Parents of DREAMers Shouldn’t Be Excluded from Executive Action

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Mendoza (second from left) with other advocates protesting outside the White House

Lenka Mendoza (second from left) is an undocumented mother who has joined other advocates outside the White House. Photo: Mendoza’s Facebook page

The president has made firm indications that he will be taking executive action to provide administrative relief to millions of undocumented immigrants before the end of the year. That action should be bold and it should include parents who have raised children here, including parents of the more than 640,000 youth who have thrived since the announcement of the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. Lenka Mendoza, like so many other mothers, knows this makes sense, and she has joined other mothers who have gathered in Washington over the last few weeks to plead the case for keeping families together no matter what action the president takes.

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Mendoza at a press conference on Capitol Hill this week.

Mendoza is a member of DREAMers Moms USA, which has brought mothers from throughout the country to take part in a fast outside the White House to underscore their message. She joined Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D–Calif.), Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D–Calif.), and Rep. Dina Titus (D–Nev.) on Capitol Hill this week to explain why the president’s action must include the parents of DREAMers.

“Like the DREAMers, the parents of DREAMers love our country, and contribute to our economy every day,” said Roybal-Allard. “As women leaders in Congress, our message is simple, Mr. President: Don’t separate children from their parents. Keep families together. And enable moms and dads to come out of the shadows to openly contribute to our country, and to live their lives with dignity and respect.”

Mendoza and her husband are both undocumented parents of children, one of whom is a citizen. She has lived in the United States for 14 years. In an interview with the blog Girl Talk, Mendoza explained how she fears being separated from her children every day. She initially stayed behind in Peru with her children while her husband came to work here in the United States. When he fell ill, Mendoza had little choice but to bring herself and their children to the United States to be with their ailing father. She has been unable to go back to Peru after arriving 14 years ago, even when her parents passed away. On Capitol Hill, Mendoza explained why executive action must include protection for the parents of DREAMers and U.S. citizen children.

“Many people talk about the virtue that DREAMers bring, but many forget the force behind them are their parents,” said Mendoza on Capitol Hill. “We want the president to recognize our voice in this country and in the economy.”

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Mendoza is a member of DREAMers Moms USA (some pictured here) which has been fasting outside the White House for more than two weeks.

For 16 days, Mendoza and other mothers and fathers have endured weather that has recently included rain and near-freezing temperatures.

“It’s been hard these past 16 days; to be in front [of the White House] in the park dealing with cold, dealing with the hunger,” said Mendoza. “But our love for our children is greater than that. We want to be recognized and we want to be free in the country of freedom. We ask that President Obama act quickly in taking executive action. We cannot wait any longer.”

As we have explained, the president does have the authority to act boldly. There is also precedent for that action to include protecting parents. As Rep. Lofgren explained, the 1986 immigration law passed with an intentional exclusion of beneficiaries of the act. To correct this, President Reagan created the Family Fairness Program. President George H.W. Bush expanded this program in 1990 to cover as many as 1.5 million spouses and children, nearly 40 percent of the undocumented population in the United States at the time.

Alejandra Sanchez is undocumented and a mother of five in Arizona. She wants the president's action to include protection for the parents of kids with citizenship or legal residency.

Alejandra Sanchez is undocumented and a mother of five in Arizona. She wants the president’s action to include protection for the parents of kids with citizenship or legal residency.

“By offering protection to spouses and children, these two presidents demonstrated that executive authority over immigration can and should take into consideration the importance of family unity in our society. That’s just as true today as it was then,” said Rep. Lofgren. “We look at these DREAM Act students as potential future leaders. Their capacity to contribute to our country will be diminished if their families are disrupted. So, we ask the president to use his authority to include relief to include the parents of the DREAM Act beneficiaries, the parents who raised these exceptional high-achieving young people.”

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Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) talks with Mendoza and other members of DREAMers Moms USA after their press conference.

