An Undocumented Military Spouse: The Story of Fanny Lopez

Hanging in the balance-01

“When Our Troops Serve, Their Families are Serving, Too.” So says the slogan of Joining Forces, First Lady Michelle Obama’s national initiative to bring attention to the needs of military families. But what happens if a family member is undocumented? Does this mean that they are serving their country any less?

This was the challenge faced by Fanny Lopez, the wife of U.S. citizen David Martinez, a member of the Army Reserve. After their marriage in 2008, David hoped to sponsor his new wife for a green card, but Fanny was ineligible because she had entered the United States without authorization as a child.

Fanny Lopez and David Martinez

Fanny Lopez and David Martinez

“So, why are you still undocumented?” Fanny was often asked. Her friends and family could not believe that an army wife was struggling to get a green card. After all, it is expected that being married to a U.S. citizen should automatically grant you legal status, even more if your spouse is fighting for our country.

Two years after they married, David was deployed to Afghanistan with his reserve unit. He left the United States with uncertainty about what would happen to Fanny while he was gone. He was stationed thousands of miles away from his wife and felt powerless to help. This stress weighed heavily on him and at times distracted from his mission. Fanny also felt the stress of her husband’s deployment.

“My world turned upside down. I started thinking about all of the things that could happen while he was gone,” said Fanny.

While David served on the front lines, Fanny was home worrying not only about her husband’s safety, but also about her own because she knew that she could be deported at any time. Yet Fanny continued to provide emotional support for David and tried not to show her concern.

“We are constantly reminded that our husband’s mental and emotional readiness depends on us,” said Fanny.

In addition to her other responsibilities, Fanny was also an excellent college student. One of her professors, who knew of Fanny’s situation, sent her an article from the New York Times that discussed an internal memo from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services about a little-known process called parole in place (PIP). This program provides a path to a green card for undocumented immediate family members of U.S. military personnel. The aim of the program is to promote family unity and secure the readiness of the soldiers.

David needed to be in the U.S. at the time of application, which was impossible while he was stationed in Afghanistan. So while he was gone, Fanny researched the complicated process and waited for David to return home safely.

“Back in 2010, there was almost no information about PIP and the application process,” said Fanny. “It was so uncommon that even immigration lawyers had no knowledge that it existed.”

Fanny_HIBblog_560x372A year later, David returned home uninjured. But as with many veterans, David had a difficult time readjusting to civilian life. He leaned on Fanny for support but also worried about her future in the United States. Fanny remained strong for her husband because she knew that, regardless of the situation, undocumented family members are still expected to support their soldiers.

At the same time, Fanny and David hired a lawyer, Isabel Martinez, who helped them research parole in place. Together they fought through the maze of red tape for a year and a half. In September 2013, they succeeded in getting her green card.

Fanny and David believe that regardless of her immigration status, as an Army wife, she has provided a service to this country.

“Our soldiers have fought for this country and the least they deserve is to have the certainty that their families will be protected no matter where they are,” said Fanny. “After all of our sacrifices, our service to this country must be honored.”

Today, Fanny is no longer at risk of being deported, but she worries about other undocumented immigrants, including her close relatives and friends, who face the threat of deportation and separation from their families. She continues to work with immigrant rights organizations that fight to stop deportations and seeks to empower undocumented immigrants in the Chicago area.

“It is unacceptable that we have to deal with a broken immigration system,” she said. “We all deserve a chance to live free from the fear of deportation. We all deserve resources that will allow us to provide a better life for our families.”

Forward GraphicWant to show your support for Fanny and the millions like her? Sign our petition to let the president know the time for administrative immigration relief is now!

With Obesity Rates in Decline, It’s Time Reduce the Risk for Latinos

By Carla Plaza, Policy Analysis Center, NCLR

NMHM14_idea10_maiandra_2April is National Minority Health Month and that provides a a great opportunity to talk about obesity in our community. Although a recent study demonstrates that the nation is making progress in reducing the rate of obesity among preschool children, Latino children remain at greater risk of being overweight or obese than their Asian, Black, and White peers. Being overweight or obese as a child can lead to serious chronic conditions such as diabetes, asthma, cancer, and heart disease. NCLR remains committed to better understanding the various factors that contribute to poor health outcomes within the Hispanic community. Considering nearly two out of five Latino children between the ages of 2 and 19 are overweight or obese, we will continue to propose policy and program recommendations that improve the health of Latinos, especially children.

Because children living in poverty are at higher risk of being obese, NCLR is currently working on a project that teaches families how food assistance programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, make higher-quality, nutritious food more accessible. Preliminary findings demonstrate that Latinos understand the importance of healthy eating, what constitutes “good nutrition,” and what it means for their children. However, Latinos face numerous barriers in accessing these benefits and continue to face hurdles in obtaining affordable, healthier groceries.

We are also interested in how food and beverage advertising can reduce childhood obesity rates. There is considerable scientific evidence demonstrating that marketing and advertising to children has definitive effects on taste, preferences, and consumer behavior. For example, in 2005, the Institute of Medicine conducted a literature review examining the impact of food and beverage marketing on youth. The ensuing report held that marketing and advertising not only shape children’s direct spending on food and beverages but also indirectly influence their parents’ and family members’ purchasing decisions. Furthermore, it was identified that high-calorie and low-nutrient food and beverage products are predominantly advertised and marketed to youth.

Child  in the gardenGiven that one in five children in the United States is Hispanic and that Hispanic children are the fastest-growing segment of the child population, it is important to understand how the advertising and marketing of products are influencing the health of our children. NCLR applauds the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, which has developed category-specific nutrition criteria for 10 different product types that governs the foods and beverages marketed to children under the age of 12. Eighteen companies participate in this initiative, many of which are NCLR’s corporate partners.

Recently, NCLR’s President and CEO, Janet Murguía, spoke at the Partnership for a Healthier America’s “Building a Healthier Future” Summit. During the summit’s opening session on equity, Murguía shared the disparities that exist for Latinos across the spectrum of life, including health, well-being, and education. She highlighted the importance of partnerships to seek solutions for reducing disparities, as well as working with local, trusted community members to educate the Latino community about healthy behaviors and choices. Ms. Murguía also commended First Lady Michelle Obama’s efforts drawing attention to food marketing and advertising.

We will keep you updated on our work to improve healthy eating, reduce obesity among Latino children, and explore the role of food marketing in influencing behavior.

Day 4 Wrap-up: First Lady Michelle Obama Delivers Message of Hope for Making Our Kids Healthier

The fourth and final day of the 2013 NCLR Annual Conference came to a close today with a keynote address from the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama.

Guess Who’s Coming to Our Annual Conference!

MichelleObamaThat’s right, First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama will join the NCLR familia in New Orleans next month at our 2013 NCLR Annual Conference.

The Conference this year, themed “Rise as One,” title-sponsored by Toyota and Walmart, will feature more than 60 workshops, four town halls, five key meal events including the Latinas Brunch and the NCLR Awards Gala and multiple networking opportunities. It also features a list of other impressive speakers including legendary entertainer Rita Moreno, National Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial, W.K. Kellogg Foundation President and CEO Sterling Speirn, Telemundo news anchors José Díaz-Balart and María Celeste Arrarás, Girl Scouts of America CEO Anna Maria Chávez, baseball great Minnie Miñoso and many more.

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