Senior Airman E-4 Caesar Flores is on active duty in the U.S. Air Force and can be sent to a war zone at any time to protect our homeland.
Yet, on April 2, 2019, his mother, Juana Flores, was deported to Mexico, a country she had not lived in for over three decades. She could not cook dinner for her Goleta family on Mother’s Day. She appeared via Skype, unable to touch her progeny.
She was ordered removed from the country in which her U.S. citizen husband, her 10 children, and her 16 grandchildren live. They are hardworking, home-owning, tax-paying, productive members of our society.
Juana Flores first came to the United States in 1988. That was a different time. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which granted status to millions without documents and revised immigration control mechanisms.
On January 19, 1989, his last day in office, President Reagan awarded Presidential Medals of Freedom and said, “We lead the world because, unique among nations, we draw our people — our strength — from every country and every corner of the world. … If we ever closed the door to new Americans, our leadership in the world would soon be lost.”
Juana Flores is 55 years old. She takes no one else’s job. She presents no problem for law enforcement. She drains no public resource. She is a positive, productive Goleta community member and the primary caretaker for her adult disabled son and ailing husband.
In 1999, Flores made a mistake. She went back to Mexico to attend her mother’s funeral. Her exit and reentry created a legal impediment to her green card application.
If Flores had not attended her mother’s funeral, she would most likely have received lawful status already.
Stays of deportation orders are discretionary calls. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) stayed Flores’s removal order a number of times on humanitarian grounds. The stay remained in effect until February 26, 2019, when the Los Angeles ICE Office “determined that (the Flores) case [did] not warrant a favorable exercise of discretion, therefore (her) request [was] denied.” No reason was given.
What changed between 2015 and 2019? For starters, Flores’s son became an airman in the U.S. Air Force. Her family grew and prospered. She successfully managed her disabled son’s life circumstances, her husband’s medical maladies, and many other family needs. She added to the foundation of her social environment. She took nothing away from any U.S. citizen. Oh, and there was a change of administrations.
On April 1, 2018, the Military Times said that “as many as 11,800 currently serving in the U.S. military are dealing with a spouse or family member who is facing deportation.” The Obama administration had developed a parole in place (PIP) policy for U.S. military service members’ immediate family. It stayed, or suspended, such deportations.
Because Flores is a military mother, entered the United States without inspection, and has no criminal convictions or other serious adverse factors, she would have been eligible for PIP — except for the post-funeral legal impediment to her green card.
Flores complied with ICE’s order when her husband, Andres Flores, drove her across the border in the family pickup truck. ICE retains the discretion to extend the stay order, today and tomorrow. Such decisions can always be, and recently have been, reconsidered and vacated.
ICE acted knowing that our Congressmember, Salud Carbajal, has submitted legislation to remedy the Flores circumstance and that of thousands of other service members whose families are similarly situated. HR 1871, the Protect Patriot Parents Act, will allow a pathway to lawful status for the parent of a U.S. military service member, if the law’s requirements are met.
After ICE denied Flores’s request on February 26, her lawyers and Rep. Carbajal wrote to Kirstjen Nielsen, then Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, to request a stay extension.
Rep. Carbajal stated, “Mrs. Flores is a critical component of a U.S. citizen’s familial support network, will not displace anyone in the job market, has no criminal convictions, and poses no threat to national security. Our community has a strong interest in maintaining her medical caretaker role and military support system.”
The congressmember’s plea fell upon deaf ears. The service member’s mother has been deported. And the stress has only begun for Airman Flores and the many thousands of our sons and daughters similarly situated. And for the Flores family in Goleta.
Our treatment of Juana Flores has a definitional impact on our society. It tells us who we are. We can support HR 1871. We can ask ICE to reconsider the denial of the stay of Juana Flores’s removal. ICE can let her return home tomorrow, or our political leadership can enact HR 1871 as law and end the anguish of so many military families.
And Juana Flores can come home.
The Hon. Frank J. Ochoa is a retired judge of the Santa Barbara Superior Court and the pro bono counsel for Juana Flores. Ochoa is of counsel with the law firm Sanger, Swysen & Dunkle. For further information, contact Frank Ochoa at firstname.lastname@example.org or Kraig Rice at kraig@