As the president and his team consider taking action, we hope he remembers the hopes and dreams that all mothers and fathers have for their children and takes the steps necessary to guarantee that those parents and children stay together.

Executive Action Has the Power to Transform Lives

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This week, in honor of Veterans Day, Hanging in the Balance focuses on how U.S. veterans are impacted by the nation’s broken immigration system.

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Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.) was one of several members of Congress who joined veterans and DREAMers outside the Capitol this week.

On the first day that members of Congress were back in Washington, a number of representatives joined veterans and DREAMers who are aspiring service members in front of the Capitol to urge President Obama to use his executive authority to provide administrative relief. Representatives Juan Vargas (D-Calif.), Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Bill Foster (D-Ill.), Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.), and José Serrano (D-N.Y.) spoke strongly of the need for the president to act now to keep families together. They spoke of service members who are currently abroad and fear that a loved one could be deported.

The representatives also rejected Speaker of the House John Boehner’s assertion that executive action on immigration would prevent Congress from being able to work on a much-needed solution to fix the immigration system. They sent a message to the Speaker and to House Republican leadership that they could put a comprehensive immigration reform bill on the floor for a vote and it would pass.

Joining the representatives was Elizabeth Perez, a veteran who served in Marine Corps and whose husband was deported to Mexico after being stopped for a traffic violation. Elizabeth urged President Obama to act because her story is not unique; she said and there are hundreds of thousands of families like hers. “We fought for the freedom of our country, but our families can’t enjoy that freedom,” she stated.

Elizabeth Perez shared the story of her husband's deportation.

Elizabeth Perez shared the story of her husband’s deportation.

Around this time last year, the administration announced parole in place, a commonsense policy change that allows some relatives of veterans and service members to apply for authorization to remain in the United States. A recent Winston-Salem Journal article highlighted the military-specific policy and how it has transformed the lives of one family. As the newspaper reported, Alejandra King came to the United States from Mexico as a child and graduated from high school and Salem College. She married her husband Charles, a former Marine, in 2010. Earlier this year, Alejandra and Charles filed an application through Citizenship and Immigration Services for parole in place, and she is now a permanent resident. When asked what this means for her, Alejandra said: “It means freedom, being able to feel secure without the fear of being deported, knowing that my kids and husband will not be left motherless, alone, due to some random traffic stop or raid. Being able to legally work and contribute to the economy and the community. It also means validation for how I already felt: an American.”

President Obama should build on this commonsense policy; there are a number of existing policies he can use to allow aspiring Americans to come forward and apply for administrative relief. Alejandra’s husband expressed the frustration that millions feel when he said, “always having to worry if a certain law does or doesn’t pass, if there is a day where the government rounds up all immigrants for deportation, or if my wife has to shy away from reporting a crime as a victim—because of her status—doesn’t make me feel like I live in ‘the land of the free,’ an ideal I have dedicated a life to support and defend.” President Obama now has the opportunity to do something that is big and bold and lives up to our values.

Join us in telling President Obama to take strong executive action to provide relief!

The Election Is Over; it’s Time for the President to Act

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AllInRally3Election Day has come and gone. No matter who’s the majority in Congress, one thing is clear: Latino voters who went to the polls this week were motivated by immigration reform.

We saw the early signs of this through Election Day polling we conducted with Latino Decisions. Those polls showed that 45 percent of Latinos nationwide cited immigration as one of the most important issues in 2014.

The simple truth is that for many Latino voters, immigration is not just a political issue; it’s a personal one that often affects our very own family members. In fact, polling from Latino Decisions shows that 58 percent of registered Latino voters say they know someone who is undocumented. For so many of us, there was just too much at stake not to vote.

This was certainly true for Guadalupe Portillo, a 102-year-old Lincoln Heights, California, woman who became a citizen last year and voted for the first time on Tuesday. Portillo cast her vote with the aim of setting an example to Latinos who may have lost hope amid a gridlocked Washington that has been unable to pass immigration reform legislation.

