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These undocumented Wisconsin parents ‘live with fear every day’

July 3, 2017 at 6:25 PM EDT
Every morning, parents and undocumented Mexican immigrants Lola and Jose live in fear that they will be separated from their children, who are U.S. citizens. Special correspondent Portia Young of Milwaukee Public Television reports from Wisconsin on life for their family, and the debate over immigration enforcement during the Trump administration.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: In the wake of the 2016 election, many undocumented immigrants across this country have become anxious and fearful of increased immigration enforcement.

Tonight, the story about one family in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where the children are American citizens, but the parents are not.

From Milwaukee Public Television, Portia Young reports.

PORTIA YOUNG: Every morning, Lola Flores gets her children ready for school, and her husband, Jose, plays with their youngest daughter before leaving for work.

But for Jose and Lola, ever since the new presidential administration took over, each morning has become the start of another day of living in fear, fear that they may be separated from their four children, who are American citizens, by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, due to increased immigration enforcement.

LOLA FLORES, Undocumented Parent: The more important thing for my family is that we stay together. I can’t imagine a separation with my littlest. We live with fear every day, and it’s not easy.

JOSE FLORES, Undocumented Parent (through interpreter): If I get deported, I don’t know what will happen with my children.

PORTIA YOUNG: Their 15-year old daughter, Leslie, is equally frightened her parents may be arrested by Immigration Customs Enforcement agents, or ICE.

LESLIE FLORES, Daughter: I am worried that there’s been rumors that there’s been raids. And I’m scared that, what if they go to the store and they get taken by ICE?

PORTIA YOUNG: The Flores family says it is not just the risk of deportation that scares many of the families, but also the negative attitude that anti-immigrant supporters have taken against undocumented immigrants since President Trump took office.

JOSE FLORES (through interpreter): A person came to me and said: “Nice truck and nice family, but get the hell out of this country.”

My son then turned around to look at me and said: “What happened, daddy? Why is this person telling us this?”

I told my son: “It’s nothing. Don’t worry.”

And then the man said: “Get out of this country. This is not your country. We have a new president now and his name is Donald Trump.”

So this hurts me and breaks my heart, not for me, but because of the experience my little boy went through.

PORTIA YOUNG: Jose and Lola have lived in the U.S. for 20 years. With the ongoing violence among cartels, going back to Mexico, their country of origin, they say, would be very difficult, if not deadly.

JOSE FLORES (through interpreter): I cannot go back to a country like this.

BRIAN WESTRATE, Chair, Wisconsin Republican Party – 3rd District:  I don’t know anyone who wishes to take Mr. Flores and his wife and deport them, make their four children parentless here in the United States.

PORTIA YOUNG: Brian Westrate, chairman of the Wisconsin 3rd District Republican Party, says the current laws for legalization should be changed.

BRIAN WESTRATE: We need to work together, and by we, the American people, but through our representatives, because, again, they are the only ones that can write law. They are the only ones who can change law. We need to work together to come up with a pathway to legalization.

PORTIA YOUNG: Others believe more security is needed.

DEANNA ALEXANDER, Milwaukee County Supervisor: We would be much better off if we could welcome as many immigrants who would love to come here and to support that American dream for them.

PORTIA YOUNG: As a former member of the Army National Guard, Milwaukee County Supervisor Deanna Alexander has been on the front lines of the U.S.-Mexico border. And it’s her experiences there that have her calling for increased law enforcement and tougher security.

DEANNA ALEXANDER: Living in a world with terrorism and drug smuggling and people who would do Americans harm on purpose And by choice or through their own negligence, we have to be conscientious of what that means, and be careful of who we allow to come in our door.

PORTIA YOUNG: Immigration attorney Cain Oulahan, who is giving legal advice to the Flores family, says a pathway to legalization for undocumented immigrants such as the Flores is not easy to obtain.

CAIN OULAHAN, Immigration Attorney: You can only really get it if you have, For example, a family member who is a permanent resident or U.S. citizen to apply for you. And if you don’t have that, it is very difficult and oftentimes impossible to get legal status under our current laws.

PORTIA YOUNG: Under the current immigration laws, the only current solution for the Lola and Jose to start a process for legal status would be through their children. But for a U.S. citizen child to petition for a parent, the child must be at least 21 years of age.

LESLIE FLORES: Well, it feels good to know that there’s a point in my life that I can help them like they have helped me. But it’s hard to know that. I’m 15 right now, and that’s until you are 21, I believe. So it’s a long to be waiting. But we are going to try our best to do that.

PORTIA YOUNG: Last summer, the Flores family tracked down their governor, Republican Scott Walker, at a presidential campaign event in Iowa to confront him about Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, known as DAPA, created under President Obama.

LESLIE FLORES: Why are you blocking DAPA?

GOV. SCOTT WALKER, R-Wis.: I’m the governor. I don’t have anything to do with it right now, but thanks, though.

LESLIE FLORES: I went that time because I have seen, heard and read about his politics and his views. And I don’t agree with that. And, well, that time, I went because of my family and my friends. And I told him, why do you want to deport my family? Why are you against DAPA?

LESLIE FLORES: Answer my question. Why are you trying to break my family apart?

GOV. SCOTT WALKER: I want to spend 30 seconds answering you question.

For us, we are a nation of laws. And, unfortunately, the president last year, after saying 22 times before last year that he couldn’t make the law himself, said he wasn’t the emperor, he’s the president of the United States, and he said he couldn’t change the law, he decided to change the law, even though the courts have now said he can’t do that.

My point is you have got to follow the law, follow the process. I completely sympathize with the situation you are all in and others.

PORTIA YOUNG: GOP Party district Chair Brian Westrate says the Republicans must find a way to incorporate immigrants.

BRIAN WESTRATE: And speaking for the Republican Party, there is a great deal of compassion and acknowledgement that our society is largely better off with people like the Flores family in it than without it.

At the same time, we have to find a pathway to legalization. The solution cannot simply be to just continue to let them exist in the shadows.

PORTIA YOUNG: Milwaukee County Supervisor Deanna Alexander says her own parents were immigrants, so she understands people wanting to come to the U.S. for a better life.

DEANNA ALEXANDER: But I also understand that we have some major problems, and it may not be just at our southern border. We have some major problems with people who want to break our laws or do our society great harm that will come to this country with any opportunity they have.

PORTIA YOUNG: The message Jose Flores would like to get across: Immigrants are not bad people.

JOSE FLORES (through interpreter): We all came here to work, and I have behaved correctly in this country. I contribute to this country and I try to do everything the right way and stay out of trouble. I just don’t have a Social Security or a working permit, but that is all.

Neither I nor my family are criminals, and there are many like me who are not criminals.

PORTIA YOUNG: It’s a message the Flores family hopes will resonate with lawmakers and around the country.

For PBS NewsHour, I’m Portia Young in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

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