Benefit concert set for Farmington immigrant family facing return to Honduras
- Efforts by Mauricio Espinal and his supporters to stave off the family's deportation have come up short.
- A benefit concert will take place at 5 p.m. Thursday at the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park.
- There is no admission charge, but donations will be accepted.
FARMINGTON — A Farmington man and his family who came here five years ago on a visa will return to their native Honduras early next month, but not without a sendoff this week from other members of the local music community.
"Mauricio & Friends United," a benefit concert for the family of Mauricio Espinal, will take place at 5 p.m. Thursday at the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park, 3041 E. Main St.
Espinal, the music director at Templo Sinai Assembly of God Church in Farmington, and his wife and children are leaving the United States on June 3 because Espinal's R1 religious visa is expiring, and his application for a residential visa has been stalled for years with immigration officials.
Efforts by Espinal and his supporters to stave off the family's deportation have come up short, including work by the staff of U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-New Mexico, who became involved after Espinal's plight was outlined in a story in The Daily Times in March.
But Espinal's tale does have a silver lining.
Originally, it was believed that Espinal and his family would have to return to Honduras for a year before they could obtain a residential visa that would allow them to remain in America for 10 years. But according to a letter Heinrich sent to Espinal on April 16, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services advised the senator that Espinal would be eligible to apply for a new visa in seven months.
Once that visa is issued, according to the letter, Espinal and his family can return to the United States and get stamped in as permanent residents. The letter states they will receive their green cards a short time later.
While he remains apprehensive about uprooting his family — Espinal's children Adrian and Sofia are still students in the Farmington Municipal School District — and returning to his home country, which is racked by violence perpetrated by drug trafficking groups, Espinal seems to have made peace with his fate.
"We think we've accepted the fact that we have to leave the country for this time, so we're making plans for being in Honduras," he said. "We're taking things step by step."
'A good time to be with my parents'
During its time in Honduras, the family will be staying with Espinal's parents in the country's capital, Tegucigalpa, a crowded city of 1.5 million people. Espinal has learned that his mother — who he hasn't seen since relocating to America five years ago to work at Templo Sinai — has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, so he looks forward to helping his father care for her when he returns.
"We think God has perfect plans, so it will be a good time to be with my parents," Espinal said.
It is unclear how long the family will need to stay in Honduras before it can return to Farmington, where Espinal said he has received assurances his job at Templo Sinai will be waiting for him. He would very much like to return in time for his son Adrian to graduate with his class at Farmington High School in the spring of 2020, but Espinal knows better than to count on that.
"I want to have my feet on the ground," he said, describing the way he has learned to keep his expectations in check.
Realistically, he said, the Espinals are simply hoping to return to Farmington by the start of the fall semester in 2020. When they do, the Espinals will have one economic advantage they don't have now.
As full-time residents, any member of the Espinal family will be able to work, including Espinal's wife, Elisa, who has a degree in preschool education. Under the terms of the R1 religious visa they have operated under for five years, only Mauricio Espinal was eligible to work while the family was here.
Espinal, who has a degree in music education, has begun exploring employment opportunities in Honduras, and he said there is some part-time work he has been doing in America that he can continue to do from there.
Espinal is a beloved and highly respected member of the local music community, collaborating with the likes of pianist Sheldon Pickering, jazz band leader Delbert Anderson and trumpet player Mick Hesse.
"Actually, I have the great opportunity to arrange music for Sheldon," Espinal said. "I can work for him or other musicians through the Internet."
It was Hesse who organized Thursday's benefit concert.
"I'm so grateful to Mick," Espinal said. "He's been very supportive of me through this process. He was so kind."
Espinal has put together a small recording studio in his office at the church, and he'll be taking some of that equipment with him when he leaves so he can continue his part-time work. Other than that, the family will travel light, leaving most of its possessions in storage in Farmington.
Solidarity with the Farmington community
Espinal is happy about seeing his parents again, as well as his large extended family in Honduras. But he acknowledged he has mixed emotions about what his immediate family faces in the months ahead, especially his children.
"The first thing is, they are excited to see their family and eat Honduran food," he said. "Me, too. But I know they have a little bit of concern deep inside about stability. But we've been telling them to trust in God, trust in us as their parents. We live for them, so I think they are confident in that part. They know we'd never leave them alone."
Espinal said he feels a great sense of solidarity with the community here that has embraced him and his family since their arrival in Farmington. He hopes he has the opportunity return the favor at some point.
"Sometimes, you just think you would love to help somebody else go through this process in the future," he said.
Thursday's concert features Pickering, Anderson and Hesse, along with Celebration Brass, Funkified, Autumn Austin, and Lora and Russel Hodges. There is no admission charge, but donations will be accepted.
There also will be a yard sale benefiting the Espinal family from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at Templo Sinai Assembly of God Church, 800 McCormick School Road in Farmington.
Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610.