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Who will petition to right this injustice?

One of the great things about being American is our First Amendment right to petition our government for redress of grievances. A new and growing class of young Americans has such a grievance. Their government–by its actions and inaction–is ripping their lives apart and depriving many of the opportunity to grow up on their native soil.

They are the American-born children whose undocumented parents are being deported under an executive order signed by President Trump soon after he took office.

Take the case of Kris, Alex, Joseph and Nathan, sons of an undocumented single mother who has lived, gone to school and worked in Henderson County since 2000.

Their mother, Ofelia, came to the U.S. without permission when she was 21. We agreed not to use her last name at the request of the older boys’ U.S. guardian. She was stopped at the border and questioned in English, which she did not speak or understand. She was released into the U.S. but, unknown to her, placed under a deportation order.

Ofelia went to school and became a nursing assistant. Her parents had immigrated to the U.S. when she was three months old, leaving her with grandparents in Mexico. Her father had become an American citizen, so he could sponsor his daughter for legal residency. In March 2001, he filed the paperwork. In 2009, the petition establishing his right to apply on her behalf was finally approved, but while waiting for an available visa, her father died. Ofelia’s opportunity to get a green card died with him, according to her attorney Joan Waldron. By this time Ofelia had a job and American-born children. She remained in the U.S., unaware of the deportation order. In 2014, the father of her youngest son falsely charged her with stalking. The charges were dropped, but brought her to the attention of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Instead of deporting her, ICE placed her under supervision, requiring her to check in once a year. After Trump’s change of policy, her attorney warned her that she would likely be deported. So Ofelia prepared.

When the order came, she left Kris, 16, and Alex, 14, in the care of Dr. James Horwitz and his wife, Deanna. Ofelia had worked for Horwitz, a Hendersonville pediatrician, for five years. The boys are all smart and doing well in school, Deanna Horwitz said. Kris sings, dances and acts. He’s appeared in several Flat Rock Theater productions and had the lead in “Anything Goes” at the Southeastern Summer Theater Institute at Hilton Head Island on June 15 when his mother left for Mexico. Alex, who plays saxophone and lacrosse, wants to be a Marine.

The youngest boys, Nathan, 4, and Joseph,10, left for Mexico with their mother, to the home of Ofelia’s 93-year-old grandfather about an hour from Guadalajara. After she arrived, Ofelia called Horwitz’s office and said she had gotten a kitten for Nathan, who was heartbroken because they’d had to give away their dog and cat. He named the kitten “Captain America.” Joseph was finding odd jobs to do for neighbors, she said. Worried that the schools would be inadequate, Ofelia took materials to homeschool her sons.

“They are her life,” Horwitz said of the four boys. Ofelia had managed to buy a modest home. She had become a certified translator. She made sure her sons had the lessons, braces and other things they needed. By all accounts, our government deported a hard-working single mother rearing four young Americans, who by every indication will grow up to be successful, contributing citizens. Two have lost access to their mother. Two have been forced to leave their homeland.

A backlogged, dysfunctional immigration system and inconsistent enforcement created this calamity, as it has many others. While these young Americans have their lives compromised, partisanship defeats any meaningful reform.

Ofelia’s story is a perfect example of what continues to renew America’s greatness–a hard working parent who, against the odds, inspires her children to live their dreams. It is the story of many immigrant families whose enormous potential is unleashed by the heady mixture of freedom and opportunity that Americans too often take for granted because for them, it’s always been there.

Who will petition for them? All of us who care about justice and about our country’s future should be their advocates. We should hound our lawmakers until they end these deportations, provide a path for the deported parents of minor American children to return to the U.S., and reform the system that set this and similar painful separations in motion.

This is the opinion of Carolina Commentary, a not-for-profit platform established for the purpose of commenting on North Carolina public policy issues.

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