Revere native Maria Peniche, 23, stood on the U.S. Border in San Diego last week.
Her parents, Alberto and Ines – former Revere residents for many years, were on the other side of that border – in Tijuana, Mexico.
For eight months, they had been unable to embrace.
Last week, they were able to touch fingers through a steel stockade fence as they looked at each other for the first time in months – mother and father on one side of the border, son and daughter on the other side.
The protest last week, led by Peniche of the National Youth Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA), is yet another chapter in the ongoing saga of the former Revere residents who came to America illegally many years ago and raised their family here; a family that is now embroiled in an unlikely national protest where they have all crossed the border illegally in full view of federal officials in order to be reunited as a family and to be protected from death threats by ultra-violent Mexican drug cartels.
The situation has taken its toll on Maria – who spent a month in a federal detention center last August as part of a nationally-highlighted protest called the ‘Dream 9’ – and it has her frequently wishing for the calm and quiet that Revere provided her for so many years.
“All I have to say is that before I never realized the tremendous feeling of what it is to be home,” she told the Journal. “While I was away one year in Mexico and after we left Revere, every single day I would think of Revere and the refreshing breezes I used to enjoy from the ocean every single day or I thought of my friends in Revere and going to Revere Beach or going to the Banana Boat and getting any kind of ice cream I wanted. Every single component of home was missed – from coming to Revere for the first time, growing up in Revere, and learning English in Revere schools. That is my childhood and where my heart is at. It’s hard to be separated from it and to get in trouble for wanting to return to it.”
Both Maria and her brother, Alberto Jr., attended and graduated from Revere High School (RHS). They grew up shopping on Broadway, playing at Revere Beach and finding the best ice cream on the Boulevard each summer.
Two years ago, amidst the ongoing struggles of not being legal residents, they decided to go back to Mexico. Maria had been attending Pine Manor College in Newton, but had to pay full tuition while working at a McDonald’s because she didn’t qualify for student loans.
Her brother was in the same situation.
The family was struggling financially in the wake of the recession.
So, they decided it would be best to go back home, but home had changed in ways the family said they could have never imagined.
“We worked a lot, respected the country, paid our taxes and educated our children to the best of our abilities so they could be model students and citizens,” Ines said. “The dreams and goals of my husband and I for our kids were for them to seize the education the United States provided for them. Living in Mexico was very difficult and frustrating and we were constantly living in fear. We didn’t know that Mexico is no longer how it used to be; it has become a nightmare, where in any place and at any time, you’re risking your life. In Mexico, we were constantly threatened with death and pursued by a man who was trying to hurt my daughter Maria. We need to return to the US to reunite with my children, to be safe and live without fear.”
Maria told the Journal that two things happened almost immediately after they arrived in Mexico.
First, just a few months after returning, President Barack Obama announced the deferred action program – a program that would have allowed Peniche and her brother to stay in Revere legally and to obtain student loans and work permits had they not left for Mexico.
Second, and most pressing, a family member they had known before coming to America befriended them upon arrival. However, they said that family member and many other people they had known were now associated with violent drug cartels. Such things are rather common for Mexican citizens who return from America, and Maria said she quickly found herself in the spotlight of the wrong people.
“What happened in Mexico with me was very scary,” she said. “My family has constantly been pursued in Mexico to the point we’re very afraid for our lives.”
That situation was why Peniche ultimately crossed the border last summer illegally and asked for asylum from the U.S. government. After being detained at Eloy, AZ Immigration Detention Center, Peniche and several other Dream 9 protestors had hearings and were allowed to stay in the U.S. on a “credible fear” parole while awaiting further court dates.
In that time, Pine Manor heard of her situation through the national media and extended a full scholarship so she could finish her last year and a half of school.
“They heard my story and gave me full tuition so I could finish my last year,” she said. “It has been so good to be home; to go to school here. The school has been wonderful.”
Her parents and brother, however, were still in Mexico – and according to Maria – still in grave danger.
Her brother crossed the border illegally last year as part of a similar ‘Dream 30’ protest and was also sent to a detention center. Through the help of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s office, he was released on the same “credible fear” parole.
“That is another reason why I love home so much because we do have the right officials in place to help people,” she said.
Last week, her parents made the same crossing in another protest effort after speaking with Maria and her brother through the border stockade fence. They are hoping that they can get the same credible fear parole and be reunited.
The hope is, Maria and Alberto Jr. said, is to be able to return to Revere – to the only place they know as home.
“ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) can let my family out of detention today,” said Alberto Jr. last Friday. “They fled Mexico to protect their lives and wanted to reunite with my sister and me. I worry about my mom’s health; she needs medicine and care for her diabetes. I have not heard from my mom and dad in three days. Our whole community and my sister and I are waiting for them to come home.”
The Peniche family is the only family to return in NIYA’s three waves of protest to bring deported families and “Dreamers” back to the U.S.