Could you do this, if you had to? Stand before a national television audience and a possible future United States President, talk about the most painful event of your life, and ask for help? With the assistance of Univision reporter Enrique Acevedo, and a platform provided by the Univision/Washington Post Democratic presidential debate, Lucia Guiej did just that.
Mrs. Guiej, a member of We Count! in Florida, described the “gran dolor” she and her five children have been experiencing since their father, Andres Jimenez, was deported in 2011. Mr. Jimenez was, in her words, a “hard-working man — in the fields and construction.” He was on his way to churchone Sunday with his daughter, Elena, when a nominally “routine” traffic stop turned his family’s routine life upside-down.
The Guiej-Jimenez family story is tragic — but unfortunately not unique.After nearly eight years of record-breaking deportations by the Obama Administration, families are living divided not because they want to, but because they have to. Our policy has created single mothers and single fathers out of once-united parental units. Kids are growing up without parents who want to be there for them, all because of a failed immigration policy. It doesn’t have to be this way.
A routine traffic stop. A broken taillight. Standing outside of a convenience store. Driving with “too many” people of color in your car. These are all the types of “infractions” that have lead to the destruction of so many American families across this country. It’s outrageous and we cannot simply turn away.
Almost a year ago today, Pastor Max Villatoro was taken from his family, which includes his four U.S. citizen children, and deported back to Honduras, despite massive public support for letting him stay. For now, Pastor Max and his family try to stay connected through video calls like this one here. A campaign to reunite the family in Iowa, where Pastor Max belongs, is still underway.
Then there’s Brigido Acosta Luis, husband and father of U.S. citizens, deported by the Obama Administration in 2013. His wife, Maria Paz Perez, bravely stood in front of the bus carrying him away, in a last-ditch effort to prevent the separation of her family. These days, the family communicates through phone, Facebook, and occasional trips to Mexico, dreaming that one day they will be together again. Brigido and Maria also participated in this emotional Father’s Day chat organized by America’s Voice Education Fund, and Maria shared her family’s story at a Capitol Hill briefing featuring Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren.
Then there’s Javier Flores, formerly of Akron, Ohio, who lived in the United States for over a decade before his deportation. Flores was a casualty of President Obama’s decision to delay executive action until after the 2014 elections. Deported just two months before the announcement of DAPA, he left behind a wife and four children (U.S. citizens), creating a family of six broken hearts.
Change starts with talking about the problem, but telling stories is not enough. We need to press policymakers, as Mrs. Guiej did, for help and solutions.
There are mechanisms in the law to bring families back together. What’s needed is a healthy dose of compassion and humanity; especially when it comes to reuniting families separated by unjust deportations. “Humanitarian parole” could be made more humanitarian. The Obama Administration’s initial enhancements to the waivers of unlawful presence could be expanded. The bipartisan Senate bill that passed in 2013 included a new affirmative process for family reunification. This should should be prioritized in future legislation.
There are solutions out there, both administrative and legislative, that would repair broken families. Mrs. Guiej raised the issue, and now we must act.
To learn more about the fight for family reunification, visit www.reunite.us.