On Tuesday morning, Veronica Ayala, 33, stood next to her three-year old son Damian in a parking lot across the street from the J.J. Pickle Federal Building in Austin. Surrounded by a dozen immigrant advocates with signs, Ayala was making a last ditch effort to stay in the United States.
After interviews with the media, Ayala marched across the street to the federal building to present a petition with more than a thousand names to Democratic Congressman Lloyd Doggett. If congressional leaders like Doggett don’t intervene on her behalf, Ayala could be deported to Mexico Thursday and be forced to leave her son with her family in San Antonio where he receives therapy for a developmental disability.
Ayala’s story is all too common. Protests like hers have become frequent and will only become more common as long as Congress fails to act on immigration reform. Last year, deportations were at an all time high of more than 400,000 people. Despite the Obama administration’s pledge to only deport “criminal aliens,” at least 45 percent of the people deported in 2012 had no criminal record like Ayala.
Veronica Ayala’s odyssey began in 2010 when she left her son with a babysitter in San Antonio. “I had to work, so I had no choice and she had been recommended to me,” Ayala said. While in the babysitter’s care, her son’s ankle was broken. Ayala immediately took her son to the hospital and officials called the police, which they are required to do by law. The police investigated Ayala and the babysitter. The babysitter accused Ayala of being responsible for the accident, which she strongly denied. Child Protective Services investigated Ayala but found no evidence against her and she was cleared.
In the meantime, however, police had reported Ayala to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. She was sent to an immigrant detention facility in McAllen where she stayed for two weeks until her family was able to pay a $1,500 bond for her release. The young mother has been fighting deportation ever since.
“I’m very afraid,” she said. “I don’t want to go. I want to stay here with my family and see my son get his treatment and get better. He is supposed to start school in August.”
Comprehensive immigration reform could help Ayala but after she’s been deported there will be little the legislation can do for her. And there’s no chance Congress will act any time soon. Immigration talks are moving at a glacial pace in the House of Representatives where Republican legislators are emphasizing border security measures over a path to legalization. Instead of embracing a comprehensive bill like S. 744 which already passed in the Senate, Republicans are filing piecemeal immigration bills and also emphasizing border security over a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented people living in the United States.
“Things are moving far to slow,” said Carolina Canizales, a coordinator with the immigration reform group United We Dream which helped organize the protest in front of Doggett’s office. “We don’t want legislation centered around militarization, we want it focused on legalization.”
Another organizer of the protest, Deborah Alemu, vice president of the University Leadership Initiative, which advocates for undocumented students was upbeat about the meeting with Doggett’s office Tuesday. “The congressman wrote a letter of support,” she said. “The letter along with the calls to ICE and the petition means that an immigration judge might reopen her case.”
Two months ago when Ayala contacted the University Leadership Initiative for help she had nearly given up hope, said Alemu. “She’s working with a great lawyer now and feeling empowered. She’s doing everything she can to remain with her son.”
Congressman Doggett’s office sent a written statement on Ayala’s case late Tuesday afternoon. “I have provided my full support. I have just been notified that she has been granted a temporary stay of deportation. We don’t need another mother separated from her child. This case shows why we need to overcome Republican opposition in Congress to the approval of comprehensive immigration reform. I want to solve this problem for her and the many other families in similar situations.”