The overlooked plight of American-born children of undocumented immigrants.
In a compassionate, heartbreaking book based on extensive research, Zayas (Mental Health and Social Policy/Univ. of Texas; Latinas Attempting Suicide: When Cultures, Families, and Daughters Collide, 2011) describes the lives of some 4.5 million American children living in constant fear that their immigrant parents, here illegally, will be deported. In one of many case studies, an 11-year-old girl says of her parents, “one day, they can just take them away, like that, in a second.” As a result, such anxious children must keep silent regarding their family secrets, learning to follow parental rules—“Don’t talk,” “Sit still”—so as not to draw the unwanted attention of authorities. With deportations now at the highest level since 9/11, the children are U.S. citizens (by virtue of their birth here) but are “made to feel illegitimate and flawed” due to their parents’ undocumented status. They become collateral damage when one or both parents are deported, breaking up the family, with tragic results. Furthermore, some children must live as de facto exiles in strange, impoverished, often violent countries; others remain in the U.S. as orphans living with friends or relatives or in government welfare care. Zayas tells the stories of immigrant families from throughout the country, including some of the hundreds of thousands of citizen-children victimized by the aggressive detention and deportation policies that have been prevalent in the past two decades. Against a brief overview of U.S. immigration policies, the author succeeds nicely in putting a human face on the suffering of children whose stories are lost in debates over illegal immigration. He outlines steps to reform the insensitive enforcement of punitive laws
This valuable look at a national tragedy demands the attention of policymakers.