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Press Statement: American Families in Deportation: "Why Do I Have to Choose Between My Country and My Husband?"

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Congressional Women’s Working Group on Immigration Reform and America’s Voice Education Fund Highlight the Painful Realities of our Broken Immigration System

Neither Seleste Wisniewski nor Maria Perez ever thought she’d have to choose between her country and her husband.  But last year, these two women were forced to face this decision head on and waged grueling battles to try to block their husbands’ deportations.  In Ohio, Seleste’s husband Pedro was granted a temporary stay after she led her family in a very public, very stressful advocacy campaign.  In Illinois, Maria’s husband Brigido was deported to Mexico after doing the same.  Both women are U.S. citizens with U.S. citizen children who also faced the prospect of life without their fathers.  Both continue to fight for immigration reform that restores their families in the United States, their home.

Today, the Congressional Women’s Working Group on Immigration Reform and America’s Voice Education Fund hosted a briefing for congressional staff and members of the press to shine a light on this American tragedy.  They were joined by House immigration champions Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Judy Chu (D-CA) who delivered opening remarks.

“Every day our broken immigration system tears families apart—husbands from their wives, parents from their children,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Immigration and Border Security Subcommittee.  “It’s the human toll families continue to pay because of the House’s inability to act on immigration reform.  Americans want to see Congress work together to pass top-to-bottom reform that fixes our immigration system to reflect our values, keep our nation safe, and grow our economy.”

Added Congresswoman Chu, Judiciary Committee Member and Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus:

Immigration is not a zero-sum game. No one in America should have to choose between the family they cherish and the country they love, yet more than 200,000 parents of U.S. citizens were separated by our immigration laws between 2010-2012 alone. We must work together to end this ongoing tragedy, and ensure our immigration laws work to unite families – not divide them.

During today’s briefing Seleste and Maria spoke about their experiences confronting an inflexible, inhumane immigration system, and their hopes and dreams for immigration reform.

Said Seleste:

There are millions of kids growing up without fathers in America today.  Kids whose fathers don’t want to be fathers and so they walk away from their families.  Why would the government want to create more children without fathers?  Our boys need Dads to learn how they are supposed to be in the world.  Our girls need their Dads to learn what to expect from their husbands.  My children almost lost their father to deportation.  Let’s stop separating families.

According to Maria:

When I was growing up, I never thought I would one day have to fight my own government to stop my husband’s deportation.  That isn’t something you expect as an American citizen.  With Brigido gone now, our lives are so hard.  Our son, he misses his Dad and doesn’t understand why he’s not here.  Our daughter’s grades are going down, and I’m going to have to close our business.  When they deported Brigido, they didn’t help anyone.  Who benefits from him being gone?  He wasn’t hurting anyone.  But when you deport one person like Brigido, you leave three broken hearts.  Let’s stop breaking up families, and let’s pass immigration reform.

At today’s briefing, America’s Voice Education Fund released a fact sheet outlining some of the ways that current immigration laws and policies keep immigrants in an undocumented status.  The fact sheet also documents ways in which deportation impacts U.S. citizens and immigrants.  For example:

  • 152,426 U.S. citizen children had parents who were deported in fiscal year 2012 (Human Impact Partners).
  • Over 200,800 adults with U.S. citizen children were deported between July 1, 2010 and September 31, 2012, accounting for 23% of all deportations over that time period (Colorlines).
  • 85% of undocumented Latinos have a U.S. citizen family member and 62% have U.S. born children.  More than two-thirds of undocumented Latinos have lived in the U.S. for a decade or more (April 2013 Latino Decisions Poll).

According to David Leopold, Immigration Attorney and Past President, American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA):

It’s encouraging that the House Republicans are finally talking seriously about fixing America’s broken immigration system. But until Congress sends the President legislation he can sign into law, America’s leaders share moral responsibility to stop the continuing deportation of aspiring Americans—especially when many will be eligible to earn their way to lawful status once immigration reform is enacted. President Obama must ensure that his enforcement priorities are implemented by the Department of Homeland Security.  Limited law enforcement resources should be spent targeting dangerous felons and national security risks, not hard working mothers and fathers. The time is now to pass immigration reform.  The time is also now to ensure that not one more American family is torn apart by an antiquated, rigid and unforgiving immigration law.

“This is an ongoing crisis that has fallen under the radar screen for too long.  Every day the House GOP puts off a vote on immigration reform, 1,100 immigrants are deported.  Those 1,100 immigrants are not ‘statistics,’ they are people—loved by thousands of other Americans,” said Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director of America’s Voice Education Fund, who moderated today’s panel.  “Separating families should be a last resort, not the default position of the law.  The President and House Republican leaders have the power to change this, but they have to act.”

“Our congressional leaders and President Obama must open their eyes and hearts to see deportation for what it really is: an epidemic that is harming immigrant families and tearing apart the fabric of our nation,” says Pramila Jayapal, Chair of We Belong Together. “Deportations harm women and children most, as it is women who are often left to be primary bread winners and de facto single mothers. Children are often left to take on adult roles in the household while also dealing with the trauma of losing a parent.  But this can be changed. True immigration reform  must include humane limits on deportation and enforcement for the sake of millions of women, children and their communities. ”