Op-ed by Maria Rodriguez
Mother’s Day is supposed to be a time to celebrate the bond between mothers and their children. But because immigration agents are working with Sheriff Joe Arpaio, it’s too often still a holiday filled with uncertainty for Phoenix-area moms like me.
A week before Mother’s Day last year, my daughter was on a hunger strike in front of the White House. I was in a detention center in Eloy.
I had been deported in 2011 when ICE agents came to my door when I was still in my pajamas. They said that I was on on their list for removal because of an argument in public a year earlier between my brother and I, and a plea my lawyer advised me to sign despite no charges being filed.
It didn’t matter to them that I have called the United States my home since I was 14 years old or that I had my own sewing business for six years or that my daughter was a high schooler with good grades.
So many happy Mother’s Days were turned on their heads as the agents tricked me into signing something and quickly deported me to Mexico. I became one of the 2 million people President Obama has deported and one of the 46,000 parents of U.S. citizen children who were removed from the country during the six-month period of January to June of that year.
On the other side, I did my best to make a life. I enrolled in beauty school only to find that every single woman in class, including the teacher, was a deportee with kids in the United States like me.
Imagine after half your life in one place, to be ripped from it in the blink of an eye. Imagine being a mom and trying to raise your children through infrequent Skype calls from a noisy internet café.
One day I logged into Facebook and saw a photo of my daughter holding a sign that said, “I Miss My Mom.” Everyone in the internet cafe turned to stare at me because I couldn’t stop crying.
In our next call, my daughter said she was part of an effort to bring me home with other separated families, an effort that sent her all the way to the doorstep of the president on our family’s behalf.
Since I was able to return, a lot has changed. Arpaio is finally on trial for his profiling. The president expanded relief from deportation to parents of citizens (even though it’s still held up in court). And the workplace raids have stopped.
But immigration agents are still at Fourth Avenue Jail. And that means a lot is still the same. The sheriff may not have immigration powers anymore, but he still has ICE at his right hand for whomever he brings in. That means that too many moms could still go through what I have.
This Mother’s Day, I’ll be wrapping my arms tightly around my daughter for all she did to reunite us. But until my own case is closed and until ICE stops working with the sheriff, I’ll be squeezing extra tight.
Because, for mothers like me, it’s not a given that we’ll still be together again next year. The president has said he’s not in the business of separating families. But for that to be true, he’ll need to take his agents out of Maricopa County. Then we’ll be able to celebrate Mother’s Day with breakfast in bed, not worry in our hearts.
Maria Rodriguez is a member of Puente Arizona. Her case is pending closure in July.