A project of the Center for Community Change

Sentenced Home

Lueon Lum is a father of two, living with his loving wife in a house they’ve recently been able to rent. He’s got a good paying job, and the first of his two little girls is learning to ride a bike and is getting ready to start attending school.  Lueon is a cambodian refugee who was brought here as a little boy- he’s been living in the US as a legal permanent resident, and his wife encouraged him to become a citizen so that he wouldn’t have any status issues as he continues to advance in his work.

Little did he know that applying for citizenship would lead to his deportation.

About a month ago, we told you about the national screenings of the documentary “Sentenced Home”. Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend the DC screening. This important documentary follows the lives of three cambodian refugees, including Lueon, who were deported,or are facing deportation due the the 1996 law that states that any legal permanent resident convicted of an aggravated felony is ineligible for citizenship and can be deported. The 1996 law elminated judicial review and appeals processes for these cases. Thus, there is no way for a legal permanent resident to plead their case based on rehabilitation, circumstances of the crime, or US citizen children.

Lueon Lum fired a gun while in a chase in a mall parking lot when he was a teenager. He served jail time for attempted assault. Nearly a decade later, after starting a family, building a community in his hometown of Seattle, and entering the labor force – he was detained for months in the US, and was eventually deported- separated for the rest of his life from his children and wife. — This isn’t justice. This isn’t making our community any safer. It’s destruction for desctruction’s sake. We must demand that congress reinstate judicial review and appeals for cases such as Lueon’s.

There are currently 1500 cambodian refugees facing deportation. Every 2 months, a new group is deported.

I highly recommend you check out this documentary- and if you know of other documentaries let us know!

I’ ve also included a relevant article below focusing on the lives of US citizen children who are left behind after their parents are deported. 

Deportations strand young U.S. citizens
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Illegal immigrants’ American-born kids have right to stay — but doing so can often mean great hardship

By Michael Martinez
Tribune national correspondent

April 29, 2007

AUSTIN, Texas — With no more than two hours of sleep in 32 hours, Luissana Santibanez found her two lives colliding.

There is Santibanez the 23-year-old senior at the University of Texas who just pulled an all-nighter to complete a paper and cram for a test.

Then there is Santibanez the sudden mother to three siblings, ages 13, 15 and 16. With classes over, she was beginning her second life, cooking dinner and supervising three teenagers with their homework.

When she had a private moment, Santibanez broke down. Sitting on the living room floor with her laptop, she began to cry.

“I get sad sometimes. I know that this is not the way things are supposed to be,” she said. “I’m not supposed to be their mom.”

Santibanez is raising her two brothers and sister because their mother was deported last month after a court ruled she was “a criminal alien”; their father, divorced from their mother, has a new family in Mexico. All four siblings are U.S. citizens.

Their one-bedroom apartment provides a snapshot of how immigrant families are being divided under the federal government’s expanding deportations of illegal immigrants.

Then, like an answered prayer, Santibanez’s cell phone rang. It was Mom. The real mom.

The tears were flowing happily this time. Santibanez used her T-shirt to dab the brine.

“Ay, mom!” Santibanez said to her mother, now living in Mexico. “Donde estabas? What time is it?”

As federal immigration authorities ratchet up enforcement actions such as the one last week at a Little Village market on Chicago’s Southwest Side — critics call them raids — the resulting deportations have highlighted how almost a third of the nation’s 6.3 million so-called unauthorized families are an amalgam of “mixed” status — that is, illegal immigrant parents with at least one child who was born in the U.S. and is therefore a citizen, according to statistics by the Urban Institute and Pew Hispanic Center.

Boosted by special, year-old Immigration and Customs Enforcement teams targeting fugitive illegal immigrants, the deportations have exposed how this illegal-legal status coexists under one roof. There are more than 3 million children who are U.S. citizens living with a parent who is an illegal immigrant, according to the Pew figures.

A difficult choice

Once one or both parents are deported, those children can join them or can remain in the U.S., raising themselves like the Santibanezes or, in other cases, being cared for by relatives.