From NBC Bay Area:

“It’s never too late,” she [Portillo] said. “Here I am at my age still fighting, and you won’t even vote? That’s why I’m voting. I may be old, but I’m one more voice.”

Watch the whole report below:

Consider Gloria Argentina Sarmiento Mendoza’s story. In the Lincoln Journal Star this week, Mendoza told her story of citizenship and why it was important for her to get it in time for Election Day.

From the Lincoln Journal Star:

After Gloria Argentina Sarmiento Mendoza passed her citizenship test—answering all the questions correctly—she had a question of her own.

Could she change her legal name? Make it shorter for her Social Security card?

The woman from Honduras wanted to get rid of her middle name, replace Argentina with an “A.”

Not a problem, the examiner told her. It would take two months to approve the change, then she could come back to take the oath and make her U.S. citizenship official.

Two months?

Forget it, Gloria told her.

“I said, ‘Keep it. I want to vote in the election. I want to vote.’”

And after 12 years in America, she didn’t want to wait one more day.

Mendoza travels around Nebraska educating Latinos on their rights and helping them find assistance. She understands the need for immigration reform and she hears heartbreaking stories every day from families grappling with separation and deportation.

Forward GraphicNow that the election is over, the candidates who lost are licking their wounds and the victors are preparing to take office. As they prepare, they should also remember that there is another election in two years and Latinos have made it clear that they want immigration reform. Not delivering on this could prove disastrous in the next cycle.

We also need the president to keep his word and take executive action to provide relief to the millions of immigrants facing the threat of deportation. The president should heed the words of Portillo and Mendoza, as well as the many voices we’ve shared over the past few months. The election is over; the time is up. It’s time to act, Mr. President. Millions of lives are hanging in the balance.

Join us in telling President Obama to take strong executive action today! Sign our petition and tell him to act!

The Consequences of Delayed Executive Action

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ImmDayofAction_immigrationsharegraphic_2_14President Obama’s decision to delay taking executive action on immigration this past September affected millions of hardworking people and their families. Like many of us who were disappointed in the House Republican leadership’s failure on immigration, we were expecting President Obama to act, particularly after he said in a Rose Garden ceremony on June 30 that he would fix as much of the immigration system as he could on his own. Millions of families were also waiting to hear what the president would do to provide relief. But for many of those immigrants, the president’s decision to delay taking action on immigration meant the difference between staying with their families in the United States and being deported to their countries of origin, often after having lived in the United States for several years.

One such individual is Javier Flores, whose story was featured in The Washington Post this past weekend. For Flores, a 31-year-old factory worker who most recently resided in Akron, Ohio, the president’s decision to delay action meant deportation.

From The Washington Post:

In June, he had watched on TV as President Obama promised he would stop deporting certain kinds of illegal immigrants by the end of summer. The president and his staff said they would bypass Congress by issuing an executive action to help people with clean criminal records and American-citizen children — people like Javier. “This means you!” an immigration advocate had written to him, and even though Javier had already been ordered deported he believed his miracle had come. He would be able to stay with his children, ages 10, 7, 4 and 9 months. He would be able to keep his job at the window factory, where he managed 30 people and paid $850 in U.S. taxes each month. “A perfect case,” the advocate wrote again, and all Javier had to do was wait for Obama to say the things he had promised to say.

But then July turned into August, and August turned into September, and Obama decided it was more politically prudent to delay his executive action until after November’s midterm elections. So instead of being offered his reprieve, Javier was sent back to the poorest state in Mexico, where the advocate had sent him one final note. “Sorry,” it read. “Terrible timing.”

The April All in For Citizenship Rally drew thousands of supporters from around the country.

Up until his deportation back to La Mixtequita, Mexico, a village with fewer than 1,000 residents, no mail service, no Internet service, and no work, Flores had lived 13 years in Ohio. His family, a wife and four children, are all still in Ohio. His youngest child is unable to comprehend why she has not seen her father for almost a month. Indeed, Flores’s deportation was hard for even his relatives in Mexico to understand. It is baffling how a routine traffic stop could turn into deportation for someone who has lived in and contributed to his community for so many years.

