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Students Suffer When Deportation Tears Families Apart


Aired 5/17/10

Research shows there are approximately five million U.S. children with at least one undocumented parent. Many of those children live in California and go to local public schools and colleges. Teachers say these students usually keep their family's identity a secret until a loved one is deported.

Research shows there are approximately five million U.S. children with at lea...
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Above: Research shows there are approximately five million U.S. children with at least one undocumented parent. Many of those children live in California and go to local public schools and colleges.

Eduardo Ochoa teaches a ninth grade social justice class at Lincoln High Scho...
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Above: Eduardo Ochoa teaches a ninth grade social justice class at Lincoln High School. He says students' lives are turned upside-down when a loved one is deported.

— Three teenage boys hang out after a long day at school. They're getting ready for dinner at a friend's house. The conversation revolves around girls and the upcoming weekend.

The three friends go to the same high school in San Diego. They have something else in common – their family members are undocumented immigrants.

“It's my mom, my dad, and myself,” said Jonathon, an 18-year-old who asked his family name not be revealed for fear of getting caught.

His black hair compliments his light green eyes. Jonathon's parents crossed the border from Mexico when he was just a small boy. He's lived in San Diego most of his life.

Now that Jonathon's a teenager, his parents warn him not to tell his friends or teachers about his status. His family and relatives have become pseudo-informants for one another, helping each other avoid certain areas and places where authorities might be.

Even so, Jonathon says many of his aunts, uncles and cousins have been deported more than once.

“Like always, they come back because its harder for them to get a job (in Mexico), to have work for their families, to have food for their families. It's been rough,” Jonathon said.

Jonathan has to comfort his baby nieces, nephews and cousins as they deal with the trauma of losing their parents. He says he constantly worries about his own parents getting deported. He gets anxious any time they're late from work.

“I think about what am I going to do? What about my sisters? What about my little niece? How do we get support? Sometimes it's really chaotic.”

Jonathon's fear is real. The Urban Institute did a report on the number of children separated from one or both parents as a result of immigration enforcement. Researchers found that for every two immigrants apprehended, one child was left behind.

They say that suggests potentially thousands of children have been separated from their parents as a result of immigration enforcement activities.

Despite the numbers, there isn't a lot of research about the academic, social and emotional toll that deportation has on the children of immigrant families.

Eduardo Ochoa is a ninth grade teacher at Lincoln High School in San Diego. He says he knows about it all too well.

“They're invisible. They're everywhere but they're nowhere. They have to hide their identity,” said Ochoa.

Ochoa says the issue hits close to home because his family crossed the border when he was just a year old. Ochoa says in his class almost every month another student's life is turned upside down.

He recalls one teenage girl who was crying in class. She revealed her family's status after he spoke with her outside of the classroom.

“She told me that her dad was taken. She was mad, angry, sad, disappointed, and didn't understand. Now her whole family was torn apart,” Ochoa recalled.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials say most immigrant parents who are deported make the hard decision to keep their U.S. born children here. Ochoa says that's because many parents want their kids to get a good education.

He says those kids are often left to find a new home. Many of them turn to their relatives, like an aunt or grandmother.

Other students become the primary caretakers, in charge of raising their younger sisters or brothers. And still others have no other family to turn to and enter the foster care system.

Ochoa says going to school and doing well in class becomes an afterthought.

“Their grades plummet. They don't want to do work. There is no way you're going to expect a 13 or 14-year-old to concentrate on math, history or English when there are all these things going on in their head,” Ochoa said.

Guermillo Gomez is Ochoa’s colleague at Lincoln High School. He is also a ninth grade teacher.

Gomez says students open up to him and Ochoa because they can relate to their backgrounds and experiences. Gomez came to California as a refugee from El Salvador.

Gomez says he gets frustrated the school district hasn't done more to help these kids when a parent is taken away.

“It's a dehumanizing feeling,” Gomez said. “Some of our students feel shame of being immigrants. They feel shame for being Mexican. Students carry that with them and some students don't bounce back.”

Ochoa and Gomez believes the trauma that these students' experience might help to explain the Latino dropout rate in high school.

