The stories of 5 children who came to the United States illegally

After Friday’s Roundtable discussion about immigration, we asked the guests to share the story of an undocumented worker or student they found unforgettable.

Laura Danielson, the chair of the immigration department at the law firm of Fredrikson & Byron, shared the story of Randolph Sealey:

The story that I think about is a physician in New York. He was an undocumented kid, living in the Bronx, who didn’t really realize he was undocumented because he was raised by his grandparents and had come over as such a little kid. When he excelled in school, he realized he was eligible for scholarships and all of that, and it became clear.

His grandpa had to tell him, “I’m sorry, but you don’t have papers.”

And so what happened in his situation was he was able to go to court and [start] the suspension of his deportation. So he had to go into deportation proceedings — and prove that deportation would result in hardship to him.

And therefore he [was able] to go to school and get his green card and move on with his life.

Now he’s an orthopedic surgeon in New York.

That legislation has been removed from our books. Suspension of deportation is no longer a possibility.

Jorge Saavedra, an immigration attorney and former director of Centro Legal, told a story about his clients:

I’ve got three kids who were abandoned in their home country in Central America alone for three years. The head of the household was a 13-year-old girl. And then they came to the United States to reunite with their mother. So they entered the United States unaccompanied and made their way to Minnesota and then made their way through deportation proceedings.

The only way that we could find a pathway to be able to keep them here was under a special immigrant juvenile status. But that section of the law — if the kids qualify for SIJS — their mother will never be able to be adjusted by benefit of their kids. So their kids will never be able to help their mother get her legal status.

It severs the ties.

If they’re approved, Mom will remain undocumented and subject to the possibility of deportation. And now this is a decision that the children made, which I think is a heart-rending decision to ask children to make. And that Mom had to make. Mom thought about it for an instant and then jumped on the sword.

Louis Mendoza, the chair of the Chicano and Latino Studies Department at the University of Minnesota, shared the story of a young man in Idaho named Fernando:

He told me his story of coming over as a 13-year-old looking for his father. Because already as a young person in Mexico [with] a single mom, he was feeling so much pressure to try to help her out because they were having such a hard time surviving.

And he hadn’t really heard from his father for years but he felt like he was already starting to do things that he recognized were on the fringe of what was legal and not legal. And getting in trouble. And he said, “I felt like I had to leave and if I’d stayed, I would be dead on the streets.”

So he came here by himself, went to Florida, went looking for places to work and found it so hard to survive, that he finally found a way to find out where his father was in Idaho and said, “Can I go live with you?” And he did.

Since his father had earned immigration status in 1986, he was able to go to school, go to college. He was there, hoping before he graduated that some immigration reform happened. I heard from him a year or so ago, and it turns out he’s in graduate school now.

It’s that whole thing of “what do you do when you finish?”

“You know, if I was deported,” he said, “I am no longer Mexican. It’s been years. I feel like I belong here.”