It’s Sebastian Gil’s senior year of high school.
His classmates are preparing for graduation. Some are getting their tuxedos fitted for prom. Others are awaiting their college acceptance letters. Three months ago, his life wasn’t much different.
In June, Sebastian will graduate high school and enlist into the United States Marines Corps, but his family won’t be there to watch.
On Feb. 11, his family piled into their 2002 Honda Civic and drove less than 7 miles from their home in Hollywood, Fla., to John U. Lloyd Beach State Park in Dania Beach. Six-year-old Amatial wore a pink one-piece and 8-year-old Mateo wore blue swimming trunks. Sebastian, the oldest child, stayed home studying biology.
Their mother, Cecilia Clavijo, was in the passenger seat. This is her recollection.
“We were going to pay (at the beach entrance), and my husband asked how much is it,” she said. “The police heard me speaking in Spanish and came up to us and asked my husband in English to get on his knees.”
John Gil-Castillo, the father and an undocumented immigrant, was driving without a license. An officer approached him and asked him for identification.
“My husband asked them to let us go, to please let the children go.”
The father had an order of deportation on his record and once stopped, the family was taken to separate detention centers. The father was sent to Krome detention center in Miami. The two children stayed with their mother and were detained in Fort Lauderdale and then sent to Karnes detention center in Texas, which is for mothers with children.
Sebastian, 18, was at home while this was happening. At some point, he got a phone call.
“When they said they would be deported, I asked, ‘Where?’ Because they don’t have anything.”
Saman Movassaghi Gonzalez is an immigration attorney in south Florida. She says that under new federal orders, any undocumented immigrant, regardless of their criminal history, could be deported.
She said deportations were happening under the Obama administration, but it is different with President Donald Trump.
“Under this administration, it seems like they’re targeting people in a broad range… That’s really scary because you could be at the wrong place and the wrong time and get arrested,” Movassaghi said.
A spokesman with the Broward County Sheriff’s Office says deputies would not randomly question a person’s immigration status.
As his family was held by ICE, Sebastian stayed at home in their 3-bedroom house. Then the landlord told him to leave.
Losing his house and family, he said, made him realize he would have to depend on the help of strangers.
“I don’t have a base. I have to float by with whatever comes along,” Sebastian said.
Everything in the house was sold in a yard sale; their chihuahua, Brownie, was given to a neighbor.
Silvia Carr, a Broward County schools employee, heard about Sebastian’s case. She took him in. Carr was eight years old in 1961 when she left Cuba. More than 14,000 children fled Fidel Castro’s regime between 1960 and 1962.
Carr was fortunate; she and her sister had distant relatives in south Florida. She says she hopes to offer as much support as she can to Sebastian.
Fast forward to March 17. The mother, father and two youngest children were put on a flight to Spain. (The mother and father are Colombian, though they lived in Spain for a few years.)
Abraham Cardenas, the immigration attorney for the mother, said the case may be revisited when Sebastian turns 21.
“With time, (Clavijo) could go for something called parole in place,” he said.
Parole in place is an adjustment of status for family members of U.S. citizens in the military, meaning the family may qualify for residency.
“They deported the mother of a guy who’s in the Marines,” Cardenas said. He’s approaching the case, he said, using “a sympathy factor.”
Sebastian Gil graduates on June 7.