Divided Families

Divided Families: Left Behind,1130


NOTE: Video is available. This story is intended to run alongside the story Divided Families: American At Heart.

Cronkite News Service

RIMROCK, Ariz. _ Humberto was getting ready to go to school one morning when he heard the police bang on the front door.

“It’s them,” his brother said, looking through the living room window at Immigration and Customs Enforcement minivans.

The officers showed Humberto’s family what they expected to see _ documents ordering that his mother and two older brothers be deported.

While the three changed out of their pajamas and packed some clothes, police asked 15-year-old Humberto for his name.

“Don’t say anything,” his brother told him.

A few minutes later, Humberto, his grandmother, two younger brothers and a younger sister watched officers handcuff his mother and two older brothers. His little sister started bawling when she realized they were being taken away. Humberto tried hard to hold back his own tears and show his mom that he was going to be OK.

He turned his anger on the officers. “Thanks for taking my family,” he muttered sarcastically.

“You’re welcome,” one of the officers retorted.

On that April morning a year ago, Humberto watched the minivan carrying his family disappear down the street. He hasn’t seen his mother and older brothers since.

The Decision to Stay

Humberto came to the United States when he was 3 months old. He prefers Big Macs to burritos. For him, moving to Mexico would be a shock, he said in an interview at his home here.

“I don’t feel Mexican,” he said in perfect English.

This article withholds the last name of Humberto’s family to protect his identity.

Between his mother’s job as a maid and his brothers’ work in construction, Humberto and his siblings were able to study and have a comfortable life in this small town about 90 minutes north of Phoenix.

“Imagine having a good life and them taking it away from you,” he said.

Like any American high school freshman, Humberto enjoys going to the mall and watching TV as well as exploring the mountains near his home. He and his friends shoot baskets together and play video games.

In fact, Humberto would like to create his own video games someday. “I want to go to college to get a degree in technology and work for a design company,” he said.

Humberto knows that he will not be able to get a college education or become a video game designer in Mexico. He may not be able to find a job at all. That’s why, when his mother sent for his three younger siblings a few months after her deportation, he stayed with his grandmother here.

“To be able to hug my mom would be one of the best moments ever,” he said, his eyes teary as he looked around an empty home. “But to go over there breaks the chance of residency here.”

Divided Families

Humberto’s family is only one of many around the country broken up by deportations. Families are divided because one or more children are U.S.-born citizens and remain in this country when their parents are deported.

Humberto is a rare case: a child here illegally who was simply lucky enough _ or young enough _ not to be questioned.

Fugitive Deportation Operations is one of the federal efforts created to make sure illegal immigrants with deportation orders do leave the country. Composed of Immigration and Customs Enforcement deportation officers, its teams come to the homes of illegal immigrants and sometimes arrest entire families. Many times, those families are separated, said Evelyn Cruz, an immigration law professor at Arizona State University.

“Cases such as this one happen every day,” Cruz said.

Cecilia Menjivar, an assistant professor of sociology at ASU, fears that children in Humberto’s situation could be scarred for life.

“Think about the trauma of your parents dying, in addition to the stress of being illegal,” she said. “The impact is the difference between life and death almost.”

Lynn Marcus, director of the Immigration Law Clinic at the University of Arizona, said it’s not just the children left behind who are hurt _ it’s those who are forced to return to a country they barely know.

“It’s completely mind-boggling to envision adjusting to a culture and a city that’s not your own when your country is the U.S.A.,” she said.

‘It’s All on Me Now’

Humberto said he couldn’t eat or sleep after his mother and older brothers were deported.
“It feels like I don’t have anyone to look after me any more,” he said. “But I still need a mom.”

Humberto said he has had to give up much of his free time to help around the house. He does the grocery shopping and pays the bills since his grandmother doesn’t speak English.

“It’s all on me now,” he said.

Since neither Humberto nor his grandmother can drive, they have to rely on neighbors to give them rides to buy food and medicine. He also had to give up basketball because his brothers aren’t around to drive him to practice.

“It’s really hard because I know I have to grow up,” Humberto said. “But it seems like I’m getting older a little too fast.”

Humberto, who is 16 now, said he misses his brothers being around to help him with homework.

“I used to have a hard time (with algebra), but my brothers helped me,” he said. “Now I’m in geometry, and it’s really something different to have to do it by myself.”

The Future

Elias Bermudez, leader of the Phoenix-based organization Immigrants Without Borders, said he believes that any hardships Humberto may have to face alone in the United States is better than the life he would have in Mexico with his family.

“If he goes back to Mexico, he will suffer greatly,” Bermudez said. “Just waking up every morning and looking around is depressing.”

Although it may seem impossible that Humberto’s family will ever be able to reunite in Arizona, Bermudez said they shouldn’t lose hope. He believes that the increasing number of illegal immigrants being deported will affect the U.S. economy and lawmakers will then realize how necessary immigrants are to the labor force.

“There will be an uproar of activity to deal with this issue,” he said. “Then these families will be coming back through the ports of entry, not through the desert.”

As for Humberto, regardless of what new immigration policies might come, he said he will never lose hope that his family will be together again.

“I used to tell my mom all the time that I’d buy her a house with a garden and that she would have a really nice car,” he said. “I just want to take care of my mom.”


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Humberto, right, helps his grandmother babysit for extra money. Humberto, 16, was left behind with his grandmother when his mother and brothers were deported to Mexico. (Cronkite News Service Photo / Deanna Dent)

The house that Humberto (left) shares with his grandmother is luxurious in comparison to the house his mother and brothers share with other relatives in Ixtapan de la Sal, Mexico. (Cronkite News Service Photo / Deanna Dent)

Humberto plays with the baby his grandmother cares for at their home in Rimrock, Ariz. (Cronkite News Service Photo / Deanna Dent)