There wasn’t much time.
The hour was getting late at the North Miami immigration forum. The four members of Congress were hungry.
But 18-year-old Carlos Rivas had something to say.
“My dad, he was two months ago arrested by ICE. I have my family right here: my mom and my three brothers and sisters. We don’t know what to do,” Rivas said.
“He’s about to be deported tomorrow [Tuesday] at 4 a.m.” he said. “And I wanted to know what you could do for us. … What can you do? Is there any help you can try to give us?”
It was just after 9 p.m. Monday. Rep. Frederica Wilson, the Miami Democrat who hosted the forum, was floored.
“Oh my God,” she said. “Four a.m., in the morning? Why are you just telling us? We could have helped you perhaps. It’s too late.”
Someone from the audience of 200 or so citizens at Haitian Evangelical Baptist Church chimed in: “It’s never too late.”
Wilson ultimately delivered, rousting an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) official out of bed and getting the deportation of Rene Rivas, an undocumented immigrant and father of four, stopped with just a few hours to spare.
Still, his time in the United States is in doubt.
“Obviously, I want to thank Congresswoman Wilson. And we’re less stressed out,” Carlos Rivas said. “But this isn’t over.”
Court records indicate Rene Rivas could remain here until at least June 10, the deadline for an appeal. Family members —many of whom are illegally here as well — thought he might only have a week.
Rivas said the family learned of his father’s reprieve at midnight. It was an emotional moment. Earlier in the day, he thought his father would be sent back to Mexico.
“I thought he was gone,” Rivas said.
Wilson’s staff worked the phones as the congresswoman zipped off to dinner at The Forge restaurant with New York Rep. Yvette Clarke and Texas representatives Sheila Jackson Lee and Marc Veasey.
The Democrats compared notes, strategized and called.
The dramatic stay of Rivas’ deportation was a testament to Wilson’s determination, and also the human face of immigration.
Though the immigration system is often called “broken,” the Rivas family saga is an example of the people caught in the gears of government when it actually does its job by deporting people who shouldn’t lawfully be in this country.
It’s a machine that tears apart families every day. And, under President Barack Obama, it has done it at a record pace — more than 1,000 deportations daily. Some say the number is as high as 1,400.
Those numbers should let up if Congress passes an immigration-reform plan that has a pathway to citizenship and allows the undocumented to legally remain in this country.
But the bill’s fate, like Rivas’, is uncertain.
The deportations continue. And that makes Rene Rivas one of thousands.
Most don’t have a son like Carlos Rivas, an 18-year-old graduate of Miami Senior High School who had to drop out of Miami Dade College when his dad was busted and he couldn’t afford to pay for schooling.
Carlos Rivas wants to get a business-management degree. But once he had to leave school, he lost special protections for college-bound undocumented children.