They both have a new mission. Ochoa and Gomez want to get kids talking more about their cultural identity and help students develop support systems so they don’t have to struggle alone.

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | May 17, 2010 at 1:52 p.m. ― 6 years, 10 months ago

Not again. KPBS publishes another horribly biased and one-sided article. This is why I no longer donate to KPBS.

How about a contrary point of view? KPBS is about as fair and balanced as Fox News. In fact, I see them as no different in their lack of journalistic integrity.

The enforcement of immigration law in this country is not an evil that makes "Students Suffer When Deportation Tears Families Apart" as the title implies. Openly breaking laws and then calling for sympathy when there are consequences is just ludicrous.

Illegally entering this country and then stealing benefits like free primary education is wrong, both morally and legally. In fact, it is a slap in the face to all legal immigrants who waited in line, paid fees, and filled out countless forms. When is KPBS going to do a story on legal immigrants and how they suffer when illegal aliens walk past them, not just cutting in line, but ignoring it altogether?

Shameful KPBS, just shameful. NO MORE DONATIONS TO YOU.

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Avatar for user 'JupiterBJammin'

JupiterBJammin | May 17, 2010 at 5:45 p.m. ― 6 years, 10 months ago

Dear KPBS,

Thank you for calling attention to the above reported subject. The story really hit close to home because I grew up with the same kind of angst that many of these sons and daughters of undocumetned immigrants experience. When I was a teenager, I used to live with the day-to-day with the reality that federal agents were going to take my mom because she was at the wrong place at the wrong time. There were days when I was terrified for my mom to get on the bus or trolley because we had heard that immigration officials were rounding up people off public transportation. Since then I have been fortunate to supercede these hardships.
I am doubtful that listeners who disagree now with me would say differently if they were placed under the same intense economic pressure to abruptly leave their home; go to foreign country where you don't speak the language; know that
you'd be denied access to many opportunities because of your status because
couldn't wait 10 years to feed your family so you could immigrate the "moral" way; then find yourself living like a fugitive hoping that today's trip to the grocer wasn't going to be the last time you'd see your family. What IS moral is caring about the basic dignity of all human beings. What should be illegal is being OK with the idea of tearing children from their parents who have otherwise not comitted any violent-, property-, monetary-, or drug-realted crime. Deportation causes immeasurable econimic and emotional hardhips to children who never had any say in the matter.

As for the above listener, don't worry KPBS, I'll continue to support to you :)

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | May 17, 2010 at 8:21 p.m. ― 6 years, 10 months ago

Sorry JupiterBJammin, but I'm not moved by your story. I work with many legal immigrants and I don't think they would be either. In fact, they get quite angry when they hear stories about the "struggles" of illegal aliens and their children.

Many of these legal immigrants come from just as difficult (if not more) situations as your family did. However, even with all the hardships they encounter, they STILL decide to immigrate the legal way. They have earned my respect a thousand times over for what they have been through.

Your family took the easy way. The illegal way. Thus you disrespect all those who have worked so hard to come to America the legal way. You are saying to them that they are fools for standing in line as you simply walked across the border thumbing your nose at them.

I stand by the legal immigrants with pride, admiration, and respect. They are why I support the Arizona immigration law and why I am calling for a similar law in California. Illegal immigration is wrong and deportation is necessary to protect and respect our legal immigrants. Period.

Until KPBS gives equal time to the stories and opinions of legal immigrants, I will refuse to support KPBS and hope many others do the same.

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Avatar for user 'LaurenW'

LaurenW | May 18, 2010 at 10:05 p.m. ― 6 years, 10 months ago

This article is expressly about how deportation of family members affects children. It is not biased reporting...KPBS didn't fail to report on the children who LIKE having family members deported, or who are unaffected by it, or who feel safe with that constant threat. Those children don't exist! Not every article is about YOUR point of view. This article gives voice to a group of people who are rarely heard, and helps me better understand their experience. Thank you KPBS.

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Avatar for user 'RobertK'

RobertK | May 19, 2010 at 9:11 a.m. ― 6 years, 10 months ago

Must agree with CaliforniaDefender in many regards.

