HOUSTON — If life is a mix of judgement calls, leaps of faith and effort, then 27-year-old Oscar Gonzalez is well on his way to figuring it out.
“I'm working. I'm leading my family; I'm loving the people close to me. That’s how I’m living [life],” Gonzalez said.
It was a leap and faith that got Gonzalez from Honduras to the United States about a decade ago. His mom left their home country when Gonzalez was just 7 years old. Gonzalez told KENS 5 he was raised by his grandmother, while his mom sent money she earned in the U.S. to feed him and his siblings.
When Gonzalez decided to leave, he was 17. He attempted the journey to America against his mom’s advice.
“I was praying to God,” Gonzalez recalled. “I was kind of scared.”
He told KENS 5 he walked most of the way and took the train known as La Bestia to get him closer to the U.S. border.
“They tell you not to fall asleep,” Gonzalez said. “The next thing you heard someone falls to the wheels. It’s terrifying. It’s horrible.”
Gonzalez said he crossed in Laredo and eventually surrendered to the U.S. Border Patrol. When in detention, he was reunited with his mother, who he hadn’t seen for 10 years.
“It was a beautiful moment,” he said.
According to Gonzalez’s attorney, in 2012, an immigration judge in Houston granted Gonzalez permanent residency.
“If that judge at that moment would’ve denied me that [permission to legally stay in the U.S.], I would not have the opportunity that I have now,” Gonzalez told KENS5. “I would just be turned back home. I don’t know what my life would’ve been. But the judge, he was able to give me the opportunity.”
Since Gonzalez was granted permanent residency, he went on to graduate from high school, studied in college, became a citizen and got married. He told KENS 5 he works full time in logistics. He’s an import/export coordinator for shipping lines and airlines.
“I don’t know where he’s at right now [the judge],” Gonzalez added, “but wherever he’s at, I would like to tell him, to thank him, because whatever he approved that day, this is the result.”
KENS 5 found the judge who granted Gonzalez permission to stay in the U.S.
Judge Richard Walton was an immigration judge for 26 years and just retired this summer. The retirement is what allowed Judge Walton to speak to KENS 5.
“Being a judge, I think you have to be fair; you have to follow the law,” Walton told KENS5. “It’s very stressful. You have to look at people that are really nice and gentle and tell them no. And then you have to look at people that are real scum and tell them yes, because you’re sworn to follow the law.”
KENS5 showed Walton the original story we did with Gonzalez.
In the interview, Gonzalez had a lot to say about and to Walton. So, we also put that together for the judge to see.
>Video below: Oscar Gonzalez has a message for the immigration judge who took a chance on him and let him stay when he was a teen.
Walton said he didn’t remember Gonzalez. Too many cases over 26 years.
Of those, though, really none where Walton got to actually see what people did with their second chances.
“I think the judge, I think we touched his heart,” Gonzalez said in our interview about the judge. “This is what I’ve turned into. I’m pretty sure he will be proud, because I’ve been working hard for it and he doesn’t know, but I’ve been trying to do my best.”
“That’s really sweet,” Walton said after watching what Gonzalez had to say. “You know, people ask for another chance. And he took advantage of it. I mean, everyone says, ‘I want to get a job. I want to send money to my family.’ But he actually did.”
“I also have had the opposite, where I've had a young man his age that said, ‘you sign that, you're signing my death warrant,’" Walton said. "I've actually had people actually use those words to me. Because you can't grant every case, for legal reasons.”
“That’s why we do this,” Walton said. “He's taking care of his family. He's loving somebody. And what else is there?”
And that is thanks enough.
“[I'd] like to think that there's dozens and dozens of more people like that, that are very happy,” Walton said. “And yes, I am proud of him.”
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