Imelda Valenzuela Gonzalez stands before the revolving door of the downtown Denver skyscraper that houses the federal immigration court. It's a chilly morning in early April, and the 43-year-old mother of three has come here for a hearing in her deportation case.
But she's far from alone.
About fifty supporters line the sidewalk on either side of her, holding signs that have been hand-lettered with phrases such as "Migration Is Beautiful" and "Love Knows No Borders." The vibrant colors of their signs are the visual equivalent of shouting, letting rush-hour commuters know that inside that stone building, families — familias — are separated every day.
"Gracias a todos," Valenzuela Gonzalez says into a microphone, pausing while her words are translated. "I want to be here. This is where I raised my family, and this is where I want to stay."
As a court security guard keeps an eye on the demonstration, she passes the microphone to a pastor in a crisp white collar. She joins hands with her daughters and son, closes her eyes and bows her head. The pastor prays: "Imelda, as you and your beautiful family go upstairs today, know that we are all breathing with you. We are praying that you and your family feel wrapped in the love and support that we offer."
Valenzuela Gonzalez, who owns a hair salon in Westminster, is one of a growing number of undocumented immigrants who are speaking out about their cases in the hopes of stopping their deportations — a practice that is in sharp contrast to the way many of them have spent their lives, living in fear and trying to attract as little attention as possible.
The trend began a few years ago with undocumented teenagers and twenty-somethings who were facing deportation, often because they'd been pulled over for minor traffic infractions and then been reported to federal immigration authorities. Many had been living in the United States since they were small children and considered themselves Americans.
As Congress once again began debating the DREAM Act in 2009 — which would have provided legal status to immigrants who came here as children and went on to college or the military — these young people started drawing attention to the injustice of their pending deportations with public rallies, media exposure and petitions circulated on Facebook and Twitter.
The DREAM Act failed, but the outspoken activism it inspired has since spread to the parents of these younger immigrants. After experiencing some success, immigrant-rights groups nationwide and here in Colorado are now working to figure out the most effective strategy to halt deportations and teach immigrants how to carry it out.
Valenzuela Gonzalez has been a willing student. She ended up in deportation proceedings after being scammed by a notario (notaries who sometimes provide legal services) who'd promised to help her get a work permit. But Valenzuela Gonzalez didn't qualify for the permit and probably never would have. Instead, the paperwork simply alerted authorities that she was in the country illegally.
Now, as the threat of being sent to Mexico and separated from her children looms, Valenzuela Gonzalez explains that she's not afraid to tell the world her story.
"What else could happen?" she asks.
Like many undocumented immigrants, Valenzuela Gonzalez and her husband didn't plan to stay in the United States for long. A year, they thought, would be enough time to make some money and return home to Chihuahua, Mexico, where the prospect of earning a decent living is slim. Valenzuela Gonzalez worked as a hairdresser there, but not many people had money to spend at the beauty salon. On a good day, she saw three clients. On an average day, she saw none. So the couple, their nine-year-old daughter, Tania, and their one-year-old son, Manuel, crossed the border, arriving in Colorado on July 4, 1999.
Tania, now 23, remembers that as they walked to a Mexican bakery in northwest Denver on their very first day here, she found five dollars on the sidewalk.
"It hasn't been that easy ever since," she says.
Her mother worked several jobs at hair salons serving Spanish-speaking clients after getting a cosmetology license from the state of California, which accepted the training she'd gotten in Mexico; she then transferred that license in Colorado. "It felt like a miracle," she says. "I was very happy.... I didn't have a Social Security number, but I had a valid document."
Valenzuela Gonzalez eventually saved enough money to buy Estilistas Renovación, one of the salons she'd worked at on Federal Boulevard, from the previous owner in 2005.
The shop is on the second story of a dingy white-brick plaza with a Spanish-style red-tile roof, above a convenience store that sells $5 packs of cigarettes. The walls are painted a dusty rose color and decorated with several diamond-shaped mirrors. The rest of the decorations are no-frills: a line of chairs for waiting, a small TV, a maroon loveseat where Valenzuela Gonzalez sits between customers, and three barber chairs. Scuff marks sully the wall in front of the third chair, in which Manuel, now fifteen, likes to spin while watching YouTube videos on his smartphone. Valenzuela Gonzalez is there eleven hours a day, cutting hair at $12 a head.
