Iris Alondra Hipolito, a 17-year-old high school student from Los Angeles, didn't know what was coming.
She and her brother Luis, 14, had traveled on an overnight bus to El Paso and arrived Tuesday morning as part of a group of Catholics and immigrant rights activists from Southern California. They came to see Pope Francis — and to call for reform of U.S. immigration laws.
The teenagers are U.S. citizens. Their mother, Maria de Lourdes Molina Garcia, once lived illegally in the U.S. and now resides in a small village in Oaxaca state. She hasn't seen Iris and Luis for more than two years.
"We ask the pope to please help us keep families together," Iris said to members of the local and national media who convened at the bus station. The pope will visit Ciudad Juarez, El Paso's Mexican sister city, on Wednesday.
Iris and Luis and more than half a dozen others from Los Angeles wore shirts with a picture of the pope. "Papa Rescata DAPA y la Legalizacion que sea tu Bendicion!" It was a reference to DAPA — Deferred Action for Parents of Americans — one of President Obama's executive actions designed to shield from deportation millions of people living in the U.S. illegally. The program is currently on hold during litigation.
The T-shirts' translation: "Pope, please rescue DAPA and may legalization be your blessing."
On their way to the Juarez airport, the group members worried they might arrive late. But going south proved easy and Iris, Luis and the others waited for the plane of fellow pilgrims to arrive. Then, there she was — their mother.
Molina looked a bit lost and looked for Iris and Luis when she walked into the airport. She held hands with her youngest son, 4-year-old Eddy. He was born in Mexico.
At first, Iris didn't know what the commotion was about until she caught a glimpse of her mother's hair and earrings — Oaxacan gold with magenta-colored stones. Luis ran to his mother. Soon all three were hugging.
Though Molina knew her two eldest children would be at the airport, her arrival had been kept a surprise by the group's organizers.
Iris, speaking in Zapotec, told her mother she had no idea they would be reunited, at least for a little while, this day.
"Mom, I didn't know," Iris kept repeating. "I love you so much. I don't want you to go again."
"This was a surprise for you," her mother responded. "God is great."
Iris told her mother: "I don't want to keep crying like this."
"El papa va hacer el milagro," her mother said, switching to Spanish. "The pope will make the miracle."
At one point, Luis knelt before his mom and she gave him a blessing in Zapotec.
"Many women in my village are without their children. There are so many women in my village crying for their children," she told the media. "One woman died crossing the desert so she could go see her children."
About an hour later, the group and the reunited mother and children piled into a van to grab some lunch and talk.
Now that they were away from the crowds, Iris and her younger brother got a chance catch up, whispering to each other in Zapotec.
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