July 18, 2013— -- Last week, 29-year-old Lizbeth Mateo returned to the town where she was born in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca.
Even though she hadn't been there for a decade and a half, this wasn't just a trip to visit her grandparents and extended family.
She's undocumented, and by traveling back to Mexico, she's gambling on whether she'll ever be able to return to the U.S.
Mateo is taking that risk to make a point. As Congress debates immigration reform, much of the conversation has been around the people living in the U.S. without authorization. But after roughly 1.6 million deportations during President Obama's first term in office, there are plenty of immigrant families separated by the border.
Mateo and two other activists with the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA) will try to cross back into the U.S. on Monday in the hopes of drawing attention to those who can't be together with their loved ones, or even visit.
"We forget that people have been deported, people who are waiting in Mexico and other countries to go back home," Mateo said. "That's part of the point that we're trying to make."
In Congress, the question has become whether Republicans in the House of Representatives can back an immigration plan that creates a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country.
While a bill passed in the Senate would allow for certain previously deported immigrants to return to the U.S. legally, neither party has championed case for bringing back deported immigrants. If an immigration bill does manage to pass both the House and Senate, it would be easy to envision it leaving out deported immigrants.
The deportations aren't stopping, either.
The Obama administration reached historic highs in removals during the president's first four years in office. While the number of removals is reportedly dwindling this year, a lot of people are still being deported.
Earlier this month, The Washington Times reported that 110,000 non-criminals had been deported during the 2013 fiscal year.
The approach by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has angered immigrant rights advocates, the outlet reported.
"DHS consistently misleads the public about who it is deporting," Jessica Karp, staff attorney at the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, told The Washington Times. "The Obama administration has created a 'criminal immigrant' boogeyman to justify unprecedented deportation levels. But when we look at the facts, again and again we see that the majority of those deported have no or only very minor misdemeanor convictions, including traffic offenses."
DHS did not immediately respond to a request for official statistics.
Challenging these policies is part of the reason, Lizbeth Mateo made the trip to Mexico. She realizes she may not gain re-entry into the U.S.
Still, she doesn't regret the decision, she said.
"Just being here for a week with my family and seeing how happy they are and how excited they are, I think it's worth it."
Update, 12:05 p.m.: An earlier version of this story stated that Mateo would seek asylum at the border. After publication, she contacted me and said she misspoke.