The same year that she bought her salon, she and her husband got a divorce. Part of the problem, she says, was that he wanted to go back to Mexico and she didn't. (He ended up staying here to be close to the children.) By then, the couple had another daughter, Alondra, who was born in the United States. Valenzuela Gonzalez says she came to realize that the U.S. offered her and her children a kind of safety and opportunity that her native country could not. "That's the most valuable and great thing I can leave my children," she says.
In 2007, Valenzuela Gonzalez tried to renew her cosmetology license, only to find that a new law required applicants to prove that they were "lawfully present" in the United States by providing their Social Security number. Unsure of what to do, she turned to a notario named Sylvia Medrano, who had an office in the same strip mall as her salon. For $7,500, Medrano promised to get her a permit.
So Valenzuela Gonzalez began saving her money again, giving every extra penny to the notario. Soon, she had an appointment to be fingerprinted and a date to show up in immigration court. "I was happy because I thought everything was going well," she says. But Medrano skipped out on the hearing and then left town altogether. Since then, Medrano, who also goes by the name Sylvia Flores, has been disciplined by the Colorado Supreme Court, which filed an injunction to prevent her from practicing law. Medrano was fined $1,000 and ordered to pay more than $23,000 in restitution to the handful of people who filed complaints against her.
Valenzuela Gonzalez eventually realized that Medrano had scammed her. The work-permit application she filed simply alerted Immigration and Customs Enforcement (known as ICE) to Valenzuela Gonzalez's presence here, and the agency, which is tasked with removing undocumented immigrants from the country, began deportation proceedings. Valenzuela Gonzalez hired an immigration attorney to help, and while he was able to get her a temporary work permit, which allowed her to renew her cosmetology license, she had other legal problems.
In October 2008, she had left then-eleven-year-old Manuel and seven-year-old Alondra at home while she ran an errand. The kids began to bicker, and Alondra called 911. Valenzuela Gonzalez got home at the same time that the police arrived, and though the children weren't physically injured, she was charged with negligence under the state's child-abuse laws.
Three months later, she pleaded guilty and was granted a deferred judgment, which meant that if she completed a year of probation and twelve parenting classes, the case would be dismissed. And in December 2009, an Adams County judge dismissed it. But in helping her resolve her case, Valenzuela Gonzalez's criminal attorney had failed to tell her one crucial thing (something he should have done): that admitting to child abuse, even if the case is later dropped, would forever make her a criminal in the eyes of federal immigration authorities.
Her neglect charge would make it more difficult to ask a judge to allow her to stay in the United States or petition ICE to drop her case, her immigration attorney said.
But her daughter Tania wasn't willing to give up.
Smart, fervent and tenacious, Tania, who is now an activist for immigrants, grabbed hold of the opportunity her mother was trying so hard to provide, and hasn't let go.
As a child, Tania hadn't wanted to leave Mexico. Her parents bribed her with the promise of a trip to Disneyland. "Even in Mexico, we know what Disneyland is," she jokes. "Capitalism at its best." But when she realized her family was likely here for good, she buckled down in school, making the honor roll and dreaming of being a teacher. Because she was undocumented, she knew that going to college would be expensive if not impossible, but a teacher encouraged her to apply anyway, and she got into Regis University, a private school.
Tania started there in the fall of 2007, but even with several scholarships, her family couldn't afford more than one semester. So she ping-ponged between Regis and various community colleges over the next few years, all while working thirty hours a week cleaning houses and cooking in a Brazilian restaurant to pay for school.
She eventually graduated with a bachelor's degree in sociology and now works part-time as a racial-justice organizer for the Colorado Progressive Coalition, which is where her passion lies, and part-time cleaning houses to make ends meet.
It was her idea to take her mom's fight public.
"It just kind of dawned on me that I do all this work for the community, and I'm not really doing anything for my own household," Tania says. "It was kind of a knife in the heart."
To keep her mom here, Tania began following a playbook written by people in similarly desperate situations, who, like her family, were unwilling to be silent any longer.
It's estimated that there are 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. In 2012, ICE deported a record 409,849 of them. In fact, deportations have steadily increased under the Obama administration, despite the president's insistence that he wants to prioritize deporting people who have committed serious crimes or who pose a threat to national security.
