the call that she had been taken out of the country.

Speaking with KC Hispanic News, Leticia, now living with relatives in Veracruz-Llave, Mexico, reflects on all she has fought for since she came to the U.S. almost two decades ago, and all she could stand to lose if she isn’t able to re-enter America. She is still able to talk daily with Steve and her daughter on Facetime, but it just isn’t enough.

“When I see my husband and daughter on the computer, I want to reach out and hug them, but I know I can’t go any farther than the screen,” she says. “My daughter will be 17 soon, and I’m not going to be there with her. She will go to prom in April, and I won’t be there to see her. My husband -- he is not her (biological) father, but he pretty much adopted her, because we are married. He would do anything for her. We are a family, and we have been torn apart. But we just have to pray that things will get better.”

And then there is her business, her employees, and her customers, all of which she is especially proud, Leticia adds.

“My business isn’t just a business. It’s my life,” she says. “My employees – I treat them like my family. I’m worried about how they feel. I know they need me.”

That need was evident on March 5, when customers and employees of the Blue Line held a rally outside the restaurant. Carrying placards that demanded the return of Leticia to the U.S., those gathered expressed shock and anger at the deportation of a friend and employer. One attendee yelled, ‘Deport Trump!’ Leticia says she feels heartened to know of their support.

“When you’re a good person, people stand up for you,” Leticia says. “I believe that the good that you do – the world gives back to you. God is working His way. I truly appreciate the people who showed up there, the day I needed it. I feel lucky to have so many people who love me. I like to give love, and I get it back.”

Neither Leticia nor her family knows what the future holds. Trying to take one day at a time, Leticia says she has “cried until there are no tears left.” All Leticia knows is, she doesn’t plan to give up her fight to get her life back anytime soon.

“I don’t want to be here. Kansas City is my home,” Leticia says. “I keep praying that this is a nightmare, that I will wake up and be home. But no, I wake up every morning, and it is the same. … But I will get back. It might take me a few years, but when I do, I’ll be back for good.”

Hispanic News will continue to follow Leticia Stegall’s progress in the coming weeks.