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Lauren Davis/ MEDILL

Doris Aguirre and her son could face deportation, because they don't have legal status in the U.S. Her husband Roberto, a U.S. citizen, and their daughter Izaithell, are hoping that won't happen.

Immigration reform bill may be too late for many families, advocates say

by Lauren M. Davis
Apr 17, 2013

Anguish 2

Lauren Davis/ MEDILL

Protest signs line the walls at Centro Sin Fronteras that children made in efforts to keep their parents in the U.S.

Doris Aguirre carried her 2-year-old son into the the U.S. 11 years ago when she fled Honduras to escape abuse. She was caught at the border, but authorities let them stay until a formal hearing could be held on her status.

Because Aguirre couldn’t read the English-language summons, she failed to show up for her hearing, and now faces deportation at any time.

Emma Lozano, who has been working for about eight years to keep Aguirre and her son in the U.S. with the help of politicians who issued private bills, said the immigration reform bill unveiled Tuesday doesn’t help people like Aguirre.

“If we don’t get some kind of relief they’re going to get deported,” said Lozano, founder of Centro Sin Fronteras, an immigrant community relief organization. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement usually focus on removing criminals first, making Aguirre a low priority for the agency.

But “They know where she is,” Lozano said.

A bipartisan group of eight U.S. senators, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), introduced in the Senate Wednesday the highly anticipated immigration reform bill that outlines a 13-year path to citizenship. Under the proposal, immigrants who entered the country illegally before Dec. 31, 2011, and stayed continuously could apply for provisional legal status as soon as six months after the bill is signed, said Jaime Dominguez, political science professor at Northwestern.

But that discussion of citizenship isn’t relevant for those already facing deportation, Lozano said.

“It’s like any war,” she said, “If you finally get to the peace talks, you say, well let’s have a ceasefire.” They are still sending people back, she said. “We are looking at a possible 500,000 more deportations that are going to occur before they give us the law.”

Deportations are at about 1,400 per day, said Douglas Rivlin, communications director for U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Chicago), a House leader on bipartisan efforts to push immigration reform. The bill won’t help anyone until it actually passes the House, the Senate and is signed by the president, he said. There’s a very good chance it will pass this year. Until then, hundreds of kids are left without a parent each day, he said.

Aguirre is now married with an 11-year-old daughter. Her husband and daughter are both U.S. citizens.

If her mother were deported, “my heart would be broken,” her daughter Izaithell Aguirre said. She wrote a letter to President Obama asking for her mom and brother to stay.

Roberto Aguirre hopes his wife and son will be included under the new law, but knows it’s no guarantee.

“I want to keep my family,” he said. “We want to stay together." It’s difficult to be in this limbo, he said. “But hope dies last.”