The U.S. House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on immigration Tuesday. The committee will consider whether children brought to the U.S. illegally should be granted legal status. Many of those children are part of families with mixed immigration status, some of whom live in the metro Atlanta.
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Brianda Cabrera is an accounting major at Kennesaw State University. She’s petite, unassuming, and soft-spoken, but hardly a typical college student. Her mother brought her and three younger siblings to the U.S. from Mexico illegally about 11 years ago.
Brianda recently qualified for DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program implemented by President Obama. DACA provides a two year grace period for children who were brought to the U.S. illegally. But she’s cautiously optimistic.
“It’s good, but at the same time, it’s just like a little taste, and then you can’t have the rest of the cake,” she says. “You know, it’s just like, ‘You can have this little piece, but that’s it.’ So, it was bittersweet.”
“Bittersweet” could describe Brianda’s U.S. experience so far. Four years after arriving, her mother was struck and killed by a car on her way to work one day. That left all four children orphans in a country where they were living illegally.
“It was a shock for everyone,” she says.
They moved in with family for a while. And while Brianda finished high school and applied to colleges, she also worked and looked after her siblings.
Although one of her brothers decided to return to Mexico, her other brother and sister have achieved legal status under a law that protects juveniles. But Brianda’s DACA status will expire in a year and a half. She says that worries her.
“What’s going to happen with me?” she asks. “What if they don’t renew? So, that’s always scary to think about.”
In addition to siblings with mixed status, another common scenario is families where undocumented parents have children who are U.S. citizens, like Juanita and her four children.
Juanita came from Mexico more than 15 years ago to find work. Her spouse is a legal resident. They have four children together.
Juanita tries not to worry about the possibility of being separated from her kids. But she says sometimes they worry.
[Translation]: “They see on television children separated from their parents by immigration officials,” she says. “Sometimes they ask me about it because they see my situation, but I tell them, ‘Don’t worry. That won’t happen in our house.'”
But she can’t be sure it won’t.
Helping Kids Cope
Eli Velez runs an after school program for Latino students at a DeKalb County middle school through the Latin American Association. Some children in the program live in mixed status homes. Velez says he’s seen some of those kids struggle with depression and even suicide.
“We’re providing counseling for those families, we’re referring them to receive family counseling because it’s a deeper issue in our community, you know,” Velez says, “People don’t understand the implications of being without papers in this nation, having that fear. Fear [of] everything, fear of the system, fear of the teachers because they’re going to ask you if you have papers.”
That fear can affect children’s overall health and psychological development, according to a recent study from Human Impact Partners.
The Pew Hispanic Center estimates at least 9 million people in the U.S. are in mixed-status families with one unauthorized adult and at least one U.S.-born child.