In June 2011, ICE director John Morton issued a now-famous memo directing field agents and attorneys to exercise what he called "prosecutorial discretion," meaning they should concentrate on removing criminals and repeat offenders rather than young people, caretakers, families, and those with positive "ties and contributions to the community."
But critics say that federal programs meant to catch criminal aliens, such as Secure Communities, which runs arrestees' fingerprints through a federal immigration database, are also sweeping up people charged with minor violations like speeding or driving without a license.
That's how Gerardo Noriega, a Smoky Hill High School graduate whose family came to the United States when he was nine, ended up in deportation proceedings in April 2010 at the age of nineteen and became one of the first people in Colorado to speak publicly about their case.
Noriega was driving home from the store, where he'd gone to buy milk. It was evening, and he was a few blocks from the house where he lives with his family, on a quiet suburban street in Aurora, when he was pulled over. The officer told him he'd been stopped because one of the lightbulbs meant to illuminate his license plate was burned out.
"It seemed like a normal stop," Noriega says. He provided the officer with the car's registration and proof of insurance. But he couldn't produce a license, because he was undocumented and not eligible for one. The officer, he says, "left and went to go check on his computer, and that's when two more cop cars came and surrounded me." When the officer returned to Noriega's car, his tone had changed. He asked Noriega where he was from. "I told him I was from Mexico, and that's what triggered the arrest. He told me, 'Put your hands on the steering wheel'; he handcuffed me and told me, 'You're under arrest.'"
Noriega was taken to the Arapahoe County Jail and then to court. A judge dropped all of the charges except driving without a license, for which Noriega was given a $130 ticket. His dad paid the $1,000 bond to get him out of jail, but the teenager wasn't released. Instead, he was transferred to the ICE Aurora Detention Facility, where he spent another three days before his family was able to come up with $5,000 to bond him out.
As a child, Noriega didn't know he was undocumented. He thought that he and his brothers were like any other American kids. But in high school, the difference became clear, especially when his friends began applying for their driver's permits. "I asked my parents, and they were like, 'Well, you can't,'" he says. "It was rough."
Noriega excelled in Smoky Hill's automotive technology program and was offered several internships and scholarships, including one to train with BMW in California. "I had to turn it down because I didn't have a Social Security number," he says.
His oldest brother became a citizen through marriage and was able to successfully petition for their parents to become legal permanent residents. But petitions for siblings take longer than those for parents or children, so the plan was for Noriega's mother to apply for him instead. At the time he was arrested, though, he was still undocumented.
His mother had a connection with an organizer at Rights for All People, an immigrant-rights organization based in Aurora. Soon after he was released, two organizers from RAP sat with him in his living room to talk about his options. Organizer Liz Hamel remembers Noriega as a shy kid who was hesitant to mount a big fight. But he didn't have many other choices. Undocumented immigrants can petition the court for what's called "cancellation of removal," which means the case will be closed. But to qualify, they must have been living in the U.S. for at least ten years. The day he was arrested, Noriega had been in the country for nine years, eleven months and 22 days. ICE refused to overlook those missing days.
"My lawyer told me, 'The chances of you staying are very slim,'" Noriega says. "I was very depressed, and I felt like [there was] no hope. But at the same time, I did feel angry.... In my mind, I was like, 'All right, I'm going to get deported, but I want people to know what's happening and what they're doing.' Usually, when people talk about deportation on TV, it's always, 'We're deporting criminals. We're deporting drug traffickers.' And I wanted to come out and share my story and say, 'Well, I'm neither of those. Why am I in the process of deportation?'"
At the time, RAP organizers knew of another pending deportation case, involving a RAP leader and mother of three named Jeanette Vizguerra, who also wound up in deportation proceedings after a traffic stop. "We said, 'We have these two amazing people who we want to support, and we want to do everything we can to keep them here, but we also want to tie it to the bigger community,'" Hamel says. "And both Jeannette and Gerardo said, 'My story is just one of thousands in Colorado, and I want to share it.' So we decided to couch it in a campaign."
That campaign, called Unification Not Deportation, was launched in April 2011. At a kickoff event at a local school, both Vizguerra and Noriega told their stories to a crowd of more than a hundred people. It was the first time that a public event had been held to call attention to specific cases. Everyone in attendance wrote letters of support, and from there, the campaign began holding rallies at the immigration courthouse on the days that the two had hearings.
