My Marriage to an Illegal Immigrant (Part 2) – by Terry Howard

Recently my wife and youngest son were riveted to live images on his laptop of my eight month old granddaughter crawling around on a living room floor pausing occasionally to pull herself on furniture to explore stuff. Although her 9 year old brother was preoccupied in another room, the baby’s 8 year old sister pranced in and out of the screen smiling and waving at us. Like us, their proud mom and dad – my daughter-in-law and son – could be heard laughing and relishing these precious moments.

And for a few seconds later, I conjured up recent images of those immigrant kids on the southern border literally caged up like animals and separated from their parents. Unlike for us – and the majority of native born citizens of the United States – those precious moments are few and far between for those parents.

Okay – before reading further, think on the aforementioned two paragraphs for a few moments from your perspective as a parent and/or grandparent with your loved ones in mind.

Now in Part 1 in this series you met “Nadia” and “Gilberto,” wife and husband in a mixed status marriage. As reported, after years of fighting through the immigration morass and the constant fear of deportation, they finally decided to pack up and relocate to the relative safety of Winnipeg, Canada. In this installment, we’ll broaden the context and explore the size and scope of the immigration issue then deep dive further into the health and financial costs on the families in mixed status marriages.

Size and Scope of the Issue: Most people have heard the statistics. Depending on who you ask, there are approximately 11.5 million undocumented individuals living within the borders of the United States.

Who are these immigrants? 

  • 59% come from Mexico
  • 15% come from South and Central America
  • 10% come from Asian countries
 Some other interesting facts: 
  • 47% are female
  • Only about 50% of the undocumented immigrants who are currently in the U.S. “snuck” across the U.S./Mexico border.
  • There are less undocumented immigrants living in the U.S than there were at the peak of undocumented immigration
  • 9 million people live in mixed-status situations where there is one undocumented adult and at least one citizen child.
  • More than 5 million children live with at least one undocumented parent.
  • More than 4 million U.S. citizen children live with at least one undocumented parent

Health and Financial Consequences 

 When a family member is detained or deported, or even when the parent is still at home, there are tangible, serious health and economic consequences to having an undocumented parent:
  • The adult who is left behind often experiences poorer health and will likely have a shorter life span
  • The children of the undocumented immigrant have increased anxiety and worry about whether their parents will be able to get back together or stay together in the future
  • Parents are less likely to become involved at the children’s schools, which has a negative effect on the educational outcome of children
  • Since undocumented workers are more likely to have high-stress, low-wage jobs, there is an increased stress level at home and can often cause lower cognitive skills in their children
  • It can be very difficult for undocumented teenagers living in a household where their siblings are U.S. citizens, especially as they begin to want to work, drive and go to college. They find that they are unable to do the things that their siblings are legally allowed to do.
  • Even among those undocumented immigrants who manage to “beat the odds” and obtain a college degree, or even an advanced degree, most are not working in their field and are earning a much lower wage than their peers with equal academic achievement.
 One very damaging effect of living in a community of undocumented immigrants is that children can begin to associate all immigrants, both legal and illegal, with the status of the undocumented immigrant. Once this happens it is difficult for the child to have positive associations with his or her own heritage and they can end up disassociating themselves from their own immigrant ancestry.

The Risk of Separation Is Real 

When a person is undocumented, they have no legal right to be in the United States. Even when someone has U.S. citizen children, spouse, or parents, it does not give them any automatic right to remain in the country. Any contact with law enforcement carries an inherent risk – that the person could be arrested and handed over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody.
In addition, undocumented individuals are arrested during routine traffic stops, roadblocks, border patrol checkpoints and during other situations where law enforcement is involved. After passing into ICE custody, the detainee will be held at an immigration detention center. Even when the system is working quickly, and the immigrant does not try to fight the process, deportation can take several months, depending on the number of cases moving through the system at that time.

Okay, think on what’s been written here for a few moments from your perspective as a parent and/or grandparent with your loved ones in mind. Collect your thoughts. Jot down any eye-openers.


NEXT: In PART 3 of this series, “Nadia” will provide a candid look at her daily life in a mixed-status household and the impacts on their work and school and in social situations. (Note: “Gilberto” respectfully declined to offer his perspective).


Terry Howard
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