skip to main content









Donation Heart Ribbon

Deportation Pushes Mothers Into Endless Cycle of Illegal Crossings


Aired 12/15/10

As deportations of undocumented immigrants have increased over the last year, so has the separation of mothers from their kids. But for many women, that reality is pushing them into an endless cycle of illegal border crossings and deportations.

A young mother stands in the entryway to a shelter in Mexico, 2004.
Enlarge this image

Above: A young mother stands in the entryway to a shelter in Mexico, 2004.

— A month ago, 34 year-old Veronica Vargas got into a fight with her husband. The neighbors called the police and Veronica was charged with battery. Her immigration status was checked at the local jail, and she and her husband were processed for deportation.

Their kids were left behind in their Los Angeles apartment, obviously distraught, and under the care of the couple's oldest daughter.

"I have a daughter who's older than 18," says Vargas, teary-eyed. "And she's been able to take care of my 7 year old while I'm gone."

Vargas is now at a shelter for deported women in Tijuana, still wearing the clothes she had on the day she was deported. After living in the U.S. for more than 20 years, Tijuana is not her home, and all she can think about is finding a way back into the States to be with her daughters.

"There's nothing I can do about it now," she says. "We are here and our children are there, and they really need us."

But as far as Vargas and other undocumented mothers are concerned, bringing their kids to Mexico is simply not an option. These women typically spend a couple of weeks at shelters along the border, sharing stories, cooking together, and plotting their return -- even if that means a costly and dangerous journey and risking deportation once again.

Mary Galvan is a social worker at the Tijuana shelter where Vargas is staying.

"We're seeing a lot more women who have been in the States for more than 20 to 30 years," says Galvan, claiming that this trend is tied to an increase in deportations to Mexico. "Once they're deported, the only thing that interests them is finding a way to get back to be with their children again."

But Galvan says it's increasingly difficult for that to happen.

"Parents need to show that they have a solid home, and a solid job; that they've taken parenting classes. Things that wouldn't take you less than a year to fulfill."

Back in San Diego, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, says the agency follows standard procedures and takes the children left behind into careful consideration.

"We always give them the opportunity to make the decision on their own: Do you want to take the kids with you, or what do you want to do?" states Robin Baker, ICE Field Office Director for detention and removal operations in San Diego. "But we are not taking sole care givers or both a mother and a father and leaving kids in an empty house. It does not happen," he says.

Over the last year, ICE has carried out almost 400,000 deportations. A recent investigation by the Center for Investigative Reporting and The Washington Post found that in order to reach a quota, ICE fast tracked deportations of people without a serious criminal background, including immigrants like Veronica Vargas. At the same time, government statistics show that immigration judges are turning down a growing number of deportation proceedings, contradicting ICE directives.

Sean Riordan says all this isn't doing much to actually stop the cycle of illegal immigration. He is a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU, in San Diego.

"Common sense says that you don't want that cycle occurring," he says. "You don't want families torn apart in the first place, you don't want to force people to make those difficult choices to violate the law again."

But at the Tijuana shelter for deported women, mothers like Rosamaria Peñaloza say that crossing illegally is the only way. She is the mother of a 4 year old back in the States. And now she sits in a living room at the shelter with another child on the way.

"I had to leave my daughter with her aunt, and that's not the same thing," she says, in between sobs. "It's not easy to get back to the States, but I will. Somehow."

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.


Avatar for user 'smartonetx'

smartonetx | December 15, 2010 at 6:45 a.m. ― 6 years, 3 months ago

ILLEGAL IS ILLEGAL. Sob stories are really getting old around here. Every illegal has a sob story to make weak Americans feel sorry for them so they will forgive their illegal behaviors. All these illegals must be deported A.S.A.P.
Its time for America to Stop illegal entry, and take back our great country from these thieves who sneak in here and steal away our country,neighborhoods,schools, etc...and secure the borders at what ever price. Freedom is not FREE.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | December 15, 2010 at 8:38 a.m. ― 6 years, 3 months ago

And who set these quotas for ICE, the Federal Government? Apparently what I am reading here is NOT EVEN the immigration judges are in agreement with the current administration's campaign. (BTW, deportation hearing are civil and NOT criminal proceedings.)

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | December 15, 2010 at 8:40 a.m. ― 6 years, 3 months ago

Dumboneontx, oh, I wasn't aware that the US was being run by "thieves" that have snuck into the country? Are they under your bed? In your closet?

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'greeneguy'

greeneguy | December 15, 2010 at 11:08 a.m. ― 6 years, 3 months ago

Illegals are really bad in my section of the country (Tennessee). There are estimates that we have upwards of 15,000 illegal aliens from Mexico/Guatemala. What irks us is that they come here and get free medical care, food stamps and welfare housing payments. There is a house in my neighborhood that has 22 people living in it. Almost all are on welfare and seem to be living pretty well. If a causasian loses their job and tries to get the same benefits, they are routinely turned down or made to jump through so many hoops that they eventually give up in frustration.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | December 15, 2010 at 3:31 p.m. ― 6 years, 3 months ago

Greenguy, this is where you need to do at least a little bit of research on the subject, Check Myth # 4 on the following: PDF] IPC 5 Myths PR.inddFile Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat - Quick View
Aug 6, 2005 ... 2 Douglas S. Massey, “International Migration and Economic Development in Comparative Perspective. ..... that focus specifically on undocumented immigrants suggest ..... overcoming five basic myths about immigration.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'JoelleFournier'

JoelleFournier | December 15, 2010 at 10:19 p.m. ― 6 years, 3 months ago

I don't think this story was meant to focus on the politically charged topic of illegal immigrants... I felt like the story was trying to illustrate a different but real situation that most of us don't think about, being illegal yet having 'legal' children. I get that, and I am sure it is hard to be separated from your child and I am hoping there are protocols for such situations.

