Read updated story here: Father of son with autism will be deported under tougher immigration enforcement
SAN DIEGO -- The father of a special needs student at Scripps Ranch High School may be sent back to Mexico in a matter of days.
The tougher enforcement of immigration laws that began when President Donald Trump took officer in January threatens to turn the lives of Gaston Cazares and his family upside down.
Gaston has been chasing the American dream since he was 16 years old and moved to this country illegally, leaving behind his family and everything he knew. Now, facing possible deportation back to Mexico under the Trump administration's harsher interpretation of the law, he may have to do it all over again.
Gaston says he is heartbroken at the thought of leaving his wife of 23 years and both his teenage children, all of whom are American citizens, but his greatest fear is for his son Ivan, who has autism, who heavily relies on him
"We watch movies together or go shopping or help me shave my beard," Ivan explained.
"I tried to explain to him. I'm not sure that he understands everything," Gaston said. "The only thing he knows is they want to take me far from here."
Ivan is already struggling -- having recurring nightmares.
Gaston's daughter, Yahaira, a senior at Scripps Ranch High School, says there's no time to be a typical teenager.
"I've never had the issue of complaining about my parents. I can't take them for granted," she said.
Yahaira vividly remembers how it all began in 2011. Her dad was arrested in front of her when the Pacific Beach restaurant where he works was raided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
"He was taken and we didn't know where or for how long... and about a day or two later, we got a call, " Yahaira said.
In 2012, ICE granted Gaston a "stay of removal" based on Ivan's special needs. And every year since, he's checked in, and ICE has extended the stay for one more year – until this year's presidential election.
"Everything changed. Everything changed from night to day," Gaston said.
Nicole Leon, Gaston's immigration attorney, explains it this way: "Under the Trump administration, ICE is no longer exercising its discretion in this way, and so anyone who is subject to removal under the law is being deported regardless of circumstances."
The facts that Gaston is the breadwinner, pays taxes, has no criminal record other than his illegal immigration offenses, and has a son with autism may no longer be enough to keep him with his family.
"My dad – he's important to me. He protects me, and I protect him," Ivan said.
"I want to ask him, 'What are you going to do if I'm not here. But I think it's a very tough question," Gaston said.
Gaston will find out Thursday, when he meets with ICE officials, if he'll have to figure out how to ask that question.
Ivan's teachers are worried about the effect his father's deportation could have on his progress, and they have written letters to ICE on the family's behalf.
Friends of the family have started an online petition to keep Gaston in the country.