The couple was being deported to Mexico.
Now, their three children — who are US citizens — are fighting to bring them back and struggling to save the family home.
The Campos’ house is a lot quieter since then; there’s a noticeable void. There are no groans of laughter in response to their father’s corny jokes, and the scents of their mother’s cooking no longer waft through their Bridgeton, New Jersey, home.
That absence is now partly filled with a tangible stress.
When the Campos’ daughter Janet is not taking care of the house and her two brothers, she puts in a 35-hour week at Walmart. The 22-year-old had to stop taking classes toward a college degree; she now has a mortgage payment to make.
The Campos family’s American dream
Janet’s family was typical of millions of American households living the standard American dream. Humberta and Oscar Campos started a family and bought a house. They ran a successful lawn-care business and paid taxes yearly.
Their American dream experience was slightly different, however: The Camposes entered the US illegally more than 30 years ago. After Immigration and Customs Enforcement learned of this nearly 10 years ago, the Campos made the two-hour drive to Elizabeth, New Jersey, for their ICE check-in every three months. And every year, they applied for a stay of removal, which was always granted — until it wasn’t, last year.
Their final deportation orders not only separated them from their American dream, but their American family.
Struggling to pay the bills
At 24 years old, Oscar Campos Jr. — the eldest of the siblings — is now the man of the house.
“It’s just me and my sister helps me,” he says quietly, sitting on the same couch that once hosted weekly family movie nights.
He and Janet now take care of their younger brother, 15-year-old Erwing Campos.
While Erwing’s at school, his older siblings work hard to make enough money to pay the bills.
“Let’s be realistic here, they don’t get paid that much to pay the mortgage, to pay everything here in the house,” says Arnoldo Santos, a deacon at the family’s church, the Parish of the Holy Cross. He promised their father he would look after them.
Even with occasional overtime, Oscar Jr. doesn’t make enough money at his security job. Janet is trying to find a better-paying second job to supplement her pay at Walmart.
What they bring in is just not enough.
Fortunately, the church — through donations — has been able to help the Campos family bridge the gap.
Janet may clock out at Walmart, but more work awaits her at home; Oscar Jr. stays late at work, trying to pick up more overtime.
In addition to the bulk of the cooking and cleaning, Janet also holds power of attorney over her younger brother Erwing. Recently sick with the flu, he had a 104-degree fever and it was up to her to take him to the doctor and make decisions for him.
“I’m growing up a little faster than I expected,” she says, sitting in the kitchen that once hosted nightly family dinners. “I’m missing out on a lot of stuff I would do at 22.”
Janet is also looking into joining the US Army, hoping it will benefit the family and her parents’ immigration case.
One of their uncles is currently running the lawn-care business while their mother and father wait in Mexico to come back home.
Fighting to reunite the family
As the Campos siblings fight to keep their house, the separate battle to bring their parents home marches on in the courts.
“They never broke the law,” Janet says. “They don’t have a criminal record or anything.”
ICE agrees, noting they were only removed because they had entered the country illegally.
“While ICE focuses its enforcement resources on individuals who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security, the agency no longer exempts classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement,” an ICE spokesperson told CNN.
Michael DiRaimondo, the lawyer for Humberta and Oscar Campos, told CNN that prosecutorial discretion “went out the window” with the Trump administration.
Both Oscar and Humberta are prohibited from returning to the US for 10 years because they entered the country illegally.
DiRaimondo is confident Humberta’s immigration case could be reopened and her 10-year ban waived — but the process to do so could take over a year to complete. The attorney feels that the original judge didn’t consider the hardships for the children left behind.
Oscar’s case is not as simple: He re-entered the US after he was deported in 1995, so there is no waiver for his 10-year ban.
But the Campos siblings are hopeful. They’re adamant about keeping the house and paying their lawyer to keep fighting to bring their parents home.
“I want my parents to know that we’re fine,” Janet says. “Just try to look at it as a vacation and when you guys come back, it’s like nothing ever changed. Everything is gonna be okay.”