Young activist fights to bring deported mom back

By Christine Armario

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Feb. 7 2014 10:16 a.m. MST

By then, Jose had missed a month of school and, at 17, could see his future slipping away. An immigration activist Jose had met shortly before his mother's arrest helped, getting his paperwork in order so that Jose could resume classes. The friend, Isabel Sousa-Rodriguez, also reached out to a lawyer when Jose decided to try foster care.

Sousa-Rodriguez also became the mentor Jose needed as he waded more deeply into the immigrant activist movement, his sights set on finding a way to get his mother back.

"I was so impressed by him," Sousa-Rodriguez says. "Being so young and so passionate about social justice. That's rare."

At his foster home, Jose didn't act angry or depressed, just determined.

His foster mother, Jolie Bogorad, remembers him writing speeches and debating how the immigration system should be reformed. He started going to activist meetings, sometimes waking at 4 a.m. to attend weekend gatherings.

"I would say ... 'You don't want to sleep? Chill out? Have fun?,'" Bogorad recalls. "He'd say, 'After.'"

Within a year, Jose was a policy analyst for a state immigration network. He showed up at protests, leading chants and sharing his story. Last year, then a senior in high school, he led a group of activists inside U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio's Miami office, refusing to leave until they were granted a meeting with an aide.

He followed that with a letter to the editor of The Miami Herald, asking politicians to stand by a proposed bipartisan immigration reform measure, which included a provision to allow some deported immigrants with relatives still in the U.S. to return.

"I want my mom to be able to come back to Florida," Jose wrote, "and celebrate my graduation with me."

Instead, from afar, Soza saw snapshots of her son on Facebook, in his white cap and gown.

She moved from Nicaragua to Spain, and found a job caring for the elderly. Through Facebook, she watched his transformation from boy into man and activist, through the many pictures of him staging protests and meeting politicians.

They communicated through text messages and weekly phone calls. Sometimes Jose posted photographs on Facebook of her juxtaposed next to him, separate but together in one picture frame. "Dear Universe," he wrote in a post in May. "This is the last Mother's Day without my mom."

More than 100,000 parents of U.S. citizen children have been deported since 1998, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The Applied Research Center, a New York-based advocacy organization, has found that at least 5,100 U.S. citizen children in 22 states are living in foster care because a parent has been detained or deported. An unknown number of non-citizen children have also been left behind.

While advocates such as Jose see immigration reform as the answer, others oppose the idea of allowing deported relatives to return, except in rare cases.

"Immigration law has no meaning if we deported people and then turn around and let them back in," says Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates tighter immigration policies.

Last year's Senate bill provided several potential avenues for deported relatives to return, including if they have a U.S. citizen or permanent resident child, spouse or parent in the country — in Soza's case, her daughter. A policy forbidding deported immigrants from returning for 10 years also would have been lifted under the measure.

Though that bill stalled, President Barack Obama has once again called for Congress to take on immigration reform. House Republicans last week unveiled their broad strategy for overhauling the system, but some are already expressing skepticism about eventual passage.

Some immigration advocates fear stories such as Jose's could have opposite the intended effect. Several have cautioned him that his mother's previous actions could cast a bad light on all deported parents, jeopardizing other families' chances of being reunited. Others question how he could even want his mother back.

To Jose the answer is easy.

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