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

Life in a mixed-status family: 'Frustration, uncertainty, secrecy, lies'

Photo by barnabywasson/Flickr (Creative Commons)

A series of posts that began in August, prompted by the arrest and detention of President Obama's undocumented half-uncle, has explored the prevalence of mixed-status families. These are families composed of a blend of U.S. citizens and/or legal residents and undocumented immigrants, often living under one roof. There might be undocumented parents, grandparents, siblings, children, or as with the First Family, aunts and uncles.

Very often, the family members who are undocumented have have tried to adjust their immigration status but can't, even through marriage. And so these families remain mixed in their status, unable to do many of the things other families take for granted.

What is it like to live in a family in which your spouse, your parents, a sibling or other relative is undocumented? A post last week featured a mini-essay from one reader, a U.S. citizen who has unsuccessfully tried to adjust her husband's status. She wrote about how simple things, like adding him to her employer-sponsored health plan, are impossible to do. Since then, KPCC's Public Insight Network has asked others to share their stories about a phenomenon that is surprisingly common, but seldom discussed outside the family.

We'll be featuring some of their stories here, starting with this one from Susana, a young woman in Los Angeles who was willing to share hers. She is a U.S. citizen, but her parents, who were born in Mexico, are undocumented and can't adjust their status. Here's what she wrote:

My dad and mom came to the US shortly after they married. I was born here and so was my younger brother. My parents have been here 21 years and they are still undocumented.

My dad spoke to a lawyer regarding the process for residency and he told my dad that it would be pretty much impossible to help him with his situation. We are waiting until I turn 21 so I can file for them. My parents work minimum wage jobs which means they have to work long shifts with usually just one day off. They don't receive any benefits, health insurance, vacation. We live in a two bedroom apartment because that's all we can afford.

My parents have been saving money to buy a home for about ten years now but the prospects of that actually occurring seem to diminish everyday.

The only reason I am able to afford college is because I receive financial aid and I was able to take out a generous amount of money in loans. My parents could never afford to send me to UCLA paying out of pocket, so I found a way to do so without putting a heavy load on their shoulders.

Secrecy is important because the revelation of undocumented is a stigma, especially right now with so much ignorant anti-immigrant sentiment throughout the country. Fear is something we live with. It's our enemy because it's always there reminding us of who we are but it's also our friend since it has been with us for so long.

Fear is involved in everything we do and everywhere we go. Driving or paying with a credit card (no license or valid ID). Deportation is always a possibility as well. Our future as a family is uncertain.

Mixed citizenship status within a family causes frustration, uncertainty, secrecy, lies. It's a burden at times and something that is thought about every single day.

Do you have a story to share? Feel free to post comments below, or view the Public Insight Network questions here.