"We wanted to draw attention to the actual location where all these critical decisions about people's lives are being made," Hamel says, and to show ICE that the people it was trying to deport had a community willing to fight for them. "What's powerful is that the community is saying, 'We're here for you no matter what. We have your back,'" Hamel says.
Both English- and Spanish-speaking media covered the demonstrations, and Noriega's story spread. Congressman Jared Polis, a Democrat from Boulder and a champion of immigrant rights, wrote a letter advocating for him, even though Noriega doesn't live in his district. The more Noriega spoke out, the bolder he felt. "I lost all fear of having to hide," he says.
When Morton's "prosecutorial discretion" memo was released, Noriega and his lawyer decided to appeal to ICE attorneys to drop his case.
Coincidentally, Denver was chosen as one of two sites for a pilot program to review all non-detained cases and close those deemed to be of low priority. The Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees the nation's immigration courts, did not keep track of how many cases were reviewed during the pilot program, says spokeswoman Kathryn Mattingly. However, general statistics show that the Denver court receives about 7,000 cases a year. Just 24 of them were closed as a result of the pilot program, which took place between December 4, 2011, and January 13, 2012. Noriega's was one of them.
But the relief did not come with any sort of legal status. Though Noriega wouldn't be deported, he was not granted a work permit or the ability to get a driver's license. It wasn't until after Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, in June 2012, that Noriega could finally get those things. DACA, as it's known, grants temporary relief and work authorization to immigrants under the age of 31 who came here as children and who attend or graduated from high school or served in the military. Noriega applied for deferred action in September and was granted it this past April.
Now 22, Noriega recently got a job with RAP working on civic-engagement projects. There's no way of knowing whether speaking out helped convince ICE to close his case, but Noriega thinks it did. Whenever he meets someone facing deportation, he encourages them to do the same.
"The youth decided, 'This is our home. This is where I grew up,'" he says. "That's what began the whole new era of, 'We're here, and you're going to have to pay attention to us.'
"Because we are America."
Across the country, young immigrants have come to the same conclusion.
Carolina Canizales is the national coordinator for END Our Pain, a program run by the Washington, D.C.-based, youth-led immigrant organization United We Dream. The group was formed to push for the passage of the DREAM Act. When the DREAM Act failed in 2010, United We Dream decided to spend 2011 pressuring President Obama to stop deporting the people — nicknamed dreamers — who would have qualified for leniency under the act.
A few dreamers had mounted their own public campaigns, using social media to tell their stories, and were successful in stopping their deportations. But United We Dream gathered leaders from all over the country and trained them to use other techniques as well: The organization taught them how to rally the community, how to make sure immigration attorneys were asking for the right types of relief, and how to lobby Congress to intervene in a case.
That year, Canizales says, they were able to stop the deportations of thirty dreamers.
When DACA was announced, they chose to shift their efforts from young people to adults. "That has been my work," Canizales says. "I have dedicated myself to teaching people how to stop the deportations of non-dreamers. We tell the stories. We tell how painful it is that they're separating families every day."
But she admits that it can be tougher persuading authorities — and the public — to show compassion to someone who knowingly entered the country illegally. "It seems like there's not a lot of sympathy for people who don't qualify for the DREAM Act," Canizales says. "We are trying to show that all 11 million are equally deserving of a chance at citizenship." (At press time, a comprehensive immigration reform bill was making its way through Congress.)
In Denver, several immigrant-rights groups are working toward the same goal. In addition to RAP and the Colorado Progressive Coalition, the American Friends Service Committee, the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition and Together Colorado have championed individual cases. Oftentimes, they hear about the cases through word of mouth.
But a hotline set up by the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition last September brought even more cases to their attention. The hotline's purpose was to collect stories from people who'd been racially profiled under a much-criticized 2006 state law known as SB 90. The so-called "show me your papers" law required local law enforcement to report anyone they suspected of being undocumented to ICE. Thanks in part to the testimony of people who called the hotline, the law was repealed this year.
However, because the callers had already been reported to ICE, the overwhelming majority were in the process of being deported, says Jessy Pérez, who ran the hotline. Pérez realized that the organizers couldn't just collect people's testimony and then not help them, so she and a few others began assisting them in fighting their cases. "We were not prepared to deal with the deportation cases initially, because it's a lot of work," says Pérez, herself an immigrant from Peru. "But we were also seeing the need of people."
