After four years of protests, marches, and even a heartfelt speech before a Congressional committee, 13-year-old Kathy Figueroa helped bring her parents’ deportation proceeding to the national spotlight.
“I think that people with families noticed our case right away,” Kathy says. “There is a way to fight for what you want, especially if you want to get your family out of jail. You can’t just sit at home crying instead of learning what you can do to help.”
On Wednesday, an immigration judge granted a Department of Homeland Security’s (ICE) motion to administratively close deportation proceedings for Kathy’s parents, Sandra and Carlos Figueroa.
In September of 2009, when Kathy was just 9 years old, her parents were arrested in a raid while they were at work at a car wash in Phoenix. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) started deportation proceedings soon thereafter. The parents also spent several months in jail.
With the help of her family – most of whom are undocumented as well – Kathy attended marches and protests to raise awareness of her family’s strife. This gained the attention of filmmaker Valeria Fernandez and Daniel DeVivo and landed Kathy the spotlight in a feature-length documentary film, “Two Americans” highlighting Kathy and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who authorized the raid.
The film traces Kathy’s crusade as her parents are in jail. She is seen speaking in Congress and asking President Barack Obama to notice her story and help keep her family together.
Delia Salvatierra, the Figueroas’ attorney for the final two months of the proceedings, says that while Kathy was instrumental in bringing the family’s story to the spotlight, a civil rights suit filed by the Department of Justice helped push ICE to allow the Figueroa’s to stay in the U.S.
“ICE did the right thing and ICE needs to be applauded and recognized for that,” Salvatierra says. “Many people want to make the government out to be the ‘bad guys,’ but in reality it’s the Maricopa Sheriff’s Department who conducted the raids.”
The Figueroa family will remain reunited in the United States without the threat of deportation, added Salvatierra. Although they were not granted lawful permanent resident status, they will be allowed to work and live in the country indefinitely.
For Kathy, however, her work is not over.
“Even though my parent’s case is done, I am going to fight for other people,” the Latina teenager says. “I want the same justice for everyone.”
Kathy wanted to add that her experience and her fight for her parents can be done by anyone if you, “stop worrying, have faith in God, and look forward to them coming home.”
“Don’t wait until something bad happens to go to a human rights organization and get to know what your rights are,” Kathy says. “Do it before something bad happens and get informed so you’re ready.”