U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, has reintroduced his Protect Patriot Parents Act to create a path to lawful status for the parents of U.S. military service members.
The congressman originally introduced the legislation in 2019 after the deportation that year of Goleta resident Juana Flores, the mother of U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Cesar Flores. The bill stalled in Congress, but Rep. Carbajal said he’s hopeful for its success in the current Congress.
Mrs. Flores migrated to the U.S. from Mexico in 1988 without a visa. That was two years after legal residency status was granted to three million illegal aliens as one part of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, signed by President Ronald Reagan.
Mrs. Flores was allowed to reside legally in America with a “stay of removal,” which was maintained by decisions of U.S. officials during three decades.
Between 1988 and 2019, Mrs. Flores married and settled down in Goleta. Her husband, Andres, has been a U.S. citizen since 2015, and they bought a home and raised a family. Their son, Staff Sgt. Flores, will soon be deployed to Turkey.
In April 2019, Mrs. Flores was deported to Mexico. Immigration officials denied her stay of removal.
Today, a legal team continues to work to allow Mrs. Flores, who is the mother of 10 children and grandmother of 18 children, to return to Goleta.
Rep. Carbajal told reporters during a recent Zoom conference that he is trying to get the House Judiciary Committee to have a hearing on the bill that would give Mrs. Flores lawful residency status. “My office will be working with one of our two U.S. senators to try to get them to co-sponsor a similar bill.”
He said he would like to see the bill adopted “sooner rather than later,” but noted it’s difficult to predict when it would go to the House and Senate for a vote.
If passed by Congress during the current two-year term, the law would restore lawful residency status for Mrs. Flores, 57, and thousands of other immigrants who have a son, daughter or other family member in the U.S. Armed Services, according to Rep. Carbajal’s office.
The congressman told reporters that his office is working on both the bill and partnering with Mrs. Flores’ legal team on immediate or temporary administrative relief. “Now that the Biden administration is in place, we’re appealing to them to see if there is any discretion to allow for an adjustment for humanitarian status for Juana.”
The need is urgent, stressed retired Santa Barbara County judge Frank Ochoa, a member of Mrs. Flores’ legal team. “We know this family is suffering on a daily basis.”
The former judge described Mrs. Flores and her family as “hardworking, taxpaying folks who are productive members of the local community. They’re strongly involved in the local church.”
Another member of the legal team, retired county judge George Eskin, said keeping Mrs. Flores out of the U.S. was “cruel and unjust.” He noted her son, Staff Sgt. Flores, is serving his country.
Attorney Kraig Rice, who’s also on Mrs. Flores’ team, said in deciding to deport her to Mexico, officials considered the fact that she left the U.S. in 1999 to visit her ailing mother in Mexico.
She re-entered the U.S. illegally and was arrested but continued to receive stays of removal until 2019, according to a Los Angeles Times report.
“Let’s bring Juana home,” Mr. Rice said. “The path forward is to pass this bill to allow Juana Flores to come home and be in the community with her family.”
Mrs. Flores’ children expressed regret that they can’t see her in person.
“I am proud to serve in the Air Force and for the country I’m sworn to protect,” said Sgt. Flores, who hasn’t seen his mother in almost two years. “And yet, I am reminded every day that my mother is not allowed to return to the home where she raised me and that she is treated like an outsider.”
“It’s not fair she is not with us and not able to be with her grandchildren,” said Cristina Flores, Mrs. Flores’ daughter.
Support for Mrs. Flores’ return has been voiced by the Goleta City Council, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors and Santa Barbara Mayor Cathy Murillo.
“Juana is integral to her family and to the fabric of our shared community. Her son, Cesar, honorably signed up to defend the United States and in service to our country,” Rep. Carbajal said.
“The Flores family deserves our respect for their sacrifice, not deportation,” he said. “As an immigrant and a veteran myself, I’m proud to reintroduce the Protect Patriot Parents Act so the Flores family and others like them can finally be reunited.”
During the recent online news conference, members of the Flores family expressed their gratitude for the legislation.
Staff Sgt. Flores, who became a father during his mother’s absence, said he regrets Mrs. Flores hasn’t been able to spend time with her new grandchild.
While grateful for video-conferencing platforms such as Zoom, Sgt. Flores said he and his family miss seeing Mrs. Flores in person.
“It’s been difficult not having my mother around,” Sgt. Flores said. “Family is everything to us.”
Mrs. Flores participated in the Zoom conference and talked about living in Mexico.
“It was very difficult after spending so many years in California and seeing my children grow there,” Mrs. Flores said through an interpreter. “It’s not the same as having your nuclear family with you. …. I don’t have friends. I only have people that I kind of know.”
Andres Flores, who participated in the Zoom conference from Mexico with his wife Juana, said being separated from the family has proved difficult.
“Our heart breaks being away from the family and our grandchildren,” Mr. Flores said. “I want to thank everybody for what they’re doing, fighting for us.”