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

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.

Today's post shares a different perspective. It was submitted by Andrew Baron, who works with immigrant and refugee children in grades 5 through 8 in the Portland, Oregon public schools as part of a non-profit school-based program. Many of the students he deals with live in mixed-status Mexican immigrant households, with the older children born in Mexico and younger children born in the U.S. Many of their parents are undocumented. Baron writes about the kids:

Many of my students have a lot of sad issues with their cultural identity, stemming from the kind of hateful things they hear all the time about them and their families. The undocumented population in Portland is pretty big, so there's not as much fear or secrecy as there are kids growing up having to listen to their neighbors and the media speak about their parents as if they were sub-human. That causes lasting damage to kids, and it sucks.

I've found it very difficult to be in a position where you actually have to try explaining to some people the definition of a human being. For many people in our culture, the lack of legal residency has become a great excuse to attack people who are vulnerable. Sadly, I don't think it comes from ignorance. When you ask these people who they imagine picks and slaughters the food they eat, they readily concede that it's mostly done by the very people they categorize as being such a drain on society. I think it comes from a pernicious attitude that's taken hold in the U.S. whereby many people take pride in denying reality and denigrating people less powerful than they are.

As I type, the father of one of my students is sitting in a cell in Tacoma, awaiting deportation after being stopped for a minor traffic violation. Thus far I've written a character letter for him, explaining what a good father and community member he is. I tried to attend his initial hearing, but was told by his wife the judge won't let anyone attend.

I've heard some interesting interviews with farmers and other employers who can't get any Americans to do the difficult work done by undocumented immigrants. You should probably talk more with them. Also, talk to undocumented teenagers who've been led to believe that if they just study hard and follow the rules they'll be rewarded in this country. That has turned out to be a colossal lie, and they're the first to suffer for it.

Do you have a story to share, as a member of a mixed-status family or someone who is familiar with one? Feel free to post comments below, or view the Public Insight Network questions here.