NBC's Natalie Morales, on Wednesday's Today show, introduced Telemundo's Maria Celeste Arraras to tell the story of a South Florida family that has been separated by immigration laws in a segment that painted plight of the illegal immigrant in the most sympathetic tones. The tale of a Colombian mother deported back to her home country because she overstayed her visa, was part of, as Morales put it: "an NBC wide look at A Nation Divided." Arraras interviewed the children of Claudia Ramirez who were, as the story seemed to intimate, forced to fend for themselves in the U.S. after, as her daughter Kathy described, two "big guys with I.C.E. jackets" took their mom away.
Arraras mainly focused on the perspective of the family as she interviewed Claudia, her three children and an immigration lawyer, and only allowed one dissenting voice, a former INS agent who pointed out if "we find all these exceptions for people to be able to stay here, even though they violated the law, why should anybody ever go through the legal system?" Arraras, herself, did point out to the daughter "Some people may say, 'Well, this is a very sad case but too bad, your mother should not have come here in the first place.' What, what would you say to that?" To which Kathy guilt-tripped Today viewers by responding: "Have a heart." [audio available here]
The following is a transcript of the full story as it was aired on the May 26 Today show:
NATALIE MORALES: This morning we're kicking off an NBC wide look at "A Nation Divided" focusing on the hot button issue of immigration. Telemundo's Maria Celeste Arraras has the story of what happened to one family when the kids are born in the U.S. but the mom is an illegal immigrant. Good morning to you Maria.
[On screen headline: "A Family Divided, Kids Separated From Mother By Immigration Laws"]
MARIA CELESTE ARRARAS: Good morning, Natalie. It's estimated that five million children in the U.S. fall into that category. And I had a chance to talk to one family divided by deportation. They are teens you might see anywhere. Fourteen-year-old Kathy, a competitive swimmer. Sixteen-year-old Matt, a star soccer player. Nineteen-year-old Jonathan, a pre-med student. All three born in the United States and raised in South Florida. Living the American dream until three years ago when a family secret turned into a federal case. Their mother Claudia, illegal in the U.S., was arrested for violating immigration laws by overstaying her visa. Tell me exactly what happened that morning.
KATHY: I look and I see two big, like big guys with I.C.E jackets. And I was like, at first it didn't click in.
MATT: And then my mom was rushing in the room, grabbing papers and stuff like that. So I said, "What was going on?" And she said, "Oh they're taking me."
KATHY: When I got to school I started crying and crying. I couldn't stop 'cause I like, it clicked, it clicked in what happened.
ARRARAS: Did she get a chance to tell you anything right before she left?
KATHY: "I love you."
ARRARAS: After 17 years in this country, their mother was deported back to her native country, Colombia.
CLAUDIA: It's been very tough for them.
ARRARAS: She now lives 1600 miles away in Manizales, Colombia.
CLAUDIA: I really miss my kids and I know that they miss me, too.
ARRARAS: Today is a good day. Her son Jonathan is visiting.
JONATHAN: She's caring, loving, always there. Always has good advice.
ARRARAS: What would you say has been the hardest thing of having your mom away?
MATT: Not having a mother figure there, you know, looking over you and helping you out.
KATHY: I have to wake up knowing that my mom is not gonna be here. That we are not gonna to have a mom until we go visit her. It's not the same.
ARRARAS: Besides visits, Claudia keeps up with her children through phone calls and Facebook. Immigration lawyer Alfonso Viero (sp?) says the Ramirez kids are not alone.
ALFONSO VIERO: We feel that, that there are about five million children in a situation where their parents have either been deported or are in the process of being deported.
ARRARAS: He plans to file a class action lawsuit claiming U.S. laws separating parents from their U.S. born children violate civil rights.
MICHAEL W. CUTLER, RETIRED SENIOR SPECIAL AGENT, INS: There is a lawful process by which people can emigrate to the United States and when we find all these exceptions for people to be able to stay here, even though they violated the law, why should anybody ever go through the legal system?
ARRARAS: In an NBC/MSNBC/Telemundo poll out today, a majority of Americans agree. Sixty-one percent say they support Arizona's tough new anti-illegal immigration law. Some people may say, "Well, this is a very sad case but too bad, your mother should not have come here in the first place." What, what would you say to that?
KATHY: Have a heart.
ARRARAS: It is a very, very emotional issue. Many people may wonder how come the Ramirez children don't move to Colombia and live with their mother. I asked them that question and they said that they consider Colombia a foreign country. They were born and raised in the U.S. Their first language in is English. So for them, this is home. It's quite a predicament, Natalie.
MORALES: So many broken families in this country as a result. Alright Maria Celeste Arraras. Thank you so much.
ARRARAS: Thank you.