President Obama met with DREAMers and mixed status families who told the President why current immigration system doesn’t work (Photo/official White House photo by Pete Souza )

Mixed-status families, DREAMers tell Obama their personal immigration stories

Melissa McGuire-Maniau, a U.S. citizen since she was born in Puerto Rico, might seem like an unlikely member of a group of 7 people invited to speak to President Obama about the toll of the current immigration system.  But the Florida resident, who is a board member of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, says her Mexican-born husband has gone through decades of hardship – including detention – though he tried to do everything right.

“Do you know how hard it is to say a 28-year story in a few minutes?” said McGuire-Maniau, describing how everyone went around the room telling the President their story. “But I told him my husband applied and tried to do it the right way, but regardless, the system is broken and it doesn’t work,” she said.

McGuire-Maniau’s husband, Hector, arrived from Mexico when he was 17 on a B2 visa.  His mother became a naturalized citizen and petitioned him, and he was approved in 1998.  He was told to wait and then apply for adjustment of status.  But according to Melissa, an attorney told Hector’s family he could legally expedite his case, which was not true. “Then immigration took the application and money, but placed him in removal proceedings, which happens all the time – so many people are in deportation proceedings because of someone else, meddling in their case,” says McGuire-Maniau.  She describes ICE coming to her house three times until they finally found her husband home and put him at the Broward Transitional Center in Pompano Beach, Florida.

Melissa McGuire-Maniau, a U.S. citizen by birth, told President Obama why her husband almost got deported.

Melissa McGuire-Maniau, a U.S. citizen by birth, told President Obama why her husband almost got deported. (Photo/courtesy of Melissa McGuire-Maniau)

The couple fought his situation successfully with help from the community, and Hector now has a green card. But Melissa’s sister was deported, and is still in Mexico, with her children in the U.S.  “It  makes me sad; we fought back, but others are so paralyzed with fear and they don’t fight back.”

The President listened to Melissa’s story, as well as to Miguel Leal, a U.S. citizen originally from Cuba. Leal told Telemundo’s Lori Montenegro that he was there for his Uruguayan wife, who is undocumented, and who has several family members in detention.  Other immigrants from South Korea and Morocco shared their stories with Obama, and DREAMers shared how their lives had changed with deferred action, while emphasizing many of their family members were still facing uncertain futures under current laws.

“He was very moved,” says McGuire-Maniau. “He says his commitment is unwavering and he wants to get immigration reform done.”  Others said the President said it would be hard work, but that he was committed.

The White House sent out a statement after the meeting.  “At the meeting, the President reiterated his commitment to passing a bipartisan, commonsense immigration reform bill this year.  He made clear that while the current bill is not perfect, it does represent an important step towards the broad principles that need to be part of any immigration reform package,” according to the White House.

For her part, McGuire-Maniu says there was another reason why she wanted to talk to Obama.

“He was a community organizer, like me,” she says. “There are so many issues he has to manage – sometimes you get worn down, but hearing people’s stories grounds you,” the Florida resident states.

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