(EL PASO, Texas) — Leslie Silva had yet to reach her teens when her father, Milo Silva, was deported for the third time.
Since that deportation in 2012, Leslie, who now lives with her mother, two older sisters and two nieces in El Paso, Texas, has tried to spend every weekend with Milo, who lives in Ciudad Juarez in Mexico.
“When I was little I didn’t know what was going on and why he was gone for such a long time,” Leslie Silva told ABC News. “But now that I understand, it’s just heartbreaking not having him here especially that we are at an age when a lot of things are happening.”
The 18-year-old recently posted a video of her meeting her father after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border that quickly went viral with nearly 4 million views in less than a week.
Shot by her sister, Ingrid Silva, the video shows the Eastlake High School graduate dressed in a purple graduation cap and gown, crossing the Yselta-Zaragoza Bridge to give her father “the honor of seeing her first” before she took part in the school’s June 3 graduation ceremony.
“[Earlier] he was calm about it … The day of, at the moment he saw me, I saw his face light up and he started crying and I started crying,” she recalled fondly. “But they were all happy tears.”
Even though he celebrated with the family over the phone, Milo has missed key family events including the wedding of his oldest daughter and the birth of his grandchildren.
“It’s really heartbreaking not having him here with us. Who wouldn’t want their dad with us?” she said.
At the beginning, when Milo, who currently works as a security guard at a factory, was struggling with getting small jobs, the family was often interrogated while crossing the border. Silva said that eventually border patrol stopped asking questions when they realized that the girls were going to meet their father.
“We try to spend as much time as we can together when we go and do small things that we can as a family like go to the movies or go [out] eat or just be at the house,” she said. “But once we leave, it’s kind of sad, leaving him behind.”
She added that the family isn’t nervous about their situation given the political climate.
“We are used to [it],” she said nonchalantly. “The worst has already happened.”
Leslie, who in the fall will attend UTEP in El Paso to study nursing, said she was often quizzed by her friends about her father’s absence growing up.
“They didn’t really know [because] I wouldn’t tell anyone. I would just say, ‘Oh I am going to Ciudad Juarez’ and they would be like, ‘Oh, okay.’ They would ask me [where my dad is] and I would say he is not here. My parents are still together … But they wouldn’t really understand [because] I wouldn’t talk about it too much,” she explained.
Leslie said that at first, most of the comments on her video on Instagram were negative.
“They were just saying it was weird that my dad was deported three times, like how could that happen? Or they would focus on the smallest things in the video like the plastic bag he was holding,” she said. “My family agreed that we won’t let it affect us. People don’t really the story behind it and why we did things the way we did.”
Laughing about her celebrity status, she said that she hopes to spread the awareness about the situation of families like hers.
“There’s always a story behind someone they won’t know about and they don’t know what they go through. It’s not easy,” she said. “I got a lot of that in the comments they said, ‘Oh, why doesn’t he get his citizenship?’ [Because] it’s not easy.”
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