MARCELO M. SUÁREZ-OROZCO The Dream Deferred
Georgia State Representatives
(left), Simone Bell (center)
and Rashad Taylor discuss
strategies to repeal HB 87 (left).
Students in the Capitol building
react to news that the U. S.
Senate voted down the DREAM
Act on December 18, 2010.
guided policy. The most meaningful unit of analysis in
immigration is the family, not the individual immigrant
worker. Undocumented immigrants are disproportionally young, and in prime childbearing years; hence their
children make up a large share of the American newborn
( 8 percent) and school-age ( 7 percent) populations. Ho w
these children mature in the U.S. and ultimately contribute to our economy and society will depend on how
our immigration laws address them and their parents.
JAHI CHIK WENDIU/ THE WASHINGTON POST
Undermining a Child’s Hopes and Future
There are an estimated 5. 5 million children and adolescents below age 18—1 in 10 chil- dren in the U.S.—growing up with parents without legal status. Of these, 4. 5 million ( 79 percent) are U.S.-born citizens.
Marieli is one of over 1 million children who face
the dual challenge of being an undocumented person
and growing up with undocumented parents. When
she was four, Marieli’s father was assassinated in front
of his wife and children. Left a widow responsible for
her family, Marieli’s mother reluctantly left Guatemala
for the United States. Once in California, she applied for
asylum status and waited patiently for her papers to be
processed. It took six years and a small fortune to navigate the bureaucratic labyrinth until she could begin
the process of applying to reunite with her children. In
the meantime, the grandmother who had been raising
the children in her absence back home died.
With no one to care for them, Marieli’s mother made
the drastic choice of having her children make the crossing without papers. Following the harrowing experience
of being smuggled into the country by coyotes, Marieli
finally arrived in northern California at age 1 1. By then
she had spent more than half her childhood away from
her mother, and the reunion was bittersweet. Marieli
still does not have her papers and remains in legal limbo.
Well over 100,000 children who are U. S. citizens have
been separated from their parents through deportation
and consequently face a choice no child should have to
make: staying in the U.S. with relatives or going with
their parents to a country they often do not know.
In addition to the day-to-day economic and social
challenges that arise when a child loses his or her primary caregiver, children of deported parents exhibit
multiple behavioral changes in the aftermath of parental detention and removal, including anxiety, frequent
crying, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, withdrawal, and anger. Such behavioral changes have been
documented both for the short-term after the arrest, as
well as for the long-term at a nine-month follow-up. 5
Beyond deportations, the current strategy of “attrition
through enforcement”—the concerted effort to make
everyday life, such as driving a car, getting a vaccination or cashing a check, so difficult that undocumented
immigrants will begin self-deporting in massive numbers—is having direct, if unintended, effects on children, immigrant and citizen alike. 6
145 Americas Quarterly SPRING 2012