Their futures are precarious. If the children stay in the United States, they can upon adulthood petition the government to be united with their parents in the U.S. But the parents’ prior deportation is a big strike against them, often resulting in a 10-year ban on return, according to Aarti Shahani, co-founder of Families for Freedom, a defense network for immigrant families facing deportation.

These children are often as Americanized as any in the States, even speaking the patois of their hip-hop generation.

Federal immigration officials do not keep statistics on separated families, but they do cite how the new “fugitive operation teams” are aiming to deport 52,000 illegal immigrants a year, with a goal of 75,000 by year’s end when the number of such teams increases to 75 from 52 nationwide, said ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice.

The teams seek illegal immigrants already ordered deported or convicted of crimes. From May 2006 to February, ICE’s Operation Return to Sender yielded 18,000 arrests, including 527 in Chicago, Kice said.

The family breakups will be a new rallying cry for immigrants and their advocates in protests to be held Tuesday in Chicago and across the country.

The cleaving of families has led to one legislative proposal, by Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.), who since last year has sought to give immigration judges more leeway to keep illegal immigrant parents in this country with their U.S.-born children.

In a subcommittee hearing led by Serrano in March, federal appellate court Judge Julia Gibbons told lawmakers that separations of children and parents were a “very sad” scenario.

“There is some sort of extraordinary circumstances provision, but it is very, very infrequently utilized. So the law really does not take that into account in any sort of way in the normal case,” Gibbons said. “So you are addressing a situation that is frequently seen, I guess I would say, and … anybody who cares about families, it tears at your heartstrings.”

Gibbons didn’t take a position on Serrano’s proposal.

Choices and consequences

Those who advocate for strong enforcement of immigration laws say that whenever parents break laws, children inevitably suffer too.

“If we incarcerate a parent, the child pays for that parent,” said Steven Camarota, director of research for the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank. “Maybe a better analogy would be is if you don’t pay your mortgage, the child loses his home, and I think we all should feel sympathy, but does that mean you should be let go for not paying your mortgage?”

Whether children follow their parents or stay in the U.S. is “up to the parents,” ICE’s Kice said.

“I understand that this is an issue of great interest and it’s an issue that tends to polarize the community, and I want the community to understand that our job is to enforce the laws enacted by Congress,” she said.

Back at their apartment, Santibanez is unsure of her family’s future. The four live off her part-time work, loans and about $400 a month in food stamps.

Her mother, Sergia, 49, lost her residency after she was convicted and sentenced in 2005 to 4 months for transporting illegal immigrants in her car, who were friends, Luissana Santibanez said. Then, after about 15 months in a federal immigration detention facility, the mother was deported in March, the daughter said.

Her siblings are struggling too.

Sergio, 13, was every bit the adolescent, complaining about not having a soda one moment and then enjoying video games the next. Luissana became alarmed when he revealed he’d just gotten an in-school suspension for tardiness.

Madelein, 16, a sophomore, had just been inducted into the National Honor Society. But after recently spending a week in Mexico with an aunt and siblings, she was shown to be failing chemistry in a progress report that Luissana had to sign.

Paul, a gentle giant at 6 feet 3 inches and 290 pounds though he’s only 15, said he might go to school in Mexico next fall to be with his mother, though he’s sure he’ll have trouble with the Spanish. So he may cross the border every day just to attend a U.S. high school.

“It’s been tough and it’s been weird, oh, man,” Paul said, lounging on a living room bed too small for him. “Yeah, I feel like we’re raising ourselves. We have to live every day differently and grow faster than we would if we had a mom.”

– – –

By the numbers

Of the 6.3 million illegal immigrant families in the U.S. in 2004, 59 percent did not have children, according to the Urban Institute and the Pew Hispanic Center. They consisted of single adults, couples or groups of adult relatives.

But 1.5 million of the families had children who were all U.S. citizens. And 460,000 others had a “mixed” status: Those families had at least one child who was citizen and one or more who weren’t, the study said. The remaining 630,000 such families in the nation had non-citizen children.

— Michael Martinez

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mjmartinez@tribune.com
Copyright (c) 2007, Chicago Tribune

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