BUT, I just can't help but feel a bit indifferent when one of the interviewed ladies can't speak English, even badly, for an interview, after 20 years and 3 children born in the States. Please, I am aware that the only reason there are 'illegal' people here is because there is a need for them, opportunity forever drives us. But, I fail to feel sympathy for some one who has lived in a society for 20 years and yet can not communicate in a basic way with that society. I embrace multiculturism, but it goes both ways.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'JoelleFournier'

JoelleFournier | December 15, 2010 at 10:24 p.m. ― 6 years, 3 months ago

ps - KPBS, you MUST edit your document above to reflect that some of the dialogue is in Spanish, not spoken in English

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'peaceandjustice'

peaceandjustice | December 15, 2010 at 11:40 p.m. ― 6 years, 3 months ago

Is it really necessary to separate a five head family because of a violation that accured 20 or more years ago? I think that is deeply inhumane and unethical. The Federal Government, the people we elect, failed to accomplish better results in their development politics towards poorer countries to the south over more than a century. The same Federal Government fails to launch a comprehensive immigration policy for the last 60 years. And now the agents of that from us elected Federal Government separate families and disturb lives of inocent children, showing that the government's enforcement policies are failing as well. Human crisis and suffering of any size was always and mainly caused by failed or aggressive policies of governments, democratic and dictatorial a like. Lets common sense rule this country, and lets stop these "clean cut" and "fast track" policies. There must be a smarter way to deal with this administrative problem, caused by a economical situation. And btw, become a friend of a person with foreign documents (they are NOT undocumented), and you will see why many do not speak much English after many years. Maybe we are just not welcoming towards them or not multicultural interested or both.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'JoelleFournier'

JoelleFournier | December 16, 2010 at 9:47 p.m. ― 6 years, 3 months ago

No, it is not necessary to break up a family, it never is. And if you listened to the story, INS provides the family members a choice. And it is completely an economical problem, I strongly agree. Yet, I have lived in other countries and have also faced being 'not welcomed', that is no reason to not report the full dialouge of the story. Not being able to speak in the language of your host country after 20 years only makes the situation even more one sided and sensational. I am only tired of sensational stories, not the unethical realities of so many countries.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'peaceandjustice'

peaceandjustice | December 17, 2010 at 6:50 p.m. ― 6 years, 3 months ago

"Put a real hurt on them" as AAA suggests is not the way a modern, democratic, ethical, nation under one Chritian God, as we define our U.S.A. should treat any living creature on this planet. That would be an approach of a totalitarian state or of a terrorist organization or of a violent gang or worst. The better and successful way can only be to help the nations in the south to develop their countries. We have to focus on that. Instead of building a $700+ billon border fence, this mony would do a tremendous amount of development in the southern states. And AAA are you ready to clean toilets, haul trash, cut grass, cook in restaurants, wipe tables, here in the U.S.A. for $8.25 per hour, after you "got rid of them"? Regards the language: the interview was taken in Tijuana by a Spanish speaking interviewer. The woman might speak a little English at least. In Latino culture the woman stays home and interacts exlusively with their close friends and family. The man goes out work and he has it easier to learn the language. It is very common, that after many years the kids are fluent in English, the husband speaks okay and the woman understands, but is to shy to speak. Regards seperating family: okay ICE gives the option "take kids or leave them". The problem is that the Mexican Immigration Authorities do not allow the kids born in the U.S. to cross the border southwards right away. They have to apply for dual citizenship and proof residence in Mexico. That needs several months or a year to accomplish, so for these mothers and kids there is no option. The only way to reunite is for the mother or father to cross the border again. The laws between the "friends" U.S.A and Mexico do not match the way that the families can stay together. Thats why we (Federal Agencies) have to stop the deportation of parents with kids, who are U.S. citizens. It is unhuman and antichristian and unethical. That is why U.S. Senat votes on the dream act tomorrow. Call your Congress representative and ask to vote "YES" on the dream act. Call 866-587-6101

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'VTCA'

VTCA | December 27, 2010 at 2:52 p.m. ― 6 years, 2 months ago

Since when do we get to pick and chose what laws we follow? I don't want to stop for pedestrians, so I chose to harm other people by ignoring this rule, and that's okay? If a law is truly outdated, then change it. If it's not, and it's there for a good reason, you don't get to ignore and selectively hear what you want just because you feel entitled to do so, no matter what your sad story is (we all have one anyway). People are allowed, and will always be allowed, to legally come to live in this country. It's those who decide they are above those laws and feel justified in ignoring them that are causing themselves the problem such as the one in the story. Don't do the crime, you won't have to pay the time!!

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | December 29, 2010 at 11:23 a.m. ― 6 years, 2 months ago

For VTCA, notsmartontx and others: "Until THERE IS NO FUNCTIONAL NEED FOR IT, you will not stop it. And the one who thinks just because yu pass a law, people adhere to that law, wel this has NEVER been and NEVER will be. The point of is that laws are nothing more than crystalized traditions." -- E. R. Stoddard, sociologist, quoted in IMMIGRATION AND THE MEXICAN NATIONAL, (Border Research Inst, Trinity University, 1978), Guy Poitrus, editor.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'tucanofulano'

tucanofulano | January 2, 2011 at 7:42 p.m. ― 6 years, 2 months ago

These are not "immigrants". These are "criminals". These are "illegal aliens". These writers of such sob stories obviously are not reporters, but "repeaters" of the trash talk put out by 'LaRaza' and other foreign political influence peddlers. The dame in TJ could bring her kid(s) from Calif. to T.J. (if she actually wanted to). instead of bleating. Grow up! You've done the crime, now do the time!

( | suggest removal )