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In emotional reunion, immigrant mother sees son for the first time in 14 years

Lizbeth Polo Smith, an undocumented immigrant from Peru living in Connecticut, hasn't been able to return to her home country since moving to the U.S. more than a decade ago. On Saturday in Miami, she finally reunited with her son. Lee la nota en español

Publicado: 19 Sep | 03:00 PM EDT
Madre Peruana
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Lizbeth Polo Smith has lived in the United States since 2002, when she left her native Peru to work in Connecticut. Though she's undocumented, Polo Smith managed to bring two of her three children to the U.S. on visas thanks to the children's father, who is a U.S. resident. The visa process for the two children took six years. Foto: David Maris | Univision
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Madre Peruana
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However, Polo Smith couldn't bring her eldest son Manlio Miguel to the U.S. since his father is Peruvian, with no ties to the U.S. It's been 14 years since she last saw Manlio. Foto: David Maris | Univision
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Madre Peruana
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That's why Polo Smith traveled to Florida for a rare opportunity to see her son. Manlio, a cadet at Peru's Naval Academy, is traveling aboard the B.A.P. Unión ship, which stopped in Miami on Saturday, September 17. Foto: David Maris | Univision
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Madre Peruana
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Polo Smith flew from Connecticut to Miami to see Manlio. With tears in her eyes, she began to wave her arms while the ship approached the dock at Museum Park. Foto: David Maris | Univision
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Madre Peruana
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"I'm nervous," said Polo Smith. "I'm really happy because it's been so many years, but I also feel so guilty. I don't know how I'm going to react to see him in person, in his uniform. I want to be composed." Foto: David Maris | Univision
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Madre Peruana
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Aboard the B.A.P. Unión, the largest sailing training vessel in Latin America, 89 third-year cadets are perched on the horizontal spars of the three masts, a Peruvian Navy tradition. Foto: David Maris | Univision
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Madre Peruana
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Polo Smith pulls out her phone and looks at a drawing Manlio has just sent. According to the illustration, he’s on the second yard from the bottom, on the front mast of the ship. Foto: David Maris | Univision
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Madre Peruana
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From shore, Polo Smith sees Manlio (third from the left, in the middle), who is rubbing his eyes with a tissue. "He’s crying, too,” Polo Smith says, in tears.
Foto: David Maris | Univision
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Madre Peruana
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About 20 minutes after arrival, Manlio gets off the ship and hugs his mother for the first time in 14 years. It is an emotional encounter, full of tears. Foto: David Maris | Univision
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Madre Peruana
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"He was the oldest and asked me not to leave [Peru]," said Polo Smith. "My purpose was to bring them, but when you get here you realize that's very difficult. I made anything to be able to send them money: Tamales, cookies, cakes. He sees the sacrifices I've made." Foto: David Maris | Univision
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Madre Peruana
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Polo Smith regrets "the days when he got home and I was not there," she says. Leaving Peru was something she decided on for the sake of her children: "In Peru, there is little opportunity for a woman over 30 with three children. As a girl I was poor and I’m not ashamed of poverty, but I do fear it. There was no money for the children's milk. I told myself: 'I have to leave.’” Foto: David Maris | Univision
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Madre Peruana
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Manlio, 23, is already taller than his mother, who remembered him chubby, with lots of hair and boisterous. Foto: David Maris | Univision
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Madre Peruana
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Polo Smith and her son will spend almost a week together in Florida. The cadets will spend five days in the U.S. as part of the training ship’s first trip, which has taken them to Ecuador, Colombia, Puerto Rico and Cuba. Foto: David Maris | Univision
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Madre Peruana
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He has already made plans: he wants to dance salsa in Miami, go mall shopping and visit the amusement parks in Orlando. Foto: David Maris | Univision
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Madre Peruana
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Polo Smith wants to take him to the Florida Keys. Foto: David Maris | Univision
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Madre Peruana
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Manlio says he's fortunate to be in Peru's Naval Academy. "It's another world, so different from civilian life," he said.
Foto: David Maris | Univision
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Madre Peruana
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As Manlio guides a group of tourists through the ship, he shares a tender moment with his mother, who grabs his hand lovingly and tries to wipe off two smudges of white paint. He explains: “We spent the whole day painting the ship yesterday to make sure it was all pretty.” Foto: David Maris | Univision
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Madre Peruana
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Manlio’s also happy to see his younger sister again. She goes to Peru about once a year, since she has legal status and can leave and enter the United States without having to worry. Foto: David Maris | Univision
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Madre Peruana
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Manlio hopes his mother can go to Peru to see him graduate from naval school in December 2017. Foto: David Maris | Univision
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Madre Peruana
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She says that might be possible. She’s in the process of applying for a parole-in-place special program which, thanks to her current husband’s veteran status, could allow her to leave the United States and see her country again. Foto: David Maris | Univision
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In emotional reunion, immigrant mother sees son for the first time in 14 years