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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Life after deportation: Young citizens left behind when Mom and Dad leave country Children try to carry on with American lifestyles as best as they ca

By V. Ortiz
The Chicago Tribune

April 06, 2011

In the two years since her father was deported, 13-year-old Elisabeth and her three younger siblings have settled into an after-school routine while their mother, Maria Lourdes, works long hours at a beauty salon.

The family shares a cramped bedroom in a Waukegan apartment. When school friends wonder why her father is no longer in the picture, Elisabeth has learned to change the subject.

"I don't answer," she said. "It's such a long story."

After Elisabeth's father was deported, the family moved briefly to Mexico. But domestic discord led Maria Lourdes to return to Waukegan with her children, who were born here and are U.S. citizens. She, like her husband, is undocumented, but has applied for a visa to remain in the country.

Now, the four children carry on in America as best as they can, just like a growing number of young people who were born in this country and have seen one or both parents deported.

Those who work with such children say they've seen an increase in the cases locally. As a result, churches, schools and advocacy groups are left scrambling to help once-stable households deal with poverty, foreclosures, academic failure and other problems that come when so-called mixed immigration status families are split up.

The separation creates an "angry generation" of children who feel traumatized and disaffected but still choose to stay in the U.S. rather than face potential poverty, violence, and cultural and language barriers abroad. For some, advocates say, life in America is all they know.

"It's a horrific situation," said Josh Hoyt, director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. "Given that we have this vastly increased number of deportations … we're trying to create infrastructure or support, specifically for people that have done nothing criminal other than come here to work, many who have U.S. citizen children."

But those who favor stricter enforcement of immigration laws assert that the struggles of families with a loved one deported highlight the need to keep people from entering the U.S. illegally.

"Issues surrounding U.S.-born children (with undocumented parents) remind us that the longer you don't enforce your immigration laws, the harder it becomes to do so," said Steven Camarota, director of research for the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington.

In an estimate published by the Urban Institute in 2010, more than 100,000 immigrant parents of U.S. citizen children have been deported in the last 10 years.

At the same time, deportations have increased dramatically nationwide, from 122,000 in 2002 to 392,000 in 2010, with an emphasis on criminal deportations.

Locally, 12,000 people were deported from the detention center in Broadview in 2010, according to data from the Illinois coalition and the Archdiocese of Chicago.

After seeing such cases rise in recent years, Bill Bautista, a social worker at Community High School in West Chicago, has come to recognize the signs of teens dealing with a deportation at home.

These students often come to him seeking advice on how to get a job that earns money quickly. When he checks their academic records, it's not unusual to see an increase in absences, or a drop in grades, he said.

"There's a lot of privacy with this," he said. "They don't always share that with the school, and I wish they would because there are a lot of resources out there."

In Elgin, Maggie Dempsey has worked with as many as 10 students this school year with one or both parents deported. As liaison to the homeless for District U-46, she helped them get transportation to school after they moved in with a relative, encouraged them to stay involved in extracurricular activities, and even provided school uniforms and field trip money when they couldn't pay for them.

"They're just kids," she said. "They have no control over what their parents have done, and we may as well support them so that they can succeed and be contributing members of society and be able to make a difference."

Advocates such as Elena Segura try to provide solutions, or at least assistance, to families caught up in these situations.

Segura carries a notebook each week to the detention center in Broadview, where immigrants are deported every Friday. Whenever she sees children crying as they say goodbye to a loved one, she jots down their names. Later, she tries to connect them with a program she began in 2009 as director for immigrant affairs and immigration education for the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Called Pastoral Migratoria, it was developed to help the growing number of families dealing with immigration issues and life after deportation.

"I cry every Friday when I hear the stories," she said. "It's not just a moral issue here. To me, it's basic human rights."

In Cicero, Arturo Gonzalez juggles a list of families struggling with deportation. A community organizer for the Interfaith Leadership Project, he makes sure parents leaving the country have their U.S. citizen children registered, so the kids can visit them abroad without having trouble re-entering.

He also gives "Know Your Rights" presentations, informing families about what to expect from deportation proceedings.

Camarota, whose group advocates tougher immigration controls, notes that immigration law grants legal status each year to several thousand undocumented immigrants who argue hardship, including the presence of a U.S.-born child.

More than 3,200 people were granted so-called cancellation of removal in 2009, according to data from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Families are making the choice to separate after deportation, not the U.S. government, Camarota said.

"My sense of these things is we are going to have to start enforcing the law first," he said. "Some will have to go home in significant and large numbers."

Immigration advocates, however, contend that such solutions are oversimplified and come too little, too late.

Meanwhile, children such as a 15-year-old girl who attends Elgin High School try to cope with wrenching situations.

One day seven months ago, the teen grew worried when her mother didn't return home from work.

The girl, who asked not to be named, finally got a call from her mother at 9 p.m. that night confirming her fears. Her mom, she said, was arrested at work and taken into custody for being an undocumented immigrant.

Within hours, an aunt moved in with her own three children to help look after the teen and her two younger sisters. But the high school sophomore quickly inherited new responsibilities. She now had to do the laundry, make dinner and clean the house.

Although they haven't seen their mother since that day last summer, the teen said she and her sisters are resigned to their new life.

"My mom is over there, but I just want to graduate and go to college here," she said. "For kids, it's pretty sad and hard."