Cindy Garcia: A voice for 'people in the shadows'

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

An orange sign with white letters rests on a small shelf in the kitchen of Cindy Garcia's parents' home in Lincoln Park, spelling out what could easily be her rallying cry these days: "I refuse to sink."

The 46-year-old mother of two could have easily hunkered down and asked for privacy after her husband of 15 years, Jorge, was deported to Mexico in January. He had been living in the United States without issue, going through yearly visits with immigration officials when he was ordered to leave.

Cindy Garcia: "Laws are always there, but they can be amended and that's what they need to look into. Unfortunately, they haven't done what they were supposed to do — which is bring families together rather than separating them."

But Garcia did the opposite. The former autoworker and union organizer has become a national voice for immigration reform, pushing lawmakers to change laws she said she believes are broken. She has appeared on CNN, attended rallies all over the country and was even U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell's guest at President Donald Trump's State of the Union address in January.

Garcia, who used to work for Ford Motor Co. and retired on a medical disability, said she understands and respects that there are laws in place that need to be followed, but immigration policies need to be revised. Jorge came to the United States when he was 10, one year shy of qualifying for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals protection.

"Laws are always there, but they can be amended," said Garcia, who said immigration cases should be considered on a case-by-case basis. "And that's what they need to look into. Unfortunately, they haven't done what they were supposed to do — which is bring families together rather than separating them."

Dingell, D-Dearborn, applauded Garcia, saying she's "stepped onto the national stage with unthinkable courage and has become a leading voice in the fight for immigration reform."

"She is a devoted wife and mother, autoworker, advocate and fighter," said Dingell in a statement. "Her fortitude and tenacity are boundless, and she is using her challenges to champion and support others. She is a strong woman who inspires many.”

Despite her critics, Garcia said she feels responsible to speak out for other families of undocumented workers, those she calls "people in the shadows."

"We have to tell people how it's affecting American families and the support we need," said Garcia. "Why are we being punished? Why are our children suffering? It's unfair."

Meanwhile, Garcia, her daughter, Soleil, 15, and son Jorge Jr., 13, are adjusting to life as a family of three as Jorge applies for a waiver from the Mexican embassy that would allow him to return to the United States. Garcia, who also has an older son from a previous relationship and a granddaughter, said she's learning to take care of things like cutting the lawn, unclogging drains and changing the car's oil, all tasks Jorge used to handle.

"It's a whole new life," she said.

Cindy Garcia with her children, Soleil, 15, left, and Jorge, Jr., 13, at their home in Lincoln Park.

Cindy Garcia

Occupation: Former Ford Motor Co. worker and UAW organizer.

Education: Graduate of Detroit's Western High School; attended Wayne State University.

Family: Husband, Jorge; three children; one granddaughter.

Why honored: For believing one person can make a difference in the debate over immigration reform.

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