During 2009 Pablo Perrone and Cristina Lemos, local residents since 1987, found their way to the Employee Rights Center after 22 years of legal struggle with their immigration status. Pablo had been caught in an ICE workplace raid in 2008 and put in detention. As a result he and Cristina faced deportation to Uruguay, a country where they were once persecuted and their lives threatened for their active involvement in labor organizing.
Their family of four, including daughters Loredana (18) and Victoria (14) spent their entire savings and sold everything of value, including Pablo’s tools, to pay attorney costs and the bond for his release from immigration detention. With no money, the family was forced to leave their home and live with their church pastor at the Greater San Diego New Life Ministries in National City, which gave them its gracious and full support.
Pablo found the Center for Social Advocacy in El Cajon while he was out on the streets with no job and no money. That Center and the Employee Rights Center are both active members of the San Diego Immigration Rights Consortium, a local, non-profit group of 30 local organizations working on immigration cases, issues, and comprehensive immigration reform. Through that connection this Center’s (ERC) immigration team, Mr. Alor Calderon, and Ms. Sarah Plato, Esq., met Pablo and Cristina, took their case pro bono and began working on its long, complex history.
In the mid 1980’s, Pablo and Cristina worked at the biggest transportation company in Uruguay, ONDA (National Organization of Buses). They were active promoters of workers rights and labor organizing and, as a result, Pablo and Cristina were elected to important positions within their union, SUDO. The right of workers to organize, however, was not guaranteed in Uruguay in the 1980’s, and their positions as union leaders were fraught with political tension. Their activities were met with pressure from the conservative government, company management, and political groups seeking to gain power through the support of the unions.
Pablo and Cristina refused to ally themselves with any political party and instead focused on their goals of obtaining safer working conditions, medical benefits, and higher wages for the 2,000 plus employees of ONDA. They became caught in the crossfire between conservative and leftist forces. Pablo lost his job and Cristina received many death threats. Fearing for their lives, Pablo and Cristina sold all their belongings, fled Uruguay, and sought refuge with Pablo’s U.S. citizen brother living here in San Diego. Like so many others fleeing Central and South America in the 1980’s they sought asylum under the U.S. immigration laws and practices at the time.
Despite its merits, Pablo’s and Cristina’s case was continually plagued by legal mishandling. Their first attorney failed to submit key evidence in support of their asylum claim. The U.S. Department of Justice lost their files for 10 years. They sought help from 35 private attorneys, non-profit organizations, and the Department of Homeland Security, but none were able to help them and they eventually became “illegal.”
Their daughters, Loredana, 18, and Victoria, 14, are U.S. citizens but also face uncertain futures. Victoria is on her school’s honor roll and Loredana attends the University of San Diego. They share their parents’ devotion to community service by donating time at food banks, homeless shelters, park clean ups, and community literacy events. Both of these young women could have bright futures ahead of them in the United States. However, the family has decided that if the parents are deported to Uruguay, they will stay together and the girls will forgo their opportunities as U.S. citizens and return to Uruguay.
With the help of its law student volunteers, the Center is providing pro bono legal services for the family. It consulted with other local attorneys and explored every possible legal remedy for their case; however, after so many years of legal mishandling, no legal forms of relief were available to Pablo and Cristina. As the family faced deportation in late December 2009, Congressman Bob Filner granted their and our request for a private bill. In January 2010 he introduced H.R. 4460. The Center then petitioned and won an emergency stay of deportation from the Department of Homeland Security. For the first time in almost 10 years, Pablo and Cristina have legal status and they have filed for their work permits. The overpowering stress on the family is gone.
Most important, their family remains united in one place, thankful for another chance to survive this long struggle. They are able to move from living at the church, earn a living, continue in school and rebuild their lives however temporarily. Their family survives!
The Center continues to support the Perrone family through the private bill process and whatever other legal means it can provide. However, it also seeks to tell their story to all who will listen in hopes that it will move and inspire broader support of comprehensive immigration reform now. The case of the Perrone family shows us vividly why family unification and reunification should be cornerstones of a humane immigration policy.
For more information please contact the Center (619) 521-1372/1313 Mon-Fri, 9-5.
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Employee Rights Center