Sophie Cruz Met With President Obama on Cinco de Mayo, But Her Undocumented Parents Couldn’t Join Her

Lead Photo: Pete Souza
Pete Souza
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As tons of bros bro’d out during Mexican Independence Day Cinco de Mayo, the White House held its annual celebration to honor the Mexican community. The live telecast kicked off with Maná performing their hits and ended with President Barack Obama addressing the audience and calling the event a fiesta. Before he got to serious matters, Obama thanked Yaneley, the young girl who introduced him; Johnny Hernandez, the special guest chef for the day; Representative Joaquín Castro, who he gave a pep talk to (“I know your parents are proud of you, and we’re proud of you”); and of course, Maná.

Obama delved into the history of Cinco de Mayo, explaining that an “ill-equipped and hastily trained band of Mexican patriots” defended themselves against France’s army 154 years ago. For Obama, who spoke to President Enrique Peña Nieto that day, the speech became a chance to reinforce the bonds between Mexico and the United States.

“Together, we increased high school and college graduation rates, cutting the Latino dropout rate by more than half since 2000,” he said. “Together, we ensured that more than 7000,000 DREAMers have the opportunity to reach their potential. Together, we continue to fix our broken immigration system. The fact that we weren’t able to get it through Congress has been one of the most frustrating aspects of my presidency. But our ability to take actions within my legal authority to make our immigration system fairer and smarter and more just I continue to believe are going to help pave the way for us to finally get the law passed through the next Congress.”

And no one could have represented what’s more at stake than 6-year-old Sophie Cruz. The young immigration activist is the daughter of two undocumented parents, and meeting Obama has brought her full circle on her journey. Sophie first caught the world’s attention when she bypassed Pope Francis’ security during his September visit to the United States. She handed El Papa a letter, urging him to ask Obama to pass immigration reform so that families like hers could stay together. On Thursday, Sophie got the opportunity to tell Barack herself, but the moment must have been bittersweet for her.

Her parents – who do not have social security numbers and therefore, can’t pass a background check – had to wait a block away from the White House. Instead, filmmaker Paola Mendoza, who directed an eight-minute short about Sophie and her family titled Free Like the Birds, and’ Alida Garcia accompanied her inside.

Just before 2 p.m., her family got her as close to the inside of the White House as they could. Sophie kissed her father and baby sister, and she made a cross on her mother’s face. Sophie’s parents missed an important moment in their daughters’ life. “It breaks my heart,” Zoyla Cruz told the Washington Post about missing the ceremony. “I’m dying. Imagine all those families separated by deportation.”

Three hours after they left her in the visitors’ line, Sophie came back and hugged her mother. Excitedly, she said, “I saw the president! He gave me his autograph.” And her parents got a little gift, courtesy of Mendoza and Garcia: empanadas wrapped in White House napkins.

Check out a few images of what went down inside: