The day Kaiti Tidwell, 18, couldn't imagine happening has arrived.
"I think as soon as I get on the airplane it's going to hit me like a train," she said.
Surrounded by family and friends, she and her mother Joann Tidwell prepare to board a plane bound for Veracruz, Mexico.
"It wasn't until I saw the airport that it hit me. They're going away. Even a few hours ago, it didn't seem real," her boyfriend Roverto Hernandez said. "All of these emotions are just hitting me out of nowhere."
They can't be sure of when they'll return, if ever.
"It's bittersweet, because what if I don't get to come back," Kaiti said. "I see my friends crying, and I keep telling them not to because it's not goodbye, it's see you later. But I don't have a return date."
"It's see you soon, it's not goodbye. I can't think of it as that," her best friend Stephanie Buendia tells us, shaking her head as if it's all a bad dream. "I can't imagine not spending every second with her this summer like we have before. I just can't think about that."
Kaiti's biological mother, a migrant farmer who worked in chicken houses across the south, floated Kaiti across the Rio Grande in an inner-tube when she was six months old. Because Kaiti was never recognized as a Mexican citizen, she can't become an American.
"It's not your choice, it wasn't your choice to come in the first place. It wasn't your choice to do something wrong. Nevertheless, you have to face the consequences," Hernandez said. "It doesn't seem fair. It doesn't seem right."
After Kaiti's mother left her with them indefinitely, the Tidwell family chose to adopt her at the age of seven. They fought for 11 years to win her citizenship without success.
"There's a reason this is happening. Even though it's bad, maybe it's something I have to go through for something good to happen," Kaiti said. "I have to stay strong. I can't break, not even for a second."
"I have to think about all the other kids in my situation. I have to be strong for them," she said. "I'm lucky that my case is out in the open. I can say to them, I know what you're going through. I've been there. I'm taking one for the team. But I'll be back."
Kaiti turned 18 in November. As of May 5, 2012, she will be considered an illegal alien. Instead of risking deportation, she's departing for a land beyond the border where she was born but can't recall.
"She's going somewhere she's never been to see people she's never seen to live a life she doesn't know how to live," Buendia said. "My parents immigrated here. I was born here. But we both grew up here together. I just don't see how you can say I'm more American than Kaiti. That I deserve to be here more than she does. This is her home. This is where she belongs."
"It just feels like there's going to be a big something missing in my life," Hernandez said. "It's hard to know I can't be with them. There isn't much I could do if I were with them, but I would at least know where they were, how they're doing, that they're safe."
While many of us have bid goodbye at these very barricades, most of us have an arrival date already on the calendar when loved ones will return. We're never forced to think, like the group of teens in tears, that it could be the final farewell.
"I know it's not the end if it's bad, there's got to be something more," Kaiti said, a sad smile creeping up as the tears streamed down her face. "It's going to be like another chapter in my life that I"m adding to."
Because Kaiti doesn't already have a date set with the Mexican consulate, it could take a year to attain that meeting, according to lawyers. That's aside from the time it will take to file the adoption papers to have Mexico recognize Kaiti as Joann Tidwell's daughter.
So, Kaiti Tidwell remains, indefinitely, a girl with no country to call home.