Francisco Díaz crossed the Mexican border into the United States near Brownsville., Texas, 14 years ago and since then has been living in Homestead without immigration papers and in constant fear of deportation.
On March 2, Díaz, 41, plans to take a more-direct role in efforts to persuade President Barack Obama to halt deportations and urge Congress to pass immigration reform. He will begin a two-month, 1,085-mile journey from Homestead to Washington, D.C., on his bicycle, carrying a pen in his backpack that he plans to give Obama so he can sign an executive order suspending deportations.
Díaz’s planned voyage evokes the landmark efforts of four DREAMers — Gaby Pacheco, Felipe Matos, Juan Rodríguez and Carlos Roa — who in 2010 walked from Miami to Washington to push for immigration reform.
The four are now considered pioneers of the DREAMer movement that helped persuade Obama in 2012 to shield from deportation young immigrants brought illegally to the country by their parents when they were children.
Whether Díaz’s bike ride will go down in history as well is unclear at this time. But on Friday, he met Cuban-American Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, a champion of immigration reform who wished him well.
“That’s all really positive,” Diaz-Balart told el Nuevo Herald shortly after meeting Díaz during an event at Carlos Albizu University in Doral on how to use an IRS program called Free File that allows a majority of taxpayers to prepare tax returns for free online.
“We keep hearing about 1,100, 1,400 deportations every day, two million in the last four years, and unfortunately when people see that, read that in the press, it’s numbers,” said Diaz-Balart, who is passionate about the issue. “They’re not numbers. These are individuals. A very large percentage of them have family here, American-born, American-raised children and they’re not numbers. They are human beings. We’re literally taking parents from American kids. We’re separating brothers from sisters.”
As for immigration reform, stalled in Congress after House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio., balked at going forward with his offer to legalize undocumented immigrants, Diaz-Balart said he’s still pushing for it.
“I will continue to push,” Diaz-Balart said.
Díaz is being supported in his brike-ride project by activist groups that seek immigration reform, such as Florida Immigrant Coalition and 1Miami.
Díaz said his key goal is to get to the White House, ask to see Obama and if the president receives him give him the pen in his backpack to sign the order halting deportations.
Díaz said the issue is important to him, not only because he’s undocumented, but because two years ago his brother-in-law was deported.
“Emily was born here, yet her father was deported,” Díaz said. “That destroyed the family and deeply affected Emily, who is 9 years old now. She wakes up crying in the middle of the night.”