In the United States of America, the spouses of US citizens can be deported, no matter how long they have lived in the United States, no matter how many US citizen children they have, and no matter how much they love their family.
In Chicago in 2008, I interviewed nine couples that consisted of a US citizen married to an undocumented migrant. Each couple discussed the implications of US immigration law to their families. I discuss this project in this video:
This is one of the stories from this project:
Fatima and Antonio came to the community-based organization, Latinos Progresando, to see if there was anything they could do to legalize Antonio’s status. Antonio had been living here illegally since he crossed the border in 2003. Fatima said she is constantly stressed out. When he goes to work, she has to worry about whether or not there will be a raid, or if he will be stopped by the police. This stress is clearly wearing on her, as her voice broke and her eyes welled up with tears as she talked to me.
Tears began to fall profusely as Fatima told me that it hurts her deeply that Antonio wants to see his parents, and his parents want to see him, and he can’t go back to Mexico. Fatima even feels as if it is partly her fault that Antonio can’t see his parents. “A veces, yo siento que es un poco de mi culpa. Maybe, si no me hubieses conocido, no te detuviera nada aquí.” Sometimes, I feel like it is my fault. Maybe, if you never met me, nothing would keep you here.
When their son was born, Fatima became ill. She continues to suffer from an immune disorder, and admits that she worries that she may not survive her next hospitalization. Her voice breaks as she tells me that she wishes she could be sure that her son would be okay were the unthinkable to happen, were she to pass away. This is one of their most pressing reasons to obtain legalization for Antonio.
Fatima says that knowing that her husband can be arrested, detained, and deported any time is very hard to deal with. In some ways, Fatima wouldn’t mind moving to Mexico, but she feels like she has given so much to the United States. She also has her student loans to pay off. And, they have to think about their son’s future. Even more poignant, she is worried that she would not be able to find or afford appropriate medical care in Mexico.
I ask Fatima what would happen if Antionio were to be deported. She says that, apart from breaking apart her family, she would suffer financially. They recently purchased a home, and, without Antonio’s income, she would have to sell the house. Also, Fatima has plans to return to school to get her Master’s in counseling, and she would not be able to do that. But, most of all, she would be emotionally devastated. Having a loving partner has enabled her to withstand life’s challenges – her own illness, her aging mother’s ailments, and her son’s all-too frequent visits to the doctor.
Fatima points out that the laws do not just affect Antonio, who is here illegally, but they also deeply affect her and her son, both of whom are U.S. citizens. As a family therapist, Fatima is well aware of the pernicious effects of family separation on children. She asks why the government would want to separate families. Fatima works with children who have turned to juvenile delinquency, in part because their parents are divorced. She does not want her child to grow up in a single parent family.
Tears well up again in Fatima’s eyes when she asks if they, too, are not humans. The importance of this family remaining together brings tears to my eyes as well. It is clear that the stress of Antonio potentially being deported is taking its toll on Fatima. It is hard for her to come to terms with why her own government would not want for a loving family such as theirs to stay together.
Fatima faces a situation where the laws of the United States do not permit herto live in this country with her family intact. Is it fair to say that she should not have chosen an undocumented immigrants for her life partner? Should she have researched immigration laws before falling in love? Was she simply foolish to imagine that her country would allow her to live in peace with her husband? Can you imagine yourself going to an immigration lawyer to find out if your chosen life partner is eligible for legalization? And, if you are told they are not, what are you supposed to do? These are hard questions, and the agony that this family faces is a clear indication that there is something fundamentally wrong with having to choose between your country and your family.
Read other stories from this project on my website.
These stories will also be featured in my forthcoming book – Immigration Nation: Raids, Detentions, and Deportations in Post-9/11 America.
Pedro Guzman, husband and father of US citizens, is currently in detention – awaiting deportation. You can read his story here.
~Tanya Golash-Boza is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and American Studies at the University of Kansas. She blogs at: http://stopdeportationsnow.blogspot.com/