RUMFORD – Vickie Gonzalez-Leal and her three young children want a Christmas miracle tomorrow, or, better yet, early next year.

Homeless, broke, and living in a shelter, the 29-year-old Rumford woman who is dying of cancer and Crohn’s disease just wants her husband back, for her sake and that of their kids.

Her husband of three years, Roberto Gonzalez-Leal, 32, a Mexican national, is sitting in Cumberland County Jail in Portland. He’s been there since being arrested Nov. 26 by a U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement agent on a charge of re-entering the country after having been deported on Feb. 9, in El Paso, Texas, as an illegal alien.

The investigation leading to the arrest began after an anonymous tipster contacted Rumford police, officials said.

At his Dec. 6 arraignment, Gonzalez-Leal pleaded not guilty and had a lawyer appointed for him. Thanks to fellow parishioners at Praise Assembly of God, the couple’s church in Rumford, his wife hired an immigration lawyer. But that money is running out.

At Gonzalez-Leal’s trial, scheduled for Feb. 4, 2008, in U.S. District Court in Portland, Judge George Z. Singal will decide his fate – and, by extension, that of his family.

If convicted of the Class C felony, he faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, followed by no more than three years of supervised release.

“I was told Maine is a sanctuary state, (but) this state would rather destroy a family than try to help it,” Vickie Gonzalez-Leal said on Friday afternoon while visiting her mom, Linda Ruffin, also of Rumford.

Roberto Gonzalez-Leal, a roofer and carpenter from Guamuchil, Sinaloa, Mexico, entered the United States 12 years ago. After being deported in February, he re-entered in March to care and provide for his family, then living in Louisville, Ky., his wife said.

“We’ve never been homeless or on assistance from the government. We lived paycheck to paycheck. He works an honest-paying job, he’s involved in the church, and he’s gotten saved, and they just don’t want to consider that.

“He said he’d live here on house arrest, on probation, or even with an electronic bracelet on his leg so they’d know where he is. He just wants to be a father for his children. My husband’s a good man,” Vickie Gonzalez-Leal said.

Since Roberto was taken, she and the children – Lorenzo Diaz, 8, Justice Diaz, 6, and Amalia Gonzalez-Leal, 2 – have been devastated. The children, who were born in Kentucky, have told their mom they don’t want to be Mexican if it means they have to leave like dad, Vickie Gonzalez-Leal said.

Amalia suffers from depression and separation anxiety. Justice is having crying spells in school, his mother said.

But it’s been hardest on Lorenzo, who has known Roberto as his father since he was 18 months old. He was born four months’ premature and since birth, he’s suffered from seizures, breathing problems, and attention deficit disorder, his mom said.

He wakes two to three times a night crying out for Roberto and can’t write a letter to him without tears falling, she said.

Vickie Gonzalez-Leal said she met Roberto in 2002. They wed two years later.

“He has a flawed past, but it’s not his past that I fell in love with. It’s not his past that raised three kids. They need to look at how he changed his life for the better. He got his life together and now he’s a family man, and it doesn’t matter to them.

“When do people have to have pedigrees to live in this country? His country has never blown us up or destroyed our trade centers, and yet they want to throw him out. He’s been working his (butt) off 18 hours a day, doing jobs Americans don’t want to do,” Vicki Gonzalez-Leal said.

They moved to Rumford in October to be closer to her mother, Linda Ruffin, whose health is failing. Ruffin wanted to see her grandchildren and Vickie before cancer or Crohn’s takes her daughter’s life.

Crohn’s is a type of inflammatory bowel disease. It is a condition in which the lining of the digestive tract becomes inflamed, causing severe diarrhea and abdominal pain.

Gonzalez-Leal, who has both colon and cervical cancer, said she’s had 32 surgeries. More than 5 feet of her intestines have been removed. She has been plagued by hernias and gets chemotherapy twice a month.

On Jan. 8, she’s scheduled for surgery to remove 23 pounds of hernias from the scar from the Crohn’s surgeries. And, in February, more intestines, her colon, and possibly her stomach lining must be removed, she said.

However, she’s considering skipping chemo and the surgeries, because they make her sick and unable to care for her children, she said.

“Roberto has always been the crutch. When I’m sick or hospitalized, he handled the kids. Most men cannot deal with a woman who is falling apart, but he did it all. He’s my missing puzzle piece,” Vickie Gonzalez-Leal said.

“Roberto never shirked work,” Ruffin said. “He never asked for the U.S. government to help to care or provide for his family.”

But after he was deported, his wife had to sign up for food stamps, medical care, and Section 8 housing.

“I think the system is warped, I really do. Why will the government be willing to support this woman and her three children for however long Roberto is in prison and support him in prison, when all this man has done is try to keep his family together?” Ruffin asked.

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