It is my wish…that my mom will always be with me…that our family can stay together…that my dad could be with me again…. that I don’t have to be afraid anymore…
The voices of the children are often overlooked in the debate over immigration policies, and yet they live everyday with the reality of having their families torn apart when one or both parents are deported.
“Every day when wait for my mom to pick me up from school, I get scared she won’t be able to come” (Roberto, age 10).
“Each day thousands of children including in my family…wake up in fear, not knowing what’s going to happen tomorrow, if their father is going to come back from work, if their mother is going to pick them up from school,” explained Jeanette Vizguerra, a community organizer and activist who has been fighting against her own deportation for seven years.
I wish…that I could know that my mom and dad could stay with us,” said Luna Baez, 12-year-old daughter of Vizguerra. “It makes me scared that they could come at any moment and take my mom and dad.”
Brenda Villa, whose husband Erik Canton is facing imminent deportation said, “It’s very hard to see my children suffer because they don’t know if their father is going to be there, he’s always been a part of their life…for them they have no idea what’s going to happen to their family.”
Villa and her family of three children, two of whom are citizens, is working with the Denver immigrant rights movement including AFSC (American Friends Service Committee) to rally public outcry and demand that Canton be given a stay of deportation. “We need Erik here with us!” demanded Villa and her supporters. She is also part of the Not One More group coordinated by AFSC, which provides support for people struggling against deportation.
The children of Villa and Vizguerra are just a few of the estimated 4.5 million US citizen-born children who live in families where one or both parents are undocumented. From 2012-2014, an estimated 200,000 parents of these children were deported. The kids are at greater risk of suffering extreme stress and anxiety, and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), which can severely damage their emotional and cognitive development, said Gabe Vazques, Senior Director of Media Relations for First Focus, a national children’s advocacy organization. A report by First Focus shows that these children are more likely to live in poverty, lack access to food and health care, and have a greater risk of being sent to foster care.
Vizguerra’s three young US citizen-born children (ages 5, 9 & 12 years) are featured in PSAs (public service announcements) for a nationwide campaign entitled, “This is My American Story,” which was created by First Focus. Vizguerra, Villa and Vazquez all spoke at a press conference organized on June 1st by AFSC to announce the launch of the campaign.
The campaign using radio and TV PSAs is designed to raise public awareness of the devastating impact of immigration policies by featuring the voices of children from immigrant families, said Vazquez of First Focus, which created the campaign. He said that the PSAs are currently being broadcast in nine states and Washington DC, and they are working to convince media owners to donate time in other states (including Colorado) to air these spots.
“This campaign is very very good, because people have to notice what is happening to these families,” said Ana Souzameda, whose husband Arturo Hernandez Garcia stayed in sanctuary for 9 months in a church in Denver to take time to fight against deportation. The couple have two daughters, the youngest of whom is a citizen child. “For my children, it has been very hard for them to live with the process of deportation of their father.”
Hernandez left sanctuary when he received a letter from ICE stating that he is not a priority for deportation, although his case is still pending.
Vizguerra explained that this children’s initiative is very timely with the long awaited US Supreme Court decision on DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans) and DACA-plus (modifications of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) programs, which is expected later in June. The outcome of the court case could affect the fate of millions of immigrants and their families.
The timing of the “My America Story” initiative is also important with the rampant anti-immigration rhetoric in the current presidential campaign. “I wake up every morning and check immediately to see that my children are with me,” and thinking about the millions of other children in this situation, said Vizguerra. In the political campaign, “the language used about us is very aggressive, and the community fears what may happen, depending upon the results of the elections.” Vizguerra said that many candidates are just using immigrants as a means to boost their ratings.
Despite the massive number of media reports focusing on anti-immigration rhetoric in the campaign, a survey of non-Latinos conducted for First Focus in February 2016 in Ohio, Missouri, Arizona, New Mexico, New York and Minnesota showed strong support for children of immigrants – even in a state such as Arizona that has some of the harshest immigration laws in the country, said Vazquez.
The results showed that about 59% (66% in Arizona) support giving children of undocumented immigrants the same public benefits that U.S. citizen children receive, noted Vazquez. Two thirds of voters (67 percent) support maintaining the Constitutional right to birthright citizenship for all children born in the United States.
Villa told the story of her husband, Erik Canton who has lived in the US for 15 years, but 7 years ago was picked up for driving without a license. Canton was detained by ICE when officials discovered he was undocumented, and he has been fighting deportation every since. Canton recently lost his case, and was threatened with detention at his ICE check-in on May 19th, but given one more week to attend his son’s high school graduation.
On May 26th when he returned, Canton was detained by ICE and sent to a detention center first in New Mexico, and then to Texas. But his wife Brenda and the family are fighting hard to stop the proceedings. They along with numerous supporters have held vigils outside GEO, the Denver area immigration detention facility and are also encouraging people to sign a petition to demand that ICE grant Canton a stay of deportation.