Organizations help immigrants reunite with families from Mexico

Elena Díaz, right, hugs her mother, Catalina Díaz, on Nov. 18, 2023. The two had been separated for 23 years before reuniting in Phoenix. (Photo by Kevinjonah Paguio/Cronkite News)

Catalina Díaz holds her great-grandson for the first time on Nov. 18, 2023, at La Oaxaqueña in Phoenix. Díaz hasn’t seen her daughter in person for 23 years. (Photo by Kevinjonah Paguio/Cronkite News)

Alma Mendoza talks with families at La Oaxaqueña on Nov. 18, 2023. Mendoza is the director of Esperanza en la Frontera, which, along with Raíces del Sur, helps reunite Mexicans with their families living in Arizona. (Photo by Kevinjonah Paguio/Cronkite News)

Alma Mendoza, second from left in background, hangs up a sign at La Oaxaqueña on Nov. 18, 2023. Esperanza en la Frontera and Raíces del Sur hosted an event that reunited Mexican immigrants with their families from Mexico. (Photo by Kevinjonah Paguio/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – After 23 years of being apart, Elena Díaz, with tears flowing down her face, finally embraced her 74-year-old mother, Catalina Díaz.

The last time the two saw each other was just before the daughter embarked on a journey from Mexico to the U.S. for a better life. The emotional toll of not being able to visit her mother weighed heavily on Elena and her family.

“It’s sad. It’s sad because there is so much distance. God’s timing is perfect,” she said of the reunion.

Díaz’s mother was part of a group of about 10 parents who were reunited with their families with the assistance of nonprofits Raíces del Sur and Esperanza en la Frontera. Raíces del Sur, which means “roots of the south,” assists Mexican parents who have adult children in the U.S. in obtaining visas to visit their families, regardless of the children’s immigration status.

Yolanda Villagomez hugs her father, Bernabe Gómez, on Nov. 18, 2023. The two haven’t seen each other in years. (Photo by Kevinjonah Paguio/Cronkite News)

To obtain a tourist visa through the program, the parent must be at least 60 years of age, have no prior deportations with false documents and have a valid passport.

Elena Díaz said she learned about the program through a post on Facebook, where she saw a video about another family being reunited. She immediately sought to learn more about the group to see if it was a possibility for her mother to qualify.

Díaz said she was surprised when her application was accepted, and after about 14 months of waiting, her mother’s visa was approved for 10 years.

“It’s beautiful because you don’t expect that they will be able to help you. And when you are told yes – in reality whatever you pay, it’s nothing – it’s all worth it to see your family, especially when it’s a mother and father who are the pillars of a family,” Díaz said.

The Nov. 18 reunion of the Díazes was part of the third annual that Esperanza en la Frontera and Raíces del Sur held together. The groups say they have reunited more than 30 parents with their adult children.

A family waits for the arrival of their loved one at La Oaxaqueña on Nov. 18, 2023. Families gathered at the Mexican restaurant in north Phoenix to reunite. Some haven’t seen each other in decades. (Photo by Kevinjonah Paguio/Cronkite News)

Alma Mendoza, director of Esperanza en la Frontera, helped host the event held at La Oaxaqueña, a Mexican food restaurant in north Phoenix. The group, whose name means “hope at the border,” travels to and from the U.S.-Mexico border to provide basic needs to migrants, including clothes, shoes and food.

According to Mendoza, the majority of applications for visas through Raíces del Sur are approved. Families are responsible for covering the cost of travel and application fees but assistance is offered if the family is experiencing financial hardship.

“I think that the longing to see one’s parents is a longing that every son or daughter has. … Many of them are unable to leave the country, which is the reason we work together to reunite these families,” Mendoza said.

Elena Díaz’s mother made the more than 1,500-mile trip to Phoenix from Cuernavaca, Mexico, by plane to see her great-grandchildren for the first time. Elena was just 20 years old when she arrived in the U.S. – now she’s 43. Through phone calls and video chats, she stayed in close contact with her mother, but it didn’t make up for not being able to see each other in person.

Catalina Díaz will stay for a month and a half and will visit her family members for the holidays through the new year. She said she plans to visit her family as often as she can with her new visa: “God willing, I will return.”

(Video by Roxanne De La Rosa/Cronkite News)
Roxanne De La Rosa RAHK-san de-la-ROH-sa (she/her)
News Reporter, Cronkite Noticias

Roxanne De La Rosa expects to graduate in May 2024 with a master’s degree in mass communication studies. De La Rosa has interned as a nonprofits reporter and produced the Storyteller Project at the Arizona Republic. She is a producer for Arizona Horizon at Arizona PBS.

Kevinjonah Paguio(he/him/his)
News Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Kevinjonah Paguio expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in global studies. He has interned at the Reynolds Center for Business Journalism, is now an intern with AZ Big Media and has freelanced.