Kelly Castañeda called the hotline after hearing about it on a Spanish-language TV channel. She'd been pulled over for a faulty light in April 2012 while she and her husband were driving to their job cleaning office buildings at night. The officer asked if Castañeda was legal, "and because I was nervous at the time, I just told her I was here illegally," Castañeda says. "Later, I learned I didn't need to be answering those questions."
After speaking with Pérez, Castañeda says, she realized, "I had more opportunities than I thought I did, and...I could fight my case." She began attending meetings organized by various immigrant-rights groups and seized upon any opportunity to speak with politicians. That led her to stand up in front of a huge crowd at St. Therese Parish in Aurora in February at a forum on immigration organized by Together Colorado and attended by Polis, Senator Michael Bennet and Congressman Mike Coffman.
Castañeda's voice shook as she held back tears. "At this time, I am in the process of being deported," said the mother of two, including a five-year-old daughter born here. "I don't even want to think about the day when my child will have to stay here without me, her mother."
When she was done speaking, all three politicians hugged her. Later that month, when she heard that Bennet was holding a town hall meeting in Evans, she went and raised her hand to speak. When no one called on her, she stood up and told her story anyway.
"Bennet recognized me from the previous meeting," she says. Soon, she got a call from an aide in Bennet's office, who promised to help her. Castañeda never knew whether Bennet intervened, but a week before her next court date in April, a CIRC organizer told her he'd gotten an e-mail from ICE saying that it was dropping Castañeda's case because she'd been granted prosecutorial discretion. Her final court appearance lasted less than five minutes. (A spokeswoman from Bennet's office says that while the senator was familiar with Castañeda's case, he didn't formally intervene, because her lawyer advised that she was already a good candidate for prosecutorial discretion.)
"That's when I believed that I was finally free," she says.
Not every case ends so well. Some people who've publicly campaigned to stop their deportations have been ordered to leave the country anyway. Jose Luis Vazquez Campos, a father of two who ended up in deportation proceedings after a series of traffic stops, reached out to the American Friends Service Committee about a month before he was scheduled to be deported last July. The group held a rally for him at which they asked ICE to drop his case. But his lawyer had already agreed to a voluntary departure, which meant Vazquez Campos would have to return to Mexico but could apply to re-enter the country legally, a process that can take decades. Organizers scrambled to help him submit the paperwork to ask for prosecutorial discretion, but they learned that the lawyer was the only one who could file such a petition. Unfortunately, he was out of the country, and there was no way to reach him in time.
Timing matters when it comes to stopping deportations, organizers say. The sooner an immigrant starts fighting, the better. The age of the person facing deportation, whether they have kids and whether their record is clean can also have an impact on a case — though many organizers feel that one or two minor infractions shouldn't ruin a person's chances.
"Do we put forward the poster-child immigrant, who's a lot of times the DREAM activist that's a 22-year-old aspiring doctor with straight A's?" asks Jordan Garcia, the immigrant-ally organizing director at the American Friends Service Committee. "Or do we take the people who are really the leaders in our community, who are fallible and who are real and who may have a minor drug charge from twenty years ago or may have used a false document at some point? It doesn't actually help us to only put forward the poster children."
A letter or a phone call from a politician can also go a long way. Polis, who founded a charter school for immigrants before running for Congress, says he's always willing to advocate on behalf of deserving cases. He has an immigration attorney on staff, and Polis says he's personally written letters and made phone calls to ICE officials, detention centers and embassies. "It really is the visibility of the people who are impacted that has helped transform this issue in the hearts and minds of Americans," Polis says. "Without these brave individuals willing to declare themselves and share their stories, it'd be hard to move the issue forward."
Recently, organizers from the various immigrant-rights organizations have been meeting to discuss the cases they're working on, swap strategies and figure out how to target less helpful lawmakers.
But the hope is that eventually, the immigrants themselves will take the lead.
After the pastor finishes praying in front of the courthouse, Valenzuela Gonzalez, her three children and several supporters walk through the revolving door. The crowd on the sidewalk doesn't disperse, though. They stand their ground, chanting "Sí, se puede!" as the family takes the elevator to the third floor and a tiny courtroom with three rows of hard wooden benches.