There is such a thing as cause and effect. If there is distress and pain in families because someone has been arrested and deported, it is not the fault of the police, the State or their next door neighbor - it is their own fault, and, their own responsibility.

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Avatar for user 'dherrer1'

dherrer1 | May 19, 2010 at 9:58 a.m. ― 6 years, 10 months ago

As sad as this story is, It still oesn't change my mind about illegal imiigration. I think it is wrong and a actual policy of the Mexican government. The Mexican government believes that america CANNOT survive econonicly with out this flood of illegal immigrants. They find all kinds of data to support this idea and then use it to convince their people to leave and go to "El Norte". These children are a direct result of these policies. Many americans take advantage of these people. They are very happy to run down to the local Home Depot and pick up a few workers to do a project at home knowing full well they are most probally illegal. Separting children from their parents is a horrible thing but what options do we have? The kids for the most part were born here and are "Americans" but their parents are illegal. Unless we hunker down and solve this issue NOW this problem will only get worse. I have mix feelings about SB1070. In reality I don't see what the big issue is. Before SB1070 Federal Authorities used racial profiling during check point inspections all the time. People who Looked illegal were pulled over. Now state and local police will be able to do the same. In the past local police could call for support from Border Patrol agentes if they suspected someones status.... What we need is to rethink our immigration policies and for that matter our foreign policy towards latin america.

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Avatar for user 'scortez'

scortez | May 19, 2010 at 2:25 p.m. ― 6 years, 10 months ago

Dear California Defender,
I am a Mexican immigrant and naturalized American citizen. Your so called "concern and admiration" for legal immigrants is so disingenuous that it sickens me. While I agree that there are legal Mexican immigrants and American citizens of Mexican descent that have opinions like those you mentioned in your message, they are not truly representative of the immigrant community. They are like many Americans that get caught up and buy the hyperbole of the xenophobic, racist and anti-immigrant rhetoric that portrays undocumented immigrants as criminals, who bring drugs and crime to this country. These anti-immigrant groups stir up fears of hordes of lazy "illegals" who simply come to this country to get welfare and steal free social services form hard working Americans. If they would only would stand up in line like all other legal residents did, they cry. So I can see why in this climate even legal immigrants would believe these scary stories.
The fact of the matter is that your tirades are targeting legal immigrants as well. You really hide the fact that your organization like the minutemen are really against all immigrants and that you are reactionary groups that are simply fearful of the changing demographics of states in the southwest.The increasing populations of Americans of Mexican descent scare you. You hide your racist attitudes and xenophobia behind a mantle of fairness and of concern for the "legal immigrants" while in reality you want Mexicans to go away. When your friends like your congressman Duncan Hunter disclose their true feelings that they want to deport so called "anchor babies" even though they are American citizens your true colors are shown. An by the way do you really know how long it takes for people who want to follow the normal immigration rules? How about 123 years in some cases.
An lastly, more evidence of you anti immigrant bias regardless of status. If you are so angry against "illegals" flooding America why don't you vehemently and with the same degree of vitriol attack American corporation and good ol' Americans who continuously hire these workers. SB1070 has provisions that deems criminal and a violation of the law the hiring of undocumented workers. This is the same law that has been in existence for years at the federal level. I want to see your organization publicly decry corporations and your wealthy neighbors who hire these workers under inhuman conditions and paying them indentured laborers' wages. If you apply the same vitriol and disdain for these white collar criminals that you use against the poor and powerless Mexican workers that come to this country because there are jobs to be had, maybe I'll begin to believe that you are serious about solving the illegal immigration problem.

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | May 19, 2010 at 3:34 p.m. ― 6 years, 10 months ago


Just read the post below yours from RobertK. This is about personal responsibility and fairness to legal immigrants. If this was a one time thing with KPBS, then it could slide as an opinion piece. But KPBS has a long history of reporting only on the side of illegal aliens and that is poor journalism. For you to say illegal aliens are rarely heard from is laughably false.


There is only one disingenuous posting here and it follows the name scortez. You are spewing out accusations, assumptions, and conspiracy theories that have no attachment to reality.

First, you claim it is inappropriate to classify illegal aliens as criminals? Then what are they? Permanent tourists? They have broken federal law and are actually felons if you want a specific title to use.I also never once mentioned drug-trafficking or laziness. That is all you.

