NAPLES — U.S. senators said it Monday, the president said it Tuesday: the country's immigration system is broken.
Yajaira Rivera lives out that brokenness every day.
"Tell my gordito that I love him," her husband told her over the phone from Mexico last week, on their youngest child's birthday. "Give him a big hug and a big kiss like I would do."
She fell in love with her husband as a teen in Fort Myers knowing he came to the U.S. from Mexico without papers, and it's a decision she doesn't regret.
Now she hopes the reforms proposed by federal lawmakers and President Barack Obama in two separate plans last week will include the tools to piece together her broken family.
They married young, she admits. But love at first sight became a decade-long marriage, raising three children in Lee County and building up a little bit of savings.
"He wouldn't have a Friday or weekend with his (friends). If he went somewhere, it was always with us," Rivera, 27, said of her husband, who is five years her senior.
They got by, but when construction work dropped off locally, the young family made the decision that ultimately would keep them apart.
"Throughout that whole year, he had no work," Rivera recalled. "He was so desperate, so he said, 'let's go back to Mexico.' "
In theory, they would regroup there, the couple thought, and at first it worked. They made a little money after moving there in 2009, and then thought better of the idea when work tapered off there.
Rivera, a U.S. citizen, expected to come back home to sort through paperwork, meet with a lawyer and get her husband in legally.
"Things went completely backward ... there's really nothing you can do," she found out.
There have been trips to Mexico to be together again, but money is thin with Rivera working a clerical job in Fort Myers to pay rent on the one-bedroom apartment she lives in with the children, now 4, 6 and 11.
The White House and senators' separate proposals each focus on creating a way for most of the estimated 11 million people already in the U.S. illegally to become citizens. Each plan calls for strengthening border security, cracking down on employers who hire illegal immigrants and streamlining the system for legal immigration.
Obama and Senate lawmakers all want people here illegally to register with the government, pass criminal and national security background checks, and pay fees, penalties and back taxes.
The two proposals laid out on Monday and Tuesday would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the U.S., like Rivera's husband was from his late teens until his late 20s.
But without a bill in hand that details who can apply, for what, for how long, and at what financial cost, families in Southwest Florida are left wondering if they will be counted into any reform legislation this year. In the meantime, they remain separated by borders and detention centers, or just hopeful to no longer worry about the threat of deportation of a parent or child.
"He wants to come, buy a house, learn English, further his education. He's talked to me about all these plans ... it's just a dream," Rivera said of her husband. "That's the sad part. It's just a dream."