As a child, 25-year-old Renata Teodoro was brought to the U.S. from Brazil by her parents, who lived and worked in the Boston area until her father’s asylum application was denied and her mother was deported.
Teodoro stayed in the U.S. to continue college, and several months ago received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which removes the threat of deportation for two years.
Teodoro has become active in the student immigrant movement and is pushing for immigration reform.
“People are here, people are contributing,” she said. “It’s OK for my mom to clean houses, and work for you, and work for American people, but it’s not OK for her to have the same rights. And to me, there is something very wrong with that.”
In a congressional hearing this week, Republicans debated whether to give parents of so-called DREAMers like herself some kind of legal status.
“Sometimes laws are wrong and they need to be changed,” she said.
Teodoro recently took part in a DREAMer mother-child reunion at the 18-foot high border fence in Nogales, Arizona.
- Renata Teodoro, student immigration activist.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
It's HERE AND NOW.
Lawmakers are divided on whether immigration reforms should include a path to citizenship for the young people brought to this country illegally by their undocumented parents. Many of those young people already have one deferment from deportation from the Obama administration. They are called DREAMers, after the DREAM Act provision approved by the Senate last month that would provide them with citizenship, but they want citizenship for their parents. These young people are called DREAMers. They're part of a group called United We Dream, and one of them testified on Capitol Hill this week. Others recently staged a reunion with their mothers in Nogales, Arizona, the moms on the Mexico side of a barred fence, the DREAMers on the U.S. side, each trying to hug each other.
(SOUNDBITE OF WEEPING)
YOUNG: Well, 25-year-old college student Renata Teodoro was there, seeing her deported mom for the first time in seven years. And, Renata, we could hear how hard that was. What message did you and the other DREAMers want to send?
RENATA TEODORO: That we need some kind of reform. This is what's happening, you know. This is what family separation looks like.
YOUNG: Can you understand how some people might even get angry at that? They'd object to, oh, don't pull my heartstrings, because I didn't tell this woman to come here illegally in the first place. You know, that's not my fault. We have laws in this country, and you have to abide by them.
TEODORO: Well, I would say, you know, people need to realize that we're not just trying to pull at your heartstrings. We're trying to show you a real story of what is happening right now. And sometimes, laws are wrong and they need to be changed.
YOUNG: Well - and as you know, officials are talking right now about immigration reform, but it's not going well for DREAMers. One testified before the House Judiciary Committee. The chair, Bob Goodlatte, supports a path to legal status for student immigrants like yourself, but not a special pathway to citizenship or special legal category for others who are undocumented. And in an exchange with the young DREAMer whose mom has been deported to Colombia, he asked her this.
(SOUNDBITE OF HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE HEARING)
REPRESENTATIVE BOB GOODLATTE: If she were here in United States and she got a different status, a legal status, as opposed to a citizenship status, how would she feel about that?
YOUNG: And here is the response of Evelyn Rivera, the DREAMer.
(SOUNDBITE OF HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE HEARING)
EVELYN RIVERA: She still thinks of herself is an American, even though she's in Colombia. I feel as though my mom would like a shot at being a citizen, and she wants the opportunity and the responsibility that comes with that.
YOUNG: Renata Teodoro, as you listen to one of your fellow DREAMers - oh, is that hard for you to hear?
TEODORO: Yeah. Evelyn was with me at the border.
YOUNG: So, some tears. But what do you say to people who say: But we can only do so much? You know, maybe legal status, but not citizenship. Maybe the ability to come back.
TEODORO: I'd say, you know what, it's not right because people are here. People are contributing. You know, like my mom, like, Evelyn's mom was contributing. You know, it's OK for my mom to clean houses and work for you and work for American people, but it's not OK for her to have the same rights. And to me, there's something very wrong with that, for her to be here 15 years, have a home, pay her taxes and do everything that an American does, but not be American.
YOUNG: Well, you know, one of the strongest critics of a path to citizenship has been Republican Representative Steven King of Iowa. A lot of members of his own party are angry with him this week for comments that he made. But he did say that for every 100 valedictorian DREAMers out there, someone like yourself, there are 100 more smuggling drugs with calves the size of cantaloupes from hauling those drugs across the border. And then this week, after making that comment, he did not back down on Radio Iowa. Let's listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF RECORDED ARCHIVE)
REPRESENTATIVE STEVE KING: It's not something that I'm making up. This is real. We have people that are mules, that are drug mules that are hauling drugs across the border. And you can tell by their physical characteristics what they've been doing for months, going through the desert with 75 pounds of drugs on their back.
YOUNG: Renata Teodoro, what do you say to people who say: But how do we tell the differences between your mom and a drug dealer?
TEODORO: I think there's a very big difference from people who have been - who have a lot of proof that they have roots in this country, like my mom, and someone who's a drug dealer. They're not going to have roots in this country. If they're drug dealers, they're just going to be trying to go back and forth. Like, what proof do they have of being here and being part of this country and contributing? And everybody knows that the pathway to citizenship would be very difficult, and you would need a lot of proof before you even got there. So, to me, it's just - it's so ridiculous that they're looking at a very small percentage of people. And, you know, and I even heard stories at the border of people who are forced to smuggle drugs.
YOUNG: Tell us about your life here. Putting yourself through school, you formed a student immigrant advocacy group that fundraises, and you write grants for them. So it's sort of you've created your own work here as well. What else is your life like here?
TEODORO: You know, I have my friends. They've become people that I truly care about and I'm really trying to help, you know?
YOUNG: Help what? Other kids get on the DREAMer path to citizenship?
TEODORO: Yeah. Making sure, you know, they apply for the deferred action.
YOUNG: But that deferring of your deportation runs out in two years.
YOUNG: And people like Representative King are trying to defund the program that enables you to stay here. Do you worry that you won't get your citizenship?
TEODORO: Yes, all the time. I've only had deferred action for maybe three months now. And so - and a Social and an ID that I get to show people.
YOUNG: Would it be enough if you stayed on this path to citizenship as a DREAMer? You became a United States citizen, and you were able to travel back to Brazil and see your other family members. And someday, they could visit you, not stay, not live here, but come and visit you.
TEODORO: I mean, I guess that would be like a step. But I know that my mom doesn't want to stay in Brazil for the rest of her life. And I do hope that one day that I can bring her here so that I can take care of her, so that she can, you know, live here because, you know, she doesn't really like Brazil.
YOUNG: And what do you think immigration reform - we know what you want it to be. We want - we know you want it to be a path to citizenship for people like your mom who lived here for years and worked here for years. But what do you think it's going to be?
TEODORO: I think it's going to be very limited. I think - as the bill is written, there is just so - there is a lot of enforcement. There's a lot of, like, restrictions and you have to have - you can't be an employee for more than two months. You probably end up paying thousands of dollars. I know a lot of people who can't pay that. It's going to be a very difficult path to citizenship for people. I mean, it's going to be 13 to maybe 15 years for people to get a pathway to citizenship. And a lot of people are going to give this up.
YOUNG: Well, Renata, best of luck to you.
TEODORO: Thank you.
YOUNG: And we love your thoughts. What do you think should be done about the parents of DREAMers? Families are being split up, but these parents brought these kids into the country without documents. Should they also get a path to citizenship? We love your thoughts at hereandnow.org. Back with some promising news about treating Alzheimer's. HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.