For now, Flores spends his days sometimes harvesting limes in a small orchard, but mostly contemplating his next steps, mulling over an attempt to return to Ohio, desperate for any solution that will reunite him with his family that needs him so sorely. It’s a heartbreaking and unfortunate situation that could have been averted had Congress or the president done the hard work necessary to finally bring some sanity back to our immigration system. There are millions of others who could avoid the same fate when President Obama makes a big and bold announcement after the midterm elections.

Hanging in the Balance: The Ramirez Family

Hanging in the balance-01 Vicky Ramirez is a recent college graduate and a member of NCLR’s Líderes Youth Advisory Council. She is currently putting her skills and expertise to use at an international development agency in Washington, D.C. She recently spoke about what it would mean to her family if President Obama used executive authority to provide administrative relief on immigration.

Vicky’s part of a mixed-status family: different family members have different immigration statuses. Her parents were able to become legal permanent residents when their application was approved 10 years after her father applied. She has a younger sister who was born in the U.S. and is a citizen. Because of bureaucratic backlogs and delays, her older sisters were not able to become permanent residents and now have different statuses. Two of her sisters are twins; one has applied and received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, while the other has not. Her eldest sister is among the 4.5 million undocumented parents of U.S.-citizen children.

MENENDEZ-QUOTEWhen asked what it would mean if President Obama were to do everything within his authority to fix the nation’s immigration policies, Vicky said “it would be transformative.” She described the many challenges that families like hers face and the ways that they could continue contributing to the country if they were able to apply for administrative relief. Her siblings could make even bigger contributions if they were able to apply for work permits.

The more expansive the president is in his actions, the greater the economic benefit to families and to the country. According to an analysis by the Center for American Progress, establishing a deferred action policy allowing aspiring Americans to receive a work permit would result in a significant increase in revenue for the country. In the first year alone, aspiring Americans who have lived in the U.S. for at least five years, as Vicky’s sisters have, would increase payroll tax revenue by $6.08 billion and would increase revenue by $44.96 billion over five years.

For Vicky’s family and for millions of families like hers across the country, we urge President Obama to provide relief that allows millions of families to continue to live and work in the United States.

Three Latinas Dealing With the Threat of Deportation

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For this week’s “Hanging in the Balance” series, we bring you the stories of Anabel, Maria, and Elizabeth. Each of them are facing the threat of deportation either for themselves or for their loved ones. More than two million people have been deported under the Obama administration. For us, this is not an abstract number. These are friends and relatives, fellow churchgoers, community leaders, and co-workers. And while our community continues to struggle with having our loved ones detained or deported, our government has failed to provide a solution to this crisis. We’re resolved to keep fighting for reform.

The Accidental Immigration Advocate

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Photo: United States Student Association

Giancarlo Tello. Photo: United States Student Association

Meet Giancarlo Tello, a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient who has worked tirelessly to not only create opportunities for himself, but also for other aspiring Americans. When his DACA application was approved, he thought of his parents and their hard work and contributions and why they should be able to stay, live, and work in the U.S.

Giancarlo was born in Peru to caring parents who wanted a better life. At the age of six, he arrived with his family in the United States in search of that better life. Giancarlo quickly learned English and received good grades. By high school, he was taking honors classes and played on the tennis, soccer, and ping pong teams. Like many teenagers, Giancarlo dreamed of getting his driver’s license. After being one of the few students in his drivers’ education class to pass the written test on their first try, he ran home to tell his mother and ask her to take him to the DMV to get his permit. It was at that moment that Giancarlo first learned he was undocumented. He thought that it would only affect his ability to get a license, but as he grew closer to graduation, he found that being undocumented would present even greater hurdles.

