Robert Vivar, a father and grandfather, made a good living working construction in Corona, California. That is, until he was tracked down by ICE and deported in 2011. Now, along with thousands of others recently deported from the U.S., Vivar works at Telvista, a call center and one of the most popular employers for educated deportees in Tijuana.
With three locations and 2200 employees in Tijuana, Telvista is a subcontractor for big American companies like Avis, Budget Rental Car, Sanyo, Metro PCS, AT&T and Verizon. Vivar is currently making calls for Affinion Group, a direct marketing corporation.
Telvista touts the high quality of its employees on their website :
“With numerous universities and technical schools, Tijuana and the Baja California region provide a high percentage of highly educated bicultural and bilingual personnel. Our Tijuana team’s proximity to the U.S. border provides our agents with critical knowledge, including an understanding of U.S. geography and culture.” (About Us, Telvista.com)
Indeed, there’s a reason that Telvista’s employees have an understanding of U.S. geography and culture. Many have spent their whole lives in the U.S.
And now Telvista is reaping the benefits of the U.S. immigration policy. The Obama Administration has reached the 2 million mark–this month, Obama will surpass 2 million deportations–more deportations than the entire Bush Administration and more than the sum total of all deportations before 1997.
Vivar notes with irony, “People are always saying that we are coming to the United States and taking people’s jobs. Well, we are still taking the jobs of Americans. But we are just working down here.”
Now 57 years old, Vivar was born in Tijuana in 1956 and came to the United States legally with his parents in 1962. His father a permanent resident and his mother a U.S. citizen, Vivar himself lived and worked legally in the United States but never completed the naturalization process.
An educated professional, throughout the 1980s-90s Robert Vivar worked for the airlines. 15 years for Aeromexico in LAX, and then later for Taesa Airlines in Las Vegas, Vivar’s skills and experience made him an asset to the company. Ambitious and hardworking, Vivar started as a ticket agent and rose to regional manager.
Drug addiction and recovery
Like a lot of people in the late 90s, he ended up with a drug problem and got into trouble. In 2002, Vivar faced deportation for a petty theft crime for stealing cold medicine from a grocery store. He was deported in 2003.
Not able to find work in Mexico, Vivar returned to the U.S. a few months later and quickly found work in Corona, California, for a construction company Happily remarried with a step-daughter, grandchildren, and two children of his own with more grandchildren, Vivar vowed to turn his life around. He stopped using drugs and even quit drinking alcohol.
Throughout the real estate boom of the 2000s, Vivar worked construction. While millions of Californians were buying, selling, remodeling and flipping, Vivar was laying tile in swimming pools. Money was good. And Vivar never worried about where his next paycheck was coming from.
Tracked down by ICE
Everything changed on September 20, 2011.
ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) came looking for Vivar at his job site and arrested him. Just a month earlier, President Obama had announced a new policy: it would no longer seek to deport people without criminal records and it would review all cases involving non-criminal immigrants on a case by case basis. Vivar’s petty theft charge of 2003, which had been dismissed in court in 2008, still left a mark on his record. The charge was complicated by a plea bargain Vivar was offered at the time, encouraging Vivar to plead guilty to a more serious charge in exchange for drug treatment. The courts never followed through on the drug treatment program, and Vivar was left with an ambiguous charge on his record.
Vivar’s immigration case is still pending in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
ICE agents came to his house posing as police officers and told his wife that Robert had been a victim of identity theft. They told her they were “looking for a dangerous criminal” who was using Robert’s identification. In reality, they were looking for him.
Arrested by ICE, Vivar was detained in Santa Ana County jail for 18 months where he worked on his legal case. He was deported March 29, 2013.
Today Vivar makes much less money working for Telvista than he made doing construction in Corona. And after a lifetime of work in the United States, Robert will lose the social security benefits he paid into the system for 20 years.
And Vivar worries about his family back in Corona.
Vivar and his son Robert Jr. owned a home together, but lost the property when Robert was deported.
Robert’s wife of 21 years recently suffered the loss of her mother upon whom she depended for emotional support. She passed away in December and Vivar’s wife is depressed and angry and feels alone. She has broken contact with him since his deportation.
Robert’s daughter and step-daughter both struggle with drug addiction—two granddaughters are now in foster care.
“I could have taken care of them,” Vivar laments. “Who will be there to take care of them now?”