For the first time in six years, Evelyn Rivera was able to give her mother a hug. But the circumstances were less than ideal: Her mother was on the other side of a steel bar fence, which marked the United States and Mexico border.
Rivera was one of three young immigrants who reunited on Tuesday with parents who had been deported from the United States. Their mothers traveled from Colombia, Brazil and Guadelajara, Mexico to the border fence in Nogales, Arizona to see their children for the first time in many years. Their emotional reunion under the blazing Arizona sun was captured on video.
“There were so many tears and we couldn’t get words out. Then we just kept saying ‘I love you, I love you’,” Rivera says, describing the first few moments she spent with her mother. “My mom was upset. She was saying ‘I thought I would be able to hug you better.’ But we were so happy just to be able to touch.”
Carlos Padilla, a 21-year-old from Mexico, had last seen his mother five years ago. After one of her brothers passed away in Mexico and her father had a heart attack, she had to leave the United States to take care of family. Padilla says she knew once she left, she was not going to be able to come back.
“She asked me if I minded because she was missing my graduation. But I told her to leave and that we would figure it out,” he recalls.
Despite the scorching hot sun heating the gates that separated them, Padilla wouldn’t let go of his mother.
“I was so excited for her to call me her baby, she would always call me her baby. The whole time I was there I held her hand,” he says. “We had chairs, one chair on her side one on mine and we talked about everything families do over the dinner table.”
The meeting was organized by United We Dream, a national immigration advocacy organization. It was a new part of the highly personal strategy that Dreamers have used to push for comprehensive immigration reform. Miles away from the border encounter, legislators in Washington D.C. voted to formally begin debating the Senate bill and clearing the way for the possibility that the Senate will vote before July 4th.
“This is not an abstract debate. This is about incredible young people who understand themselves to be Americans, who have done everything right but have still been hampered in achieving their American Dream,” he said.
United We Dream leader Carolina Canizales said that the reunion was not planned to occur on the same day as all of the political action in Washington.
“At the end of the day it was just us showing what immigration is about and showing out stories. He was talking about Dreamers but he was not talking about parents,” Canizales says.
Although the Senate bill would help young immigrants like Rivera and Padilla by giving them an expedited pathway to American citizenship, Rivera says it does not do enough to bring back deportees. While the current bill would allow some deported children, spouses, and siblings of U.S. citizens and permanent residents to return, there is no provision that says deported parents of undocumented immigrants can come back. Republican senators have vehemently opposed the return of any deportees.
Still, Rivera sees the issue in black and white.
“Its very simple and the game of politics makes it complicated. Pass a humane bill that will allow for family reunification. Put an end to deportation,” she says. “I don’t want anyone else to get deported and go through what I have with my mother.”