On the verge of breakdown fearing deportation

Immigration_WebReina Franco worries about her family. She worries about her father, 61-year-old Santiago Olivarez, because of his recent physical and mental breakdowns, and the lingering fear of his deportation.

“He wants to be strong for the family,” she says, but “his body is not letting him anymore.  He cannot take it the way he used to take it before.”

During the 1970s and 1980s, Franco’s mother and father moved back and forth across what was then a more fluid border. They would come to the United States and work on farms, returning at season’s end to Mexico. In 1989, they relocated permanently to the United States, and are now a family of citizens, DREAMers, permanent residents and waitlisters.

Mr. Olivarez, however, is caught somewhere in between, his legal status murky and tentative despite years of paying taxes and contributing to Social Security.

In 2001, Franco, a U.S. citizen, turned 21 and became eligible to sponsor her parents for residency.  Her mother was awarded the status but Mr. Olivarez was denied due to an unresolved deportation notice issued in the 1970s.

Olivarez holds a valid Social Security card, but aggressive deportation measures included in the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 retroactively applied his prior notice, meaning that he is subject to deportation.

“I don’t think that it’s fair that they are using that law for the deportations that had already happened in the 1970s,” said Franco.

According to Sarah Pierce, an immigration attorney in Chicago, provisions in Senate Bill 744 would help the Franco family, and millions more because it allows for “discretionary permission to apply for legalization.” That bill passed the Senate in June 2013, but hasn’t been taken up by the House of Representatives.

In the absence of immigration reform, Olivarez is unable to travel and will not be eligible for Social Security retirement benefits.

Franco says that her father recently began “to have depression, crying and feeling bad” because “he couldn’t go to Mexico and see his parents for the last time.”

According to Pierce, if Olivarez had indeed traveled to Mexico for his parents’ funerals, he would have triggered a “permanent bar” and been unable to return to his family.

And so Franco worries, afraid of her father’s possible deportation and its impact on her family.
“I don’t want to think about that thing,” she says. “It would break everyone’s heart and change everyone’s life.”

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