Lodi resident Patricia Bou has spent the past week preparing to leave two of her children in the U.S. and move with her two youngest children to Cambodia.
The 22-year-old does not speak the Khmer language. She has no idea what it will be like in the Asian country. She doesn't know how she will earn money, but she is hoping to earn $1 to $3 a day doing basic work at a hotel and grow her own food.
She is faced with this life-altering move after finding out her husband is being deported back to his birthplace.
Her husband, Bunly Bou, 31, also has little knowledge of the country, having left at the age of 3 with his family as refugees.
He lived in Stockton as a child and then moved to Lodi on and off as an adult. Bunly ran into legal trouble in 2003 for drugs and 2005 for evading police.
During the past four years, he has turned his life around, working at the Lodi Round Table Pizza to support his family.
But last Saturday, his legal woes caught up with him when the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers knocked at the couple's apartment door off Almond Drive.
He was taken into custody and is scheduled to be deported to Cambodia, leaving his wife with four kids and another child who lives with her mom in Stockton.
Patricia spent the first two days crying.
But by Wednesday, she was pricing plane tickets, finding places for her two older children to stay when she moves to Cambodia and organizing a car wash to raise money.
Her situation illustrates the complexities of the immigration and deportation process, and how it can tear families apart.
"It's pretty scary stuff, but I can't fall apart and say I can't do this, because then who is going to do it?" she said. Coming to America
Patricia met her husband six years ago through mutual friends. She was immediately interested in the Cambodian immigrant. They fell in love and have been together ever since.
Her husband, Bunly, immigrated to Stockton from Cambodia with his family as refugees in 1983.
The government gave him all the paperwork he needed, and told him he needed to file for permanent citizenship after he turned 18 or got married, Patricia said.
As an adult, he worked at a variety of companies, including Big O Tires and Yoplait Yogurt, she said.
Because he had a good job and had a green card, he never felt like he needed to go through the citizenship process, Patricia said.
But then he started getting in trouble with the law.
He received a misdemeanor in 2003 for possession of a controlled substance and then a felony conviction in 2005 for evading a peace officer with wanton disregard, according to his immigration file.
He was sentenced to 16 months in prison.
In March 2007, after completing his sentence, an immigration judge ruled that he should be deported back to Cambodia, according to a statement from ICE.
After working with the Cambodian government, ICE was not able to get travel documents for Bunly back to his birthplace at that time. So they released him under an order of supervision in 2007 with the requirement that he check in every three months.
"We thought as long as he flies under the radar, keeps his job and checks in every three months with the government, he will be fine," Patricia said.
But four years later, the Cambodian government granted Bunly travel documents and he was taken into custody, according to the ICE statement.
"Foreign nationals who are residing in the United States as lawful permanent residents become subject to possible deportation if convicted of certain types of crimes. Ultimately, it is up to the judges who preside over the nation's immigration courts to weight the facts in these cases and determine whether an alien has a legal basis to remain in the country. If the courts order an alien removed from the United States, ICE is responsible for carrying out the judges' orders," according to the ICE statement.
Turning his life around
Despite the knowledge that Bunly could be deported, it didn't make it any less shocking when ICE officers knocked on the couple's door last Saturday, Patricia said.
She called him at work and he asked her what he should do. She said she told him to come home because there is no use running from anything.
He was taken into custody, and the officer said he would most likely be deported in 15 days. She consulted an attorney, but it was too late to do anything at that point.
"We are stunned by this. We don't know what to do," she said.
Patricia contacted his employer to let him know about the situation. She also quit her job at the Lodi Long John Silver's to be with her children and prepare to move.
Round Table assistant manager Marshia Espinoza confirmed that Bunly had worked for the pizza chain for about four years in Lodi.
"We all liked him. He was a great guy. He loved his family, and that was his main focus. He worked hard to take care of them," Espinoza said.
The family contacted the business saying Bunly was being deported, but they hadn't heard anything since, Espinoza said.
One of his strengths is that he never hesitated to work any shift that was available, she said.
"He tried to change his life from being in trouble. We really liked him," she said.
'The worst tragedy I've ever seen'
While sitting on a couch surrounded by their four children, Patricia Bou describes her husband as a loving, compassionate and humble man who rarely gets angry or stressed.
"He's an awesome father. That's why I hate him being away from his kids. They need his guidance, especially my sons," she said.
The two had a marriage ceremony in 2008, but at that point could not file for a marriage license because of Bunly's prior convictions.
They have two children together, and sole custody of Bunly Bou's two older children.
Patricia is planning to leave her 12-year-old son, Saahvin, and her 9-year-old daughter, Annastasia, in Stockton with family when she joins her husband in Cambodia. She will take her 4-year-old son, Bara, and her 2-year-old daughter, Dany.
"Leaving my children is going to be the hardest thing I've ever had to do. ... But I don't want to take them against their will," she said.
Saahvin said he does not want to go to the schools in Cambodia.
"I want to stay here for my education. I want to be with my mom and dad, but I don't think I'll be comfortable there," he said.
The children have been crying every night for their dad, especially Dany, who screams until falling asleep. Saahvin said it is hard to think about his family being split.
"One day I'll be a little bit happy, but then I think about my dad and how it's going to be," he said.
Patricia Bou said it is a hard decision to move with her husband, but she feels like there is no other choice.
She does not think she can support the four kids on her income, and she would feel lost without him.
"He's my rock. When something goes wrong, I always ask him what to do," she said.
Friends of the couple are helping them raise money for the trip. A ticket to Cambodia costs about $1,400.
One of their friends, Robert Darling, said he doesn't understand why they want to deport a family man who has been following the rules for the past four years, has a job and always checks in with the authorities.
"It's just the worst tragedy I've ever seen. They are the best family in the world, and to take him away from his kids and his wife ..." Darling said, before getting choked up. "They shouldn't be able to come and do that."
During the first two days after Patricia found out Bunly would be was deported, she was angry that her husband didn't file the right paperwork when he turned 18 that would keep him in the country. But about three days later, she has reached acceptance.
"If he went about things differently in the past, maybe our future would be better. But we have to move forward, and focus on getting us back on the same soil," she said.
Preparing for culture shock
Before Bunly Bou is deported, Patricia is taking her children up to see him one last time and give him his luggage at the ICE detention center in Sacramento.
Patricia is worried about his arrival in Cambodia because he speaks very little of the language and has not been to the country since he was four.
He has relatives who will hopefully help him through immigration and customs without any problems.
She is concerned that, because he is so Americanized, he will be a target for robberies or kidnapping. She also said it was hard for the U.S. to convince Cambodia to take him back.
"His country didn't want him back because he has been here for so many years," she said.
She plans to move there with him as soon as she can raise the money for a plane ticket for herself and her youngest children. The couple hopes to get a job working at a hotel for $1 to $3 a day. Because food might be scarce, Patricia is planning to learn how to garden and live off the land.
"It's going to be culture shock. That's going to be a huge obstacle to overcome. We don't know how it is there. I'm really dreading (going) there being no education for the children," she said.
Patricia realizes that some people would choose to stay in the U.S., but that is not an option.
Bunly will be able to reapply for citizenship in 2017, Patricia said, and she thinks he has a good chance because she is a U.S. citizen and so are his children.
"God has a plan for everybody, no matter how much this hurts, this is the plan for us right now," she said.