As women's history month comes to an end, I'd like to honor a courageous immigrant mother who leads by example.
Betty Jaspeado is a force of energy in the immigrant rights movement. With a firm gaze and equally engaging demeanor, she inspires bravery in the hearts of politically active parents - as well as a twinge of apprehension from those that would stand in the way of immigrant justice.
With an opportunity to protect some immigrant moms like Betty from deportation on the horizon, Betty's experiences show why we need our state to do everything it can to advance immigrant inclusion.
If you talked to Betty about her organizing work, she might share how she has rallied crowds to call for a stop to collaboration between Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and local police. Or she might recount participating in a caravan across the state to urge for the TRUST Act's passage in 2013. Yet her journey to being a vocal immigrant advocate hasn't been free of obstacles. Betty knows first-hand the terrifying prospect of being separated from loved ones, and she also knows how life-changing it can be to advance opportunities that set up women and families to succeed.
Betty is a single mother who arrived to the U.S. from Mexico City in 1993, and from the day she arrived, she held multiple jobs to support herself and her family, including working as a housekeeper and babysitter. Betty found a room to rent in a house and was contracted to clean the remaining rooms. But when the time came for her to be paid, the landlord threatened to call ICE and deport her, potentially separating her from her children. When Betty refused to render any more cleaning services, the police were called and she got evicted, with no reimbursement of her deposit or rent money.
"We deserve better. I want to gain my dignity back. I've lived through fear of deportation, of feeling imprisoned by helplessness and not feeling free to express myself or my human rights. I wouldn't want this to happen to anybody else." said Betty.
Betty's experience encouraged her to fight for an end to deportations that unjustly separate communities and break down the dignity of women and families. The collective efforts of community organizers like Betty led to a hard-won, but bittersweet, victory last November. President Obama announced administrative relief for millions through Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program (DAPA) and an extension to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA).
As a parent of a citizen, Betty could be eligible for DAPA, which could grant relief from deportation, a work permit, and most importantly, ease her concerns of being separated from her family. However, the President's announcement left behind millions of immigrants from accessing the same opportunities, a fact that has strengthened Betty's commitment to political advocacy. She expressed that qualifying for DAPA would make her feel empowered to fight even harder for those left out.
"I'm actually very active [in immigrant advocacy] but with DAPA or Citizenship I would be less afraid to participate with groups in places like Arizona and San Diego. I want to support those who [didn't qualify for Deferred Action because they] can't have a child or didn't come here before the age of 16."
And though the deferred action programs have been temporarily delayed due to an anti-immigration lawsuit, immigrant advocacy groups like the California Immigrant Policy Center are urging that state legislators support a proposal to ensure people like Betty will receive the immigration application assistance they need once the programs are in place.
This state budget proposal, called ONE California, would invest $20 million to develop a community-driven model for qualified non-profit organizations to provide eligible immigrants with support in compiling important documents for the pre-screening process, legal support, and other application assistance.
The ONE California proposal would make it possible to create a model for immigrant integration that outreaches and supports immigrant women just like Betty with the information and assistance to set them up for brighter opportunities and peace of mind.
Because at the end of the day, applying and receiving deportation relief through deferred action means a weight is lifted off Betty's shoulders.
"DAPA for me means security. After living here almost 25 years with my children, I have more at stake than ever before. Even if temporary, DAPA will provide security to go outside and not worry about being able to return to see the people I love."