STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
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A plan for the kids in case Mom is deported

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents making arrest in Dearborn.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents making arrest in Dearborn.

Miguel and Angel are brothers and they pretty much disagree on everything: TV shows, music, games, even the way they dress. But that stuff’s all pretty minor compared to the big disagreement they have over where they should go if their mom is deported back to Mexico.

Miguel is 14-years old and a proud mama’s boy. He says he never wants to separate from his mom and will go with her to Mexico even though he’s only visited there once, when he was three.

Big brother Angel, who's 15, says he wants to stay here in the U.S. and finish studying.

“If I finish school here,” he says, “I’ll have a better opportunity to help my mom out in Mexico.”

Angel and Miguel were born here in the United States, along with their four younger siblings.

Their mom is undocumented, she came to America illegally 18 years ago (her husband’s also undocumented), and while she prays every night that she won’t get picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), if she does, she has a plan.

The Trump administration recently released new plans to crackdown on undocumented immigrantsliving in the U.S. Fear has swept through immigrant communities, and parents are being advised to have a plan in place for their kids in case they are detained or deported.

... if he comes home one day and she isn't there, he would immediately "go grab the binder and just call my family ..."

Angel and Miguel’s mom wrote down their family’s plan in a black, three-ring binder, which they keep in a closet.

Angel says his mom is always there when they get home from school, so if he comes home one day and she isn’t there, he would immediately “go grab the binder and just call my family here [to see] if they know what happened to my mom.”

He says if his extended family doesn’t know, he would call up a friend who’s a police officer and “have him come to the house and help us out and like take care of us and what happened to my mom and where she is.”

Angel’s mom, whose name we’re not using because she’s worried about being deported, says she gave her two oldest boys instructions on what to do and who to call if she’s detained and put in jail. She also put a notarized letter in the binder. It gives her cousin, an American citizen, power of attorney to take care of Angel, Miguel and their younger brothers and sister until they can be reunited with their mom in Mexico.

The two boys’ three youngest siblings are mostly unaware of the panic setting in around them, and their mom wants to preserve that sense of innocence for as long as possible.

She says she doesn’t like to talk about the situation with them.

"... if they were older I would not worry, but they still need me."

“I don’t like to see them crying, so for that reason I try to avoid that conversation. I felt horrible when I touched this conversation with the three older kids because even though they are older they would cry and hug me,” she says through tears of her own.

“I understand that I am in a country that is not mine, but it is the country of my children. So if they were older I would not worry, but they still need me. I would like to wake up tomorrow and say, 'wow, all this was a nightmare, nothing happened,' but it is not so,” she says.

There are more than 11 million undocumented immigrants estimated to be in the United States, and another five million or so kids born here in the U.S. who have at least one undocumented parent.   

Preparing Your Family For Immigration Enforcement booklet screen shot
Credit Michigan Immigrant Rights Center
This booklet details how parents can make a plan for their kids in case they're detained or deported.

Ruby Robinson is a lawyer with the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center. He says his office has been flooded with calls from parents who are worried about their kids.

He gives them a free booklet with details on how to make a plan and what to include. Things like who to call, where to go, lists of medications and important phone numbers.

The booklet, called Preparing Your Family For Immigration Encounters, also includes a sample power of attorney that says “in case I’m not here, so and so has the ability to care for my kid, and that power of attorney would be valid for six months,” explains Robinson.

The booklet is currently only available in Spanish and English, but Robinson says they will soon offer versions in Bengali, French and Arabic.  

Adonis Flores is with Michigan United, an immigrants’ rights advocacy group. He says his organization is also encouraging families to have a list of reliable immigration attorneys’ numbers on hand, and to get their children registered at the consulate of the parents’ home country, “so that if the children were to be taken to that country, they would have full rights as a citizen of that country.”

He says it’s also essential to make sure all documents like birth certificates and passports are in a safe location where they can be easily accessed by a trusted friend or family member.

If families don't make a plan for their kids and no one is able to legally step in and take care of them, it’s likely the state would place those kids in foster care.  

Jennifer is a reporter with Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project. She previously covered arts and culture for the station, and worked as a producer for WFUV in the Bronx.
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