Four years after Jorge Narvaez sang “Home” with his daughter on a YouTube video that catapulted the duo to fame, he’s returned to the song with a mission to bring his mother home from immigration detention.
Narvaez has been riding a wave of stardom since the video went viral, getting 27 million views of the acoustic rendition of the song he did with daughter Alexa, now 9. The father-daughter duo went on to perform their version of the Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros song on NBC’s America’s Got Talent in Las Vegas. They appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, traveled to China and Australia and made commercials - one airing during last fall’s NFL playoffs.
Now Narvaez wants different results from the song. Narvaez recorded “Home” again with Alexa and the newest addition, younger daughter Eliana, 5, to get the word out about his mother, Esther Alvarado. She has been held in immigration detention for at least a month. On Friday, she was denied a request for asylum she made as part of a protest at the U.S.-Mexico border last month. As of Tuesday, Narvaez’s latest video had over 180,000 views.
“She’s wearing a jumpsuit right now for trying to be a mother,” said a frustrated Narvaez during a recent trip to Miami where he was trying to spread the word about his mother.
Narvaez and his family are originally from Guadalajara, Mexico. Shortly after Narvaez was born, his father moved to California looking for work. His mother, then 16, agreed to meet Narvaez’s father in the U.S. when Narvaez was a bit older. When he was a year old, Narvaez crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally with his father. His mother followed a couple of years later – also entering illegally.
“My dad was one of those very proud, hyper-masculine fathers that never let my mom do anything. Not even get her residency,” Narvaez said.
Narvaez’s mother left his father and eventually remarried. In 2007, she decided to become a legal permanent U.S. resident through her new marriage. In order to do so, she had to return to Ciudad Juarez in Mexico and apply there.
In Juarez, government officials told her that because she admitted entering the U.S. illegally, she could not return. Under U.S. law, people who are known to have entered the country illegally are barred from re-entering for several years.
“I remember my mom being upset and crying, ‘Mi hijo (my son), I’m not coming back. I’m not going to come back to see you again’,” Narvaez said.
Alvarado missed seeing her son graduate from high school and from the University of California in San Diego – he was the first in his family to go to college. The separation from her second son, Gustavo, was particularly difficult because he had already been far from her while he was deployed in Afghanistan with the Army.
“Now he’s fighting another war, which is fighting to get our mother back,” Narvaez said.
During her time in Mexico, Alvarado became depressed over the family separation. She developed a tumor in her stomach and was in and out of the hospital. Additionally, the crime and corruption she experienced at times made Alvarado feel unsafe in Mexico. She was desperate to return to her family in San Diego.
So last month, Alvarado joined dozens of mothers - all of whom have been separated from their families - in a protest march that began across the border from Otay Mesa, Calif. The mothers turned themselves over to authorities at the U.S. border checkpoint and requested asylum. On Tuesday, Narvaez’s mom remained detained at the San Luis Regional Detention Center and Support Center, 20 miles south of Yuma, Arizona.
“I don’t recommend anyone to do that [cross the border] because it’s illegal and second of all you can spend some time in jail … But it got so bad in Mexico. She had to do what she had to do in order to survive,” Narvaez said.
Alvarado now awaits a chance to appeal before a judge the rejection of her asylum claim. If rejected, she could face up to three years in prison for trying to cross the border illegally a second time.
Her predicament baffles Narvaez because his mother's husband and two sons are U.S. citizens.
“It’s embarrassing for the U.S. government to have a mother with a son who is a U.S. Army war veteran and she is detained,” Narvaez said.
Narvaez began his campaign as part of the National Immigrant Youth Alliance and the Bring Them Home Project. Through his you tube channel “RealityChangers” and other social media he has collected over 10,000 signatures for his mother's release that he intends to present to the White House.