As Giancarlo started to plan for college, he asked his mother what he should put on the applications when they asked for his social security number. She told him that he couldn’t put anything down, and that he might not be able to go to college at all.

Giancarlo was dismayed by this news. He had worked hard in school and had dreams for his future. “That’s when I started paying attention to the news and media. You start hearing those words, ‘illegals.’ You start being dehumanized, and you start being scared.”

His parents and family told him that he couldn’t tell anyone about his status. “Nobody in your school, not your best friends, your counselors, your teachers. You can’t tell anyone because you can be deported. Or we could be. You could be separated from your family.”

NJDREAMActCoalition_logo_560x292Giancarlo’s hopes for the future were dimmed until he learned that he could attend community college and pay as an international student. Because he couldn’t drive, Giancarlo would get dropped off at school by his father at 6 a.m. and then picked up after his father’s two jobs at 11 p.m. Being on campus for so many hours gave him the opportunity to get involved. He heard about the New Jersey DREAM Act Coalition, which fought for passage of the DREAM Act. Working with them, Giancarlo had the opportunity to travel to the Capitol to lobby on the bill.

After earning his associate degree from Bergen Community College, he enrolled at Rutgers University–Camden. Giancarlo worked with other advocates to push for DACA, which had a profound effect on his life. Giancarlo received his DACA approval on Christmas Eve, 2013. While not permanent and definitely not perfect, DACA did provide him with the opportunity to work, get a driver’s license, and be protected from deportation.

Giancarlo then turned his activism toward passing a New Jersey state bill that allowed undocumented students to pay in-state tuition. His leadership skills were apparent and he was elected campaign chair of New Jersey United Students’ Tuition Equity for DREAMers. He organized legislative visits and orchestrated a call-in day to a democratic state senator who was holding the bill up in committee. By noon, the senator called Giancarlo and asked him to call off the call-in. The bill passed through the committee the following week and eventually was passed by both houses and signed by Governor Chris Christie.

DACA_anniversaryblog_pic1Giancarlo hasn’t forgotten other students and their families who haven’t benefited from DACA and the tuition law. He recently helped to create a scholarship fund for undocumented students at his university, and he is involved in advocating for President Obama to provide administrative relief for undocumented immigrants.

He urges President Obama to take executive action. And while Giancarlo longs to fulfill his biggest dream—to become a U.S. citizen—he urges other Latinos to register and vote. “Neither party should take Latinos for granted,” he said.

Giancarlo’s undocumented status led him to become an accidental advocate. “I felt I reached a glass wall and needed to do anything to break it,” he said. Our community is grateful Giancarlo has broken down that wall. We are all better for it.

Hanging in the Balance: A Tale of Two Latinas

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This is the story of two young Latinas with the same name, living in the same Southern city, one having recently graduated from college, the other just beginning there, both in the same field. The women immigrated to the United States as children with their parents and both learned as teenagers that they were undocumented. But because of decisions made far away from them, their stories are taking different paths and, without action, their futures are now looking quite different.

Carla Mena (r) with NCLR President and CEO, Janet Murguía

Carla Mena (r) with NCLR President and CEO, Janet Murguía

Meet Carla Mena and Karla Salgado. Carla Mena moved to Raleigh, North Carolina, from Peru in 2001, when she was 11. She quickly learned English after being put into ESL classes. A few years later in 2009, 13-year-old Karla Salgado arrived in Raleigh from Mexico. She began middle school and had to learn both a new language and a new culture. Both girls rapidly adapted and excelled in their classes. By high school they were taking AP courses and getting almost straight A’s.

As graduation approached, the young women, each an outstanding student, faced the same barrier: they could not afford the high out-of-state tuition at public universities and they were ineligible for financial aid as undocumented immigrants. Both girls had big dreams that were in danger of being crushed because of their immigration status. Luckily, both girls found a small school in Raleigh called Meredith College that sees the potential in all young women and welcomes diverse students. Carla graduated from Meredith in 2012 with a degree in biology and Karla started there last month declaring a biology major.

