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By Fernando Peinado @fernandopeinado
Her name is Lucía Quiej, an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala who stood up on live TV Wednesday night to ask the two Democratic Party presidential candidates a question about families separated by U.S. deportation policy.
Her husband Andrés Jiménez was deported to Guatemala, and for the past six years she has been raising her five children by herself at her home in Homestead, a suburb of Miami.
Shortly before entering the auditorium for Univision’s Democratic debate, Quiej spoke with Univision Noticias about what she expected of the candidates, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
“I want them to answer me straight from the heart, to take matters into consideration, to become aware of that is happening in our community,” Quiej said.
On the campaign trail, the Democratic Party candidates have spoken about their plans to normalize the status of undocumented immigrants and to stop the raids by U.S. law enforcement agents, but less attention had been dedicated to reuniting families.
On Wednesday night the candidates pledged to stop deportations, if elected president, for all undoumented immigrants except violent criminals and terrorists.
Fear of removal
That same morning, Quiej had again been dealing with the fears that haunt many of her neighbors, mostly undocumented families from Mexico and Central America. She was on her way back home after buying milk at the supermarket together with a neighbor when a text message landed on the other woman's cellphone: “Be careful. (Agents from) Immigration are on Calle Ocho (8th Street),” Quiej said the message read, referring to a popular street in Miami's Little Havana district.
“Homestead is turning into a ghost town. We’re all dealing with fear,” she told Univision hours later in one of the rooms at the Miami Dade College campus where the debate was held.
The community where Quiej lives is home to thousands of humble families. Many are undocumented persons from Mexico and Central America who work harvesting crops.
The text message was apparently a false alarm, but it made Quiej relive the trauma resulting from her husband’s two deportations.
Her daughter Elena, age 16, was with her father at the time of the first deportation. They were driving to church one Sunday when the police arrested her father during a routine traffic and took him away.
“I went through a lot of fear. I thought I would never see him again,” said Elena. Her father returned two years later but was deported shortly thereafter. Elena laments the fact that her father was unable to be present at her quinceañera celebration (fifteenth birthday party), but she is confident he will be back soon: “It would make me so happy to have him here for my high school graduation," she said.
More on Univision’s Democratic debate: