"I kind of need my mom," he says. "I should be able to hug her like everybody else."
A green card holder now, Jose is majoring in political science at Florida International University and will apply for citizenship as soon as legally allowed. Between classes, he continues his activism and works as a research associate for an organization that aims to engage politicians across the aisle on immigration reform. He has met with Republicans, Democrats — even Donald Trump — and talked at dozens of events.
At each gathering, he speaks of his mother.
Says U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., an immigration reform supporter who met Jose through his work: "We should all be proud of this young man who has gone through so much, and yet continues to help others every day."
Just before Christmas, Jose packed up his graduation pictures and placed some clothes in a duffel bag, along with a small American flag — a gift for the mother he had not seen in nearly three years.
His friends raised the money for his ticket to Bilbao, Spain. There wasn't enough for a second fare for his brother, who, like Jose, obtained a green card and remains in Miami.
It was Christmas Day when Jose came down the terminal escalator to see his mother waiting in the arrival hall below. "Oh my son, my love," she said, wrapping him in an embrace as Jose began to cry.
"I was afraid you would have lost the love for your mother," she told him.
"I was afraid you'd look at me like a stranger," he said.
They had five days together, spent seeing the sites of Bilbao and taking in a movie and catching up on time missed. She told him she worried that she'd been a disappointment: "I feel ... like I have failed as a mother for being deported."
But Jose reassured her. "My mother has gone through a storm, but she doesn't lose sight of the sun," he said.
On their last day together, they awoke early and went the airport. Jose spoke about organizing an event to talk about his experience in Spain and seeing his mother after so long. He showed little emotion, until the time came to say goodbye once more.
With tears in his eyes, he hugged his mother. "Today I am stronger because of you."
Associated Press reporter Jorge Garma in Bibao, Spain, contributed to this report.
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