The hearing is brief. Valenzuela Gonzalez's attorney, Johnny Poon, asks to confer privately with the judge and the federal immigration prosecutor. When the judge returns, he announces that he's delaying the case until December 4. The reason has to do with a similar case that's pending before the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Colorado. That case also involves an undocumented immigrant who pleaded guilty to leaving her children unattended; the mother in that case left for work believing a babysitter was on the way. Poon is hoping that the appellate judges will draw a distinction between those convicted of serious abuse and those such as Valenzuela Gonzalez, who did not physically harm her children.
"Immigration law is trying to lump everything together and say, 'Everything is child abuse,'" Poon says. "Hopefully, this case will say, 'There are subsections.'"
Poon is also trying to get Adams County Court to allow Valenzuela Gonzalez to withdraw her guilty plea. Both the Colorado Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court have ruled that attorneys must advise undocumented clients of the immigration consequences of a guilty plea. Since Valenzuela Gonzalez's previous attorney didn't do that, she may be able to take it back. But her situation is complicated by the fact that in the eyes of Adams County, there is no case; it disappeared when Valenzuela Gonzalez completed her probation in 2009. "We are trying to say, 'It's not a case, because there is no case.' However, given the circumstances, we need to have a criminal judge revisit this case, even though there is no case to revisit," Poon says.
When Valenzuela Gonzalez and her family exit the courthouse, the crowd on the sidewalk is still chanting. Tania takes the microphone. While the family is glad to be granted a temporary reprieve, she says, it also means eight more months of worrying. "Your support has kept me grounded," Tania tells those gathered. "It has given my mom hope, and it has taught my brother and my sister a lesson of love and community."
Since that day, Tania has decided to teach some of those lessons herself.
Spurred by her mother's case and the cases from the hotline, she and Pérez have begun working together to train undocumented immigrants to stop their own deportations. They enlisted the help of the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, a group that began fighting the deportations of dreamers and, like United We Dream, expanded the fight to include their parents. Last year, NIYA launched Secure Your Own Community, a two-day seminar that covers the history of immigration enforcement and what individuals can do to fight their cases.
In early June, one of those trainers, Dulce Guerrero, arrives in Denver from Georgia, wearing a T-shirt that says "I Am Undocumented." Tania has secured El Centro Humanitario, a cheerily painted purple building in downtown Denver that used to be a warehouse and now serves as a day laborer center, for the training.
As the start time approaches, people begin trickling in, some clutching fat envelopes of documents and others carrying fragrant trays of homemade food. When Guerrero asks how many of the attendees know someone in deportation proceedings or are in proceedings themselves, nearly everyone raises his hand.
One of them is 34-year-old Abel Prado Virgen, whose case is particularly dire: The final court date in his deportation case is just four days away. A construction worker who lives in Loveland with his wife and three small children, Prado Virgen was on his way to a job in Fort Collins in August 2011 when he was pulled over. The officer explained that driving a car repainted a different color than the original made him look suspicious. He was arrested for driving without a license and eventually turned over to ICE.
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With organizers' help, Prado Virgen scrambles to assemble a petition for prosecutorial discretion, gathering letters of support from several community leaders, including Tania, and starting an online petition. When they turn the paperwork over to Prado Virgen's attorney, the attorney explains that he already submitted a plea for prosecutorial discretion but that it inexplicably got lost on its way to ICE. It's the same line he gives four days later to the immigration judge at Prado Virgen's court date, and the judge agrees to delay the case until January 28 of next year — veintiocho de enero, the judge says in halting Spanish, though he conducts the rest of the proceedings in English — to give the prosecutor time to review the new petition.
But Perez and Tania use the hearing to organize another rally outside the courthouse. This one is much smaller than the one held for Valenzuela Gonzalez, given that they have only had a few days to plan. A pastor is there, along with an organizer with a bullhorn. Valenzuela Gonzalez shows up, too, kissing her daughter's cheek and enveloping her in a tight hug before taking her place in the row of people holding signs that say "Don't Deport Abel."
When it's Prado Virgen's turn to speak into the bullhorn, he's hesitant at first, talking so quietly that the noisy morning traffic drowns out his words. But by the end of his short speech, after several passing drivers have honked their horns in approval, he grows more confident.
"I want to thank every one of you for being here today," he says more loudly than before. "I know the community is big, and together we can move mountains."