Second, I have no association with the Minuetmen, anti-immigration groups, or the Republican Party, so give your poorly placed accusations a rest. In fact, I can't stand Duncan Hunter, whom you called a friend of mine. I may agree with the essence of his stance on immigration and his call to deport "anchor babies", but most of his other policies are repulsive.

Lastly, you think I'm not angry with corporations for hiring illegal aliens? Ok, here ya go: Corporations that knowingly hire illegal aliens, even one, should be heavily fined and the CEO arrested and charged with a felony. If the corporation does it again, it should be confiscated, dismantled, and sold at public auction by the state. Individuals that go to Home Depot and hire illegals standing there should be charged with a felony in the same manner as CEOs. Is that enough vitriol and disdain for those employer criminals for you or do I need to recommend a firing squad to satisfy you?

I do have sympathy for illegal aliens who are hired by these corporations and work in fields and factories as practically slaves. This MUST STOP and is a human rights violation. But it does not excuse them from illegally entering the country in the first place.

Satisfied that I'm not a xenophobe yet? Willing to go another round, or have I convinced you illegal immigration is wrong?

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Avatar for user 'dherrer1'

dherrer1 | May 21, 2010 at 10:08 a.m. ― 6 years, 10 months ago

Dear SCortez,
First of all let me declare that I am NOT a minuteman hiding behind a hispanic name to unleash more rasicsts dogma. I am not a xenophoic either. I am familiar with this issue because I grew up with it and have beard witness to it's afects. I do not agree with you that illegal immigrants have not created a crime when they enter illegally..they HAVE and accept it. America like all other countries does have the right to have laws regulating the legal immigration into it's borders and should expect other countries to honor these laws. I also agree that these laws should be enforced, not just with the ilegal immigrants but also the people,corporations that hire them. I worked in manufacturing in an executive position for over 30 years and I can tell you from experience that MOST california corporations and other states look at these people as a resourse and the consequences for hiring them are NONE. In 30 years as a Plant Manager guess how many times I was audited for I9 compliance. ZERO!!!!! How many times was I visited by a Federal agent asking to review our efforts to enforce these laws. ZERO!!!!! Most HR professionals I dealt with knew full well who was legal and who was not. The fact that they had fake documents was enough for them. If not they would just use a Temp Agency who SCREENED these people. I am bilingual and would speak with my workers on a regular basis like every day. They would not hide the fact that they were ilegal....they knew that fake documents would cover them for years. We need to enforce ALL of our laws in a efficient and non-discrimetory manner. I know this is possible. The other point I have is that we must realise that this is a MEXICAN problem and not a US problem. Mexico needs to start to solve it's issues. We as Americans need to be better informed as to what is going on in Mexico and how this will affect us also. Mexicans believe they have a RIGHT to send us their poor....where this idea came from I don't know but we need to address it. Our foreign policy towards mexico and Latin America is a joke and we need to fix it or aat least have one.

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | May 21, 2010 at 10:38 a.m. ― 6 years, 10 months ago

This idea is based on the false premise that a child cannot follow it's deported parent. There is no "tearing apart". If it is that important to stay together, go with them.

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Avatar for user 'KeiMari'

KeiMari | May 21, 2010 at 12:07 p.m. ― 6 years, 10 months ago

KPBS has reported on the otherside of the issue and discussed both sides a lot. At least in my memory. I certainly never hear much about the "illegal side" on those foul 24 hour news channels the majority of people in this country watch.

This country has had problems with illegal immigration since its *creation*. That is the issue that comes with being a nation completely comprised of people who came from "somewhere else" and that has done pretty well for itself to boot. This isn't a "Mexican" or "American" problem. This is a problem for both sides (as recently acknowledged by both presidents). America has practically no pusnishment for when it's own people break the law and we've never truly attempted some kind of more benevolent reform (like international worker programs). As for Mexico? Let's be honest. They're just all kinds of a mess and, frankly, with the drug wars and severe corruption, they've got lots of other things to worry about and that's probably why so many of their citizens want to get the hell out.

