One Mexican-American Family, Three Legal Statuses

Aug 27, 2013
Originally published on August 27, 2013 3:02 pm

Among the millions of immigrant families living in the United States, many have mixed legal status.

One family member may be here illegally, another might have a temporary permit and another may be a U.S. citizen. This creates uncomfortable disparities within families.

From the Here & Now Contributors Network, Mónica Ortiz Uribe of Fronteras Desk – in collaboration with the online news organization New Mexico In Depth – has the story of one such family.

Cynthia Alba, 19, entered the country illegally when she was a toddler and now qualifies for President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Her mother remains undocumented and her sister is a U.S. citizen.


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Well, with Syria and the federal debt ceiling at the top of the agenda in Washington, immigration may not be the first priority when Congress returns from recess. That means more waiting for millions of immigrant families living in the U.S., many of whom have mixed legal status. One member may be here illegally. Another might have a temporary permit, and yet another may be a U.S. citizen. From the HERE AND NOW Contributors Network, Monica Ortiz Uribe has the story of one family's dilemma.


MONICA ORTIZ URIBE, BYLINE: At a pizza joint in Las Cruces, New Mexico, a father and daughter fire fake plastic guns at a video game screen. A few feet away, some teenagers trade tickets for glitter bracelets. This is a favorite hangout for Cynthia Alba, a 19-year-old Mexican immigrant who entered the United States illegally when she was just a toddler.

CYNTHIA ALBA: So I remember playing in my grandmother's garden with some little plastic toys.

URIBE: That was Alba's last memory of her birth country. She left with her mother, who was escaping an abusive relationship. They moved in with a relative in New Mexico, and Alba's mother worked cleaning houses. Last year, Alba qualified for President Obama's deferred action program, which puts off deportation proceedings for immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children. Up until now she couldn't get a job, pay for college, or afford medical care.

ALBA: I get to fight for everything. Everything, you know, getting glasses, getting attention to your teeth, for everything.

URIBE: An old, unattended knee injury now means Alba walks around with a limp. She hasn't gotten new glasses in more than two years. Meanwhile her half-sister, Andrea Munoz, was born in this country. As a U.S. citizen, she qualifies for Medicaid and is able to get braces and see a doctor regularly. Munoz is 15 years old, shy, with pink and purple hair. She says her older sister's situation make her feel helpless.

ANDREA MUNOZ: I get all this stuff that's like, oh, yeah. We'll pay for your teeth, your braces or your glasses or your doctor's appointment. And she can barely go to the doctor, because she doesn't have that. And I find it unfair, because she's human, and she has a right to health.

URIBE: Both sisters also worry about their mother, who remains undocumented. Now that Alba has deferred action, she has a temporary work permit and recently got a job as a Spanish interpreter. She'll soon get health care benefits from her employer, but her long-term future is still a big question mark.

ALBA: I don't know what I'll be doing in 10 years. I'm just scared of next year in December, because that's when my deferred action runs out.

URIBE: The Pew Hispanic Center estimates there are some nine million people in a mixed-status family, which includes members without legal documentation, as well as U.S. citizens. In the southern district of New Mexico, represented by Republican Congressman Steve Pearce, the Pew Center estimates there are 19,000 young immigrants that qualify for deferred action. Sarah Nolan leads a faith-based organization in Las Cruces that works with immigrant families.

SARAH NOLAN: And a few months ago, Representative Pearce voted to defund deferred action and expedite their removal. And these are students and young adults that are really contributing and wanting to be professionals in our country and stay in New Mexico.

URIBE: In a letter to Nolan's organization, Representative Pearce said it's unfair to reward those who broke the law by allowing them to remain in the United States. He opposes a path to citizenship for more than 11 million immigrants here illegally. Pearce is among the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives who hold this position. He supports tackling immigration in numerous separate bills, as opposed to one single, comprehensive bill. For HERE AND NOW, I'm Monica Ortiz Uribe, reporting from Las Cruces, New Mexico.

HOBSON: Our story was produced with New Mexico in Depth, an investigative online news organization that collaborates with the Fronteras Desk on New Mexico stories. Coming up next: a unique summer camp that allows kids to spend time with their dads who are in prison. That's next. You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.