After being deported to Mexico two years ago, Goleta community member Juana Flores is now back on the Central Coast — and new legislation introduced by a local congressman could keep her here permanently.
Flores' deportation and return to the US exemplify the complicated system and issues immigrants and their families face.
Flores has lived in the United States for more than 30 years. She’s built a life on the Central Coast with her husband, ten children and 18 grandchildren.
Flores and her husband own a house, work and pay taxes. But, this doesn't prevent her from being deported because she is not legally a citizen of the United States.
Flores was deported in April of 2019 and lived mostly alone in Mexico. She was unable to visit her family in the U.S. and missed the birth of two of her grandchildren.
One of her daughters, Cristina Flores, said when the Flores family found out Juana would be deported, they couldn’t believe it.
“She hasn’t committed any crimes, she hasn’t done anything to anybody, really. She is just out here working to give us a better future for her ten children,” Cristina Flores said. “Once the date came and it actually happened, we were just devastated. We were heartbroken. It was unjust.”
Cristina said the family had a hard time. Juana was a main caregiver for one of her sons, who struggled with his health after she left. Some family members became depressed and Cristina said it was hard to explain to the grandkids why their grandmother wasn’t around.
“They would ask, ‘Where’s Grandma? Why did they take her away? Why is she not here?’ That was kind of hard to explain because how can you explain that to your nephews? There’s just no reason,” Cristina Flores said.
According to current immigration law, this kind of deportation is allowed for people who do not maintain legal status.
Juana is home in Goleta now but her family’s fight to keep her in the United States continues because she has only been granted humanitarian parole, which allows her to be in the United States for one year.
Philip Williams is the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Cal Poly, and was previously the director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Florida, where he ran a program focused on immigration and social change.
He said Juana’s status reflects the precarious situation undocumented immigrants face in the United States.
“You could be living in the United States for 30 years. You could be deeply rooted in your community, own a home, and yet be on the way to school to drop your kids off, get stopped for a traffic violation and the next thing you know you’re in deportation proceedings,” Williams said.
Williams said it’s important to understand that the deportation process is complex and may vary in priority, depending on the discretion of each political administration.
He said the Obama Administration took a more targeted approach to deportation, focusing on criminals first.
But Williams said that changed under the next administration when former President Donald Trump issued an executive order declaring that every person who violates immigration law should be prioritized for removal, regardless of circumstance.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, then began revoking stays of removal, which allow immigrants to stay in the country. Williams said that’s ultimately how Juana was deported.
“ICE often has quite a bit of latitude and discretion about how it enforces the law,” Williams said. “It’s not that what the Trump administration was doing was against the law — they had a legal foundation to do what they were doing — but there was a clear shift in priority in terms of how that law was going to be enforced.”
Williams said the Biden Administration is showing more discretion when it comes to deportation.
Williams said lawmakers often introduce legislation and comprehensive reform bills to address this kind of uncertainty in the immigration system and provide pathways to legal status.
Central Coast Congressman Salud Carbajal is currently pushing a bill called the Protect Patriot Parents Act that would help grant legal status for parents of active duty military personnel.
American Families United, an immigration advocacy group, estimates nearly 12,000 military families face deportation issues.
Carbajal said this bill could help keep Juana Flores in the country, as one of her sons, Sgt. Caesar Flores, is active duty in the United States Air Force.
“It just doesn’t make sense that you have a son who is serving voluntarily to protect our country’s national security and interest, and yet for somebody who’s serving to be concerned about their parents being deported,” Carbajal said.
Carbajal said he is proud to introduce the Protect Patriot Parents Act as an immigrant himself. He said the road to legal status should be easier.
“I think today — and for decades now — you have a broken immigration system that people can't wait 20 years, 30 years — literally a lifetime — to be able to be considered for a green card.”
Carbajal said he is optimistic legislation will move forward to keep Flores here permanently. But he said, at the very least, her humanitarian parole could be extended.
For now, Juana Flores will remain on the Central Coast with her family for the next year. If nothing changes, she stands to be deported back to Mexico.
For more information about immigration in the United States, visit the website uscis.gov.