My parents came here legally (from a different Spanish speaking country) a couple decades ago and became citzens a little while back (they got tired of not being able to vote) and luckily we've had a pretty smooth experience over all. We're proud Americans, but I know that even American born kids whose parents were legal in my school would have a hard time for "looking" illegal. Meaning their skin was darker than most. We need immigration reform, but racial profiling isn't the way to go and if you're going to get angry about illegals, get angry at ALL of them, including the estimated tens of thousands of illegal Canadians living in the US, too. They actually take jobs Americans *want*. There are a lot of illegal Europeans here too! How about you keep an eye out for the estimated million of illegals from Asian countries too? Or the hundreds of thousands from other parts of the world? Most of who have to do more than just 'run across a stretch of dirt' to get here. I know that they're the majority, but don't focus-fire on one group when there are many other loop-holes, too.

That being said, I find the plight of the kids caught up in all this tragic because it's not even their fault. Most of them have lived in the US their whole lives and if you were a baby brought over, not born here to illegal parents, it's got to be even worse because you're here illegally, but have no real connection to your country of origin other than ancenstry. Can you imagine getting shipped off like that? Also, to benz72, I'm pretty sure you can't deport citizens, especially to a potentially dangerous country. I'd say place them in foster care if their parents are deported, if our foster system weren't already on the verge of imploding...

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | May 21, 2010 at 12:24 p.m. ― 6 years, 10 months ago

I'm not advocating deporting citizens. Deportation is an involuntary action, choosing to leave with a parent who is being deported is not. If one places family association above nationalism (which is a valid personal choice) they are free to go wherever their parents belong.

Also, I believe the immigration laws do require the deportation of illegal immigrants regardless of ethnicity. The laws do not preferentially target Mexicans (to the best of my knowledge, can you point out where they do?). I would hope that Canadians sneaking across the border without authorization are similarly returned to their proper location, and I'm pretty sure my immigrant Canadian wife would agree.

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Avatar for user 'KeiMari'

KeiMari | May 21, 2010 at 2:27 p.m. ― 6 years, 10 months ago

Fair enough, though if the kids were minors they don't have actually have a choice in the eyes of the law. I can't imagine the parents wanting kids to come along anyway if there's another option for them. They *did* try to come here for a reason, after all.

To the second point, I'm merely refering to the fact that in news media and general public opinion, when people hear "illegal" they think "Mexican" and don't really register that there are others out there. To me, it's like saying "American" and thinking "Anglo". White European-decendent American might be the majority, but there is a whooooole lot of variety.

Yes the laws of a country are *laws* but people are people and enforcement of those laws is always different. To give an example, blacks were given the right to vote after emancipation. That was the law, but all over the south they were subject to ludicris "voting tests" because the people at that time did not actually want them voting. Please realize I'm not trying to draw a situational comparison, just hoping to make clear what I mean by laws might say one thing, but people don't strictly follow.

Just me saying that it seems people actively seek out Mexican (specifically, "Mexican looking") illegals and only barely passively do so for others when the security gaps could be just as large. It's just one point that circles around the Arizona law debate, is all.

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Avatar for user 'Jewel'

Jewel | May 24, 2010 at 8:33 a.m. ― 6 years, 10 months ago

If we had a system of coherent laws that allowed for orderly immigration and family unity from Mexico, many undocumented people would have the proper paperwork. People don't come here without documentation because it's fun or they have a vicious desire to flaunt the law. There aren't coherent laws for them to follow. It's usually the only way. In my family, there is one person who is the son of a citizen, the husband of a citizen, and the father of two citizens. He legally employs a citizen. Under current laws, he cannot adjust his status. Current laws also trap people on this side of the border who might move back to Mexico or keep thier families in Mexico, but fear they'll never see their family members on the other side of the border again. People who talk about "illegals" don't even know what or who they are talking about and base their judgements on stereotypes and ignorance. The undocumented person in question could be the student graduating from high school or college, could be the owner of your favorite store/business. There is a false stereotype that undocumented people are all day laborers or gardeners. (Congressman Brian Bilbray says you can tell an "illegal" by his shoes. In fact, you can't. It may be the person with the perfect English- the person you'd never suspect.)

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