Children of the Undocumented

By Jayne Jaramillo

The immigration debate rules my life. It goes beyond politics or law; it defines me.

I know what it means to be an immigrant in this country. I am the child of immigrants, and I have witnessed the plight of undocumented immigration in this country. Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, or someone like them, would tell you that I’m pulling your heartstrings and trying to make you sympathetic.

Maybe I am. But really I just want to share with you something the majority of people on the Syracuse University campus probably do not know.

Among SU students walk the casualties of a cruel and unjust system that separates families and violates the human and civil rights that American citizens enjoy. When I pick sides on this debate, this is what I think about. I don’t think about politics, policies, laws, or statistics. I think about my family, my friends, my community, and myself.

Allow me to share with you the plight that many of your classmates are going through, but are probably afraid to share—the difficulty of the children of the undocumented. They live in fear, in the shadows, and with a great weight on their shoulders. They probably will not readily share it with you, but being children of the undocumented defines their entire lives.

The young people I am talking about are citizens of the United States, just like you. They were born on American soil and call America their home. They are patriotic, hard-working, and enjoy the values and culture they inherit with that citizenship. As first generation Americans, we also appreciate and learn about our parents’ cultures. But that doesn’t stop us from being fundamentally American.

We are American, yet many of us live in fear— fear of being separated from our families, friends, and communities. The children of foreigners face economic and social disparity as their parents find it increasingly difficult to find employment and are imprisoned in their homes, scared to venture out. They become faceless, nameless shadows.

There are an estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States (some organizations estimate it at around 20 million). Many of these people have children that are American citizens, meaning there are millions of children with undocumented parents in the U.S.

Why should you care? Because children of the undocumented are often left out of the immigration debate. Call their parents criminals, aliens, and invaders as much as you want, but these kids are your fellow citizens. Because of our broken immigration system, your fellow citizens are suffering.

Raids deport thousands of immigrants— immigrants that are children’s aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, and parents. This means American children are abandoned in the U.S. and raised by extended family or friends, or their parents take them because there is no one in the U.S. to take care of them.

Hundreds of American citizens are forced to live in developing countries with poor education and health care.
How do you think these children will feel after being sent away from their homes and from the opportunities available to them in the U.S.?

A close friend, the daughter of refuted immigrants, once told me that after everything she has heard about “illegal aliens destroying America,” she felt so filthy, dirty and unworthy that she wanted to peel her own skin off. I don’t expect sympathy, just a small understanding of the situation.

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