Maria Perez, who’s a U.S. citizen, tried everything she could to prevent her husband from being deported.
She convinced thousands of people to make phone calls and sign an online petition, calling on Immigration and Customs Enforcement to allow her husband, Brigido Acosta Luis, to stay in the United States.
She even risked arrest last year when she joined others in forming a human chain in front of a bus that was leaving the Broadview Detention Center in Illinois. The bus was carrying her 33-year-old husband and other undocumented immigrants who were on their way to being deported.
Despite Perez’s efforts, Acosta was deported to Mexico on Nov. 19. His deportation came a month after ICE officials went into the couple’s home and arrested him in front of his 3-year-old son and 13-year-old step daughter, both of them U.S. citizens.
ICE considered Acosta a priority for deportation due to his prior deportation order from 2002.
“When I was growing up, I never thought I would one day have to fight my own government to stop my husband’s deportation,” Perez said. “That isn’t something you expect as an American citizen.”
Acosta’s deportation has been difficult on his family, but Perez said she isn’t ready to give up. She is now fighting for an immigration reform that would allow families, like hers, to reunite with their loved ones who’ve been deported.
“My children need their father. I need my husband,” she said. “My family, my U.S. citizen family, needs to stop being punished by their own government.”
Families are being separated due to deportations
Perez shared her story at a panel discussion Wednesday, hoping to highlight what families go through when their loved ones face deportation and to call for immigration reform.
She was joined by Seleste Wisniewski, a U.S. citizen who faced a similar situation last year when her husband, Pedro Hernandez-Ramirez, was pulled over for a missing license plate light. Wisniewski said her husband was turned over to ICE and it was discovered he had a prior deportation order from 2001.
Like Perez, Wisniewski did all she could to stop her husband’s deportation. She stressed that Hernandez was the primary caretaker of four U.S. citizen children, including her 24-year-old son who has cerebral palsy.
Last August, Hernandez was released and granted a temporary stay of one year. But he could be deported this summer, once that one-year reprieve from deportation expires.
“The fear doesn’t go away because it’s a temporary fix for now,” Wisniewski said, referring to her husband’s one-year deportation reprieve.
Wisniewski added that the separation of families is “inhumane.” And like Perez, she is now pushing for immigration reform that allows families who’ve been separated by deportation to be reunited.
Immigration reform advocates who were also on Wednesday’s panel — hosted by the Congressional Women’s Working Group on Immigration Reform and America’s Voice Education Fund — said the situations Perez and Wisniewski face are not unique. They pointed out that 1,100 people are being deported each day, leaving behind their families and loved ones.
“We should be outraged that so many American families are being torn apart every single day,” said Lynn Tramonte, deputy director of America’s Voice, who moderated the panel.
Deportations have been on the rise ever since President Barack Obama took office in 2009. By the end of this year, the number of deportations under the Obama administration is likely to reach the 2 million mark. Tramonte called the large number of deportations “an ongoing crisis that has fallen under the radar screen for too long.”
Immigration reform is needed to stop deportations
Immigration reform advocates argue the number of people who are deported will continue to increase unless Congress acts to pass immigration reform legislation.
The Senate passed its own immigration reform bill last summer but efforts have stalled in the GOP-controlled House, where Republicans say they’re taking a “step-by-step” approach on immigration reform. Last week, House Republican leaders released their immigration reform principles, which are meant to guide the immigration reform debate in the House.
David Leopold, an immigration attorney and former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), said the best way to get Congress to act on immigration reform is by telling the stories of families who’ve been impacted by the nation’s broken immigration system.
“We have to let people know that this is tearing apart American families,” he said during Wednesday’s panel. “The American people are good people, and nobody is going to support tearing a father from his family and leaving children to grow up alone.”
Another option, Leopold said, is to continue pressuring Obama to halt deportations while Congress debates immigration reform. He said the president “has a moral responsibility” to stop deportations while Congress works on coming up with a “permanent fix.”
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary’s subcommittee on immigration and border security, also spoke briefly during Wednesday’s panel. Like Leopold, Lofgren said Congress must work to get immigration reform legislation passed as soon as possible.
“The time is now to move forward,” she said. “We can’t allow families to suffer as they have for another six months, for another year.”