Karla Salgado

Karla Salgado

But here is where their stories diverge. Because Carla came to the United States earlier than Karla, she is eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Shortly after Carla graduated from college, President Obama announced DACA, which grants work permits and temporary relief from deportation to certain undocumented youth who meet specific criteria. With her degree, she was able to attain an excellent job as a senior research assistant at the Duke University Global Health Institute’s Center for Health Policy and Inequalities Research.

In contrast, Karla arrived in the United States in 2009, missing the deadline for DACA by two years. Her dream is to become a nurse anesthetist. But without a work permit, Karla’s future is very uncertain and her contributions to America will be limited.

Despite their tenuous status in their adopted country, the young women’s commitment to their community remains strong. In recent months, Karla was appointed by Raleigh’s mayor as the youngest member of the Downtown Plan Advisory Committee. Carla is also giving back to her community and was recently selected to serve on the Board of Trustees of the Wake Health Services. Both girls also volunteer on the Youth Council at El Pueblo, Inc., an NCLR Affiliate.

“If you could just take the time to meet ten Latino families around the country, you would understand why we cannot wait. You would know why we need this now and not when it’s comfortable for you,” said Carla when asked what she would tell President Obama if she had the chance. “In the Latino community, our word means everything. A promise means a promise. It’s hard to get that trust back.”

Karla was equally eloquent. “My status has broken my dream into pieces. I have worked hard to get where I am. I have scholarships to college but it will be in vain because I won’t be eligible to work when I get out. Please don’t tear my dreams apart. It’s not about politics. A piece of paper can change everything.”

The two women have made a positive impact in their communities. Their teachers, employers, and classmates all support administrative action that will allow these young women to continue their contributions. Since Congress has failed to do its job, we need to stand up for our community and urge President Obama to provide relief to aspiring Americans like Karla.

These young women are our future; we must give them a future.

Delayed Executive Action Threatens to Shatter an Ohio Family

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The recent announcement by the Obama administration to delay the promised executive action on immigration will affect millions of hardworking individuals and their families. Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants will be deported while we wait for the president to bring some sanity to a broken immigration system.

HouseImmigrationBill_pic_newOne family in Ohio deeply understands the dire consequences of delay. Seleste Wisniewski, an American citizen, is desperately worried that her husband, Pedro Hernandez Ramirez, may be deported in the coming days. Pedro, who has lived and worked in the U.S. for more than a decade, was just notified that his yearlong stay of deportation had been canceled and he would be sent back to Mexico soon. Pedro is ineligible to be sponsored by his U.S. citizen wife because he has been in this country out of status for too long.

The biggest impact of Pedro’s deportation would be felt by their four U.S. citizen children—particularly Juan, 24, who has severe cerebral palsy. Pedro is the only one in their home who can lift Juan in and out of his wheelchair, bed, and bath. The family also depends on Pedro’s income from working in a landscape nursery.

In a recent story in The New York Times, Seleste asked an urgent question of Obama and the politicians who convinced him to delay action: “Why are we going to wait until later to fix a problem we have today?”

Seleste has been advocating on behalf of her husband publicly for the last year, when Pedro was detained in a county jail and days away from deportation before he received a stay. He returned to his family, and ever since they have been hoping that Washington would act in time to spare him. When Congress failed to move forward this spring, Seleste and Pedro were relieved to hear President Obama promise to provide some relief “by summer’s end.” Now that broken promise could have a shattering impact on their family.

The recent delay has been devastating for the entire family. Their 17-year-old daughter, Stephanie, said that Pedro is the “glue” keeping the family together and the one who teaches her “right from wrong.” Their five-year-old son loves to play basketball with his dad but lives in fear that he will be taken away again—this time forever.

Seleste knows they are “in a race against time.” She doesn’t understand why she has to “choose between her husband and her country.” She is pleading with President Obama to act as quickly as possible to ensure that her family stays together.