Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Mixed status: 'Many people just don't understand what families in my position are'

A mural at the Cento Cultural de La Raza in San Diego, June 2008.
A mural at the Cento Cultural de La Raza in San Diego, June 2008.
Photo by San Diego Shooter/Flickr (Creative Commons)

A couple of posts in the last month or so have addressed the mixed-status family, a phenomenon that is all too common in the United States.

In a country where a high demand for family reunification means it can take many years to obtain an immigrant visa through the legal channels, if at all, families with undocumented relatives aren't hard to find. Even the president has an undocumented uncle, and the governor of New Mexico has admitted that her grandparents came without papers.

The Pew Hispanic Center estimated in 2009 that there were 8.8 million people living in families of mixed immigration status in the United States, and this is just families composed of unauthorized immigrants and their U.S. citizen children. That number grows when extended family is factored in. For families in which there is an undocumented spouse, parent, sibling or other close relative, activities that others take for granted - taking a trip out of town, signing up for employer-paid health insurance - are fraught with anxiety, or simply not done.

A couple of weeks ago, a reader named Jennifer who responded to a post about a new federal deportation policy wrote of the difficulty her family faces: Her husband, in the U.S. illegally since he was a child, hasn't been able to adjust his immigration status, and it colors their daily existence. An excerpt from her comment:

I have no problem sending back some guy who just crossed the border on his own two feet and was working, committed a crime, and was arrested. Send those back. The fact that my husband and I are experiencing the same hardship is the reason I've been crying daily for 10 years.

He came here as a child only 6 years old. His aunt (a legal U.S. citizen) raised him and he knows no other family. Now we are facing his possible deportation and he has been in America almost 25 years. People think its so easy but for us we have kids, I'm in a situation where I don't know what to do. I separated when I found out, but I was homeless after paying $2,000 in child care expenses and it made sense to go to work and have him care for the kids.

I have my children on private benefits with my employer and would love to add him, as I could afford it even without him working. I'm saving and waiting for the day he is sent back because I won't have the support system to work out here. My kids are on all the waiting lists for free after school care but I doubt they will get any help. Many people just don't understand what families in my position are. I am a U.S. citizen and sending him back to his home country would mean my children would have to stay.


There are many other families like Jennifer's, in which people who live in the shadows are the spouses, parents, siblings and sometimes even the children of U.S. citizens and legal residents. Many have tried to adjust their status but can't, even through marriage.

Are you part of a mixed-status family? If you are, and you feel comfortable sharing your experience on this site, please do so below.