The three sisters with six young children between them stood in front of Salt Lake City's Temple Square on Monday and begged for a miracle.
Or, at the very least, a court hearing.
"All I ask for is ... for my kids to have a mom and dad so they can stay together with me," Barbara Avelar said.
The 30-year-old mother and her two sisters are scheduled to be deported June 15. Their children all born in the United States are free to stay or go back to Mexico with the mothers.
Feeling like they were running out of options, the sisters joined The Salt Lake Dream Team and a variety of activists for a rally outside the church in an attempt to put public pressure on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to consider their cases for administrative closure, which is also known as prosecutorial discretion.
That process as outlined in ICE Director John Morton's memo issued in 2011 allows prosecutors to consider cases involving illegal immigrants who don't have a criminal record and are considered the lowest priority for deportation and to simply close the case file.
But there is a snag in the Avelar sisters' case.
In the mid-1990s, the sisters' mother and father brought the family from Mexico on tourist visas. They overstayed and were eventually discovered. That led to a court appearance, which led to an appeal.
Silvia Avelar, the youngest sister, said that's when things started to unravel. Her father hired a woman to handle their case, but Avelar said she never filed the proper paperwork. So, Avelar said, they essentially lost the appeal because no case was made on their behalf in court. That triggered the judge to grant a deportation order.
It took ICE about 17 years to track the sisters down in Utah finally arresting the trio in December 2011.
Now, the sisters would like the chance to go before an immigration judge and tell their story.
Lori Haley, spokeswoman for ICE, said the agency prioritizes efforts to identify criminals in the country illegally or have outstanding removal orders and "the agency exercises prosecutorial discretion on an individual basis, based on the totality of the circumstances in each case."
"All three sisters' immigration cases have undergone review at multiple levels of our nation's legal system and the courts have uniformly held they have no legal basis to remain in the United States," she said. "In 1997, the Board of Immigration Appeals dismissed the sisters' legal appeals and the women became subject to a final order of deportation."
According to TRAC Immigration statistics, the backlog of deportation cases hasn't been reduced rapidly.
Through March, the Immigration Court backlog was at 305,556 cases nationally, according to TRAC data. Between November 2011 when ICE began reviewing the cases that were eligible for administrative closure and March 2012, the number of cases that have been closed nationally was 2,609.
David Terrazas of The Salt Lake Dream Team said the sisters were desperate to keep their families together. The parents of the sisters were deported in December and are currently living in Mexico City.
Silvia Avelar, who said the whole family is Mormon, said she wants to have faith in the process, but feels like time is running out. She said Utah is the only home they've ever known, as the sisters have been living here since they were 8, 10 and 13 years old. Silvia Avelar said she barely remembers anything about Mexico and her young children don't even speak fluent Spanish.
Sitting in the shade inside Temple Square, she worried about living in Mexico and said she wanted her children to grow up in United States. She worried about her husband, too, who is a legal permanent resident.
"I don't want to lose faith in anything," she said. "If I fall backwards in faith, then our faith wasn't strong to begin with. I don't want to lose faith."
Standing in a blazing hot sun, Silvia Avelar's 3-year-old daughter silently held a poster board that was almost as tall as she was. It read, "My heart is broken." Not far away, 10-year-old Abigail Avelar Barbara's daughter wept as she feared not having a mother around to "help me with my homework."
She looked up as tears streamed down her cheeks.
"Please help," she said softly.
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