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.
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.”
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.
“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.”
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.