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“We Should Not Be Breaking Families Up”: Presidential Candidate Martin O’Malley Sits Down With Immigrant Family for “DAPA Dinner”

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Workers Defense in Action PAC organized an historic gathering in Austin, Texas yesterday, where former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley became the first 2016 Presidential candidate to meet with an immigrant family for “DAPA Dinner.”

The Ramirez family — consisting of several DACA-recipient children, a U.S. citizen child, and DAPA-eligible parents — sat down with O’Malley for a homemade lunch of chilaquiles and refried beans to discuss how their lives have been impacted by the lack of comprehensive immigration reform and the GOP-led lawsuit blocking the implementation of President Obama’s 2014 immigration action, which would shield the Ramirez parents from deportation.

From the Texas Tribune:

O’Malley said he wanted to hear the family’s stories to affirm his commitment to the “dignity of every individual.”

“We should listen to our principles and the principles of our country,” O’Malley said. “In our country, we should not be breaking families up and tearing families apart.”

The conversation turned emotional as 13-year-old Abigail, the only one of the five Ramirez children born in the United States, described her fear that her parents would be deported.

“I live in constant fear of coming home from school and not being able to see my family, not knowing if I’m ever going to see them again,” she told O’Malley.

Her older sisters, Maria and Berenice Ramirez — both of whom are currently students at UT-Austin — talked about the emotional cost of being separated from their parents for long periods in their early childhood. When Maria eventually made it to the United States, at age 5, she’d barely gotten to know her father, she said.

“It was like, ‘I know I love you, and I know you’re my dad, but I don’t know you,’” Maria Ramirez said.

Maria and Berenice also talked with O’Malley about the high cost of applying to renew their status under the Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA. Under DACA, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children can apply for employment authorization and relief from deportation proceedings. Renewing DACA status costs just over $400 per person, and must be done every two years, which has been difficult for the family, Berenice Ramirez said.

After lunch, O’Malley brought up DACA renewal fees with reporters.

“We need to find ways to bring down the cost of applying for executive protection,” he said, adding that cost relief would be part of his immigration proposals. O’Malley’s proposals also include extending deferred action on deportation to the “greatest possible” number of undocumented immigrants.

O’Malley’s visit with the family is the first time to our knowledge that a presidential candidate has visited the home of a family headed by an undocumented immigrant.

The Austin dinner, organized Workers Defense in Action PAC with assistance from America’s Voice, United We Dream Action and Center for Community Change Action/Fair Immigration Reform Movement, is the start of a new campaign inviting all 2016 candidates, Senators, and Members of Congress to join an immigrant family for dinner on or around the one-year anniversary of the DAPA announcement on November 20, 2015.

A Storify featuring more tweets from yesterday’s DAPA Dinner featuring the Ramirez Family and Presidential candidate Martin O’Malley is available here.