How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Why it's so hard to obtain legal status, even through marriage and family

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A recent series of posts explored the immigration limbo lived by families of mixed status, families in which some members are U.S. citizens and/or legal residents while others remain undocumented, unable to adjust their immigration status in spite of family and marriage ties to the United States.

Mixed-status families are surprisingly common. In 2009, the Pew Hispanic Center estimated there were 8.8 million people living in families of mixed immigration status in the United States. This makes for a conservative estimate, as Pew’s definition was limited to families with unauthorized immigrants and their U.S. citizen children. Even more common are mixed-status extended families, one example being the Kenyan-born family of President Obama, whose undocumented half-uncle was arrested in August, and whose aunt was up for deportation until being granted asylum.

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Life in a mixed-status family: 'Paperwork takes years'

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A recent series provided a glimpse into what it's like to live in a family of mixed immigration status, a family in which some members are U.S. citizens or legal residents while others - a spouse, a parent, a sibling, an adult child - remain undocumented.

Several people recently submitted their personal stories via KPCC’s Public Insight Network, which solicits input from the public on specific topics, and five of these were featured in a weeklong series of posts.

But the stories have kept coming and are worth sharing. More recently, those contributing them have delved into other aspects of the immigration process, including how difficult it is to obtain legal status or come to the U.S. legally in the first place.

Among these is Jill, a U.S.-born Las Vegas resident whose mixed-status story has a happy ending. Her formerly undocumented husband, brought here from Mexico when he was nine years old, became a legal U.S. resident in 2009. Herself the child of a legal resident from Canada, she no longer worries that her spouse could be deported at any time. But getting to that point was a frustrating experience, Jill writes, and other family members remain in immigration limbo:

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Five personal stories of life in mixed-status families

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What is it like to live in a family in which you're a U.S. citizen, but your spouse, one of your parents, a sibling, an uncle or aunt, even one of your children is undocumented?

During the past week, Multi-American has presented a series of first-person stories from people in families like these. Families of mixed immigration status are surprisingly common. In 2009, the Pew Hispanic Center estimated there were 8.8 million people living in mixed-status families in the United States.

This makes for a conservative estimate, as Pew’s definition was limited to families with unauthorized immigrants and their U.S. citizen children. Even more common are mixed-status extended families, one example being the Kenyan-born family of President Obama, whose undocumented half-uncle was arrested in August, and whose aunt was up for deportation until being granted asylum.

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Life in a mixed-status family: 'People...don't believe me when I tell them he can't get papers'

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This latest in a series of first-person stories from people in families of mixed immigration status comes from Alison Gamez, a U.S. citizen in Arizona whose husband is undocumented. Now in deportation proceedings, he was unable to adjust his status, even through marriage.

It's a common misperception that this is easily done. The reality is that while those who entered with temporary visas and overstayed illegally stand a decent chance of legalizing through marriage, tighter immigration laws have made it nearly impossible for those who entered without visas to adjust their status, even when they marry a citizen.

Gamez's story joins several that Multi-American has published in the past week from members of mixed-status families, including stories from the U.S. citizen daughter of undocumented parents, the legal-resident brother of undocumented siblings, and a woman born in Kansas City whose domestic partner is undocumented.

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Life in a mixed-status family: 'The media speak about their parents as if they were sub-human'

Photo by freeformkatia/Flickr (Creative Commons)


A series of posts that began last week has related the personal stories of people in families of mixed immigration status, families composed of a blend of U.S. citizens and/or legal residents and undocumented immigrants, sometimes living under one roof. It's a common phenomenon in the United States that also tends to stay secret, seldom disclosed beyond the family.

So far, the people who have sent their stories in to KPCC’s Public Insight Network have been members of mixed-status families, among them a young U.S. citizen woman whose parents have never been able to legalize their immigration status, the legal-resident brother of undocumented siblings who came here as minors, and a woman born in Kansas City whose partner is undocumented. All shared a common thread: What other families take for granted - taking a trip, for instance - isn't something that mixed-status families do easily, if at all.

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