Children caught in the crossfire of the immigration debate

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – As the push for comprehensive immigration reform continues in this country, children with U.S. citizenship born to undocumented parents face a looming fear that their parents will be detained and deported without any notice while they’re in school.

That fear couldn’t be hidden from one East Tennessee educator working to prepare those kids and their children who are caught in the crossfire of the immigration debate.

“One of my students said to me, “People say go back, where am I supposed to go back to? There’s no place for me to go back because I’ll be killed if I go,’” says educator Karen Latus.

Latus, and educators like her, are coming together hosting workshops for families, preparing for the case their child comes home to find no one there.

“…Is my child going to have dinner tonight? Is my child going to have a place to sleep at night? Who’s going to tell them what happened to me?” says Latus.

One woman left Mexico in 2001. She was a single mother at 19, risking her life simply for the possibility of staying alive here in the U.S.

“I’m worried about going out and being arrested for whatever reason because my children don’t have anybody at all I’m the only person they have,” she said.

While knowing the risks of deportation she agreed to share her story without revealing her face or her name.

“We feel fear,” she says. “I fear for my children. I fear if they have to go to my country then I will not be able to give them an education. I will barely be able to give them a plate of food… here I work hard and I’m not a rich person but we have enough to eat.”

“They would do anything to be able to fill in the right documents, to stand in the right line and those lines don’t exist. Those documents don’t exist,” Latus says.

Until they do, Latus has vowed to step in for a number of children and become that surrogate parent, signing the very papers she’s helping other parents put together.

That is why Latus holds workshops where families can at least print off the most basic power of attorney form online, helping them write down their answers in English and say these are my children. This is what I would want to happen to them and get them notarized hoping they never have to be tested in court.

“The children I know, if they were to face that worst case scenario where they come home and no one is there, then they know, okay they come to my house and they know that we’re going make it through. We’re going to figure it out,” said Latus.

She is helping families right now make the life-altering decision of who will take responsibility for the life of their child.

A second single mother with the same fears says there was nothing in the country she left. After coming to the U.S. from Mexico in 2005 and leaving in 2007, she came back only a year ago.

“I came so that my children wouldn’t have to go through what I went in life,” she says. “Sometimes we had no shoes, sometimes we had nothing to eat, sometimes we had no clothes.  And my children also went hungry several of times because there were no jobs.”

She too still risks deportation.

“For a long time there was kind of this understanding that if you’re keeping your head down and working hard and doing everything you’re supposed to be doing even though there’s not a path to citizenship you’d be okay because the idea was that ICE would be going after criminals and people that were being destructive to the community,” said Latus, who also says things have changed now. “I hold kids sobbing in my arms that are terrified that they will never see their parents again or that they themselves will be sent back to situations where they’ve seen horrific things.”

The Pew Research Center estimated in 2015 there were 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. Latus is part of an organization called Kindred Futures, which was founded by educators in East Tennessee to help undocumented families. They can be contacted at kindredfutures@googlegroups.com.

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