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Standing up to keep families together

Standing up to keep families together

Published: March 19, 2013
Photo: AFSC

“My name is Kimberly Alban. I am ten years old. As a result of the laws of this country, my father was deported to his native country, Ecuador, after 13 years in the U.S. I have two other sisters; we were all born in the U.S. As American citizens, we went to the U.S. Embassy in Quito, Ecuador, looking for help. They told us that we do not have a right to anything. That was what hurt me the most. The only thing that my father did was to work very hard to give us the American dream that he never had the opportunity to fulfill. It is because of this that my heart is sad and we are suffering a lot.”

—Kimberly Alban, as told to AFSC in 2009

Every day, children like Kimberly lose their parents to deportation. Many of us have difficulty taking in the reality of this tragic situation.

How can it be that U.S. citizens do not have the right to petition on behalf of their parents to keep their families together? Is there really no path to citizenship for the immediate family members of these children?

Many of us assume that there is a legal way for people like Kimberly’s father to “get in line” for legal status, but right now there is no legal path to citizenship for family members of U.S. citizen children, who in many cases have known no other home than the U.S.

Many immigrant families repeatedly experience the trauma of separation with more than one family member deported or indefinitely detained in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement prison. Removing parents and breadwinners from the family takes an economic and emotional toll—not only on their families, but on the entire community. Many immigrant families live with an unspoken secret, parents fearful of sharing their status even with their children because they are so vulnerable. If a child innocently reveals a father’s or mother’s status to the wrong person, their family will be at risk.

In 2008, when President Obama was elected on a platform that favored immigration reform, hopes were raised that our country might be on a new path to welcoming and supporting the immigrants who have contributed so much to their communities. Unfortunately, it was not to be. Not only was there no reform, but a record 1.5 million undocumented people were deported in the first term of his administration.

In 2012, the tide began to turn, and immigration reform has become a real possibility in Obama’s second term. More brave immigrants, like Kimberly, are telling their stories, coming out from the shadows and refusing to be invisible. As they recount their journeys to this country and the impacts of deportation and undocumented status on their lives, we get to know their faces and their families. We recognize that these families, like many of our ancestors, came here to escape persecution or for greater opportunity. The false narratives that demonize immigrants as threatening criminals are revealed for what they are: caricatures and rhetorical devices in divisive political debates.

The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) has been working toward fair immigration policies since the 1920s, when Asian immigrants were deemed a threat worthy of blanket exclusion.

Lifting up the stories of today’s immigrants underscores the still compelling need to enact humane immigration reform.

This issue of Quaker Action highlights the ways current immigration policy affects the immigrant community and offers powerful stories of immigrants and allies working for change.

We invite you to learn how you can add your voice to the current dialogue. Please join AFSC as we work to help immigrants tell their stories and keep families together.

One young immigrant woman said recently at a presentation in California about her willingness to speak out, “I do it for my whole community. I want to be in a safe community, to be there for them.”

AFSC is doing this for our whole community, too, so that all will feel welcomed and included.

In peace,

Shan Cretin
General Secretary