When mixed-citizenship families hear a knock at the door, they cower. It could be the immigration police coming to take away the parents, splitting them from their children, says Arturo Garcia, co-editor of Broken: The Forgotten Children of Immigration. Garcia, who will be discussing his book tonight at the American Friends Service Committee office, has spent the last few years interviewing youth who are both U.S. citizens and the children of undocumented immigrants, to learn about the trauma these families face. In advance of Garcia's appearance, Westword spoke with him about his book.
Westword: Talk about your recent book, Broken.
Arturo Garcia: Well, it's a book that has already been published. It came out on October 24, officially. It's eighteen stories told by children about the difficult problems they go through and their families go through due to our broken immigration system. So the book is called Broken: The Forgotten Children of Immigration. What we mean by broken are two different things. One is the breaking up of families because of our immigration system that doesn't work well, and secondly, Broken also refers to the immigration system itself.
So, these eighteen courageous kids tell stories about what they have seen and lived as their parents have been deported to their countries of origin or are in the process of deportation. In some cases, the parents are in detention facilities. In other cases, they are with the family pending deportation. But all of these kids are American citizens. The last story is told by a teenage girl. She is sixteen years of age and she came from Peru by herself to be with her mother. She would be the only one in all of the stories who is not an American citizen. All the other kids are.
What are some of the specific issues these families are facing? In most of the cases, we saw a lot of poverty. In one particular case, extreme poverty, poverty that I didn't even see in Mexico. I'm talking about a family of eight living in a one-bedroom house. You can imagine, you couldn't even walk through the house --everything was so cluttered. And they managed to live in that little place because both parents have been deported to Mexico. They had lost their jobs and had lost their home as well. The woman, the mother of the children, made it back. And the father, he was here legally, but there was something not accurate with his social security number, and his case is pending in court as we speak. I'm talking about families that have lost everything because they had to put their money into lawyers or finding a way to make it back to the United States because their children were left behind.
In doing the interviews with these children, first of all, we asked the parents if we could do this. We asked them if the children were aware of what was going on, because we did not want to hurt the children or have them learn something that they were not aware of. In all of the cases, the children were aware of what was going on, so we interviewed them along with the parents. In all of the cases, the children were very traumatized. The children were very scared, talking about if they hear knocks on the door, they would run to hide because they would think that the immigration police were coming to get them. The children, not knowing any better, they thought they were going to come and get them as well. They live in a state of fear. They also have a lot of psychological issues as a result of their parents having been taken away from them.
In a way, this is a sort of systematic orphanage where the children are really paying for the sins of their fathers, per se, or being in this country undocumented. We feel that as American citizens, the children need not to be neglected the way they have been. The system is punishing them; that's what they get for being here with undocumented parents.
What are some of the solutions? Do you get into that in the book?
We do offer some solutions for this problem, and the solutions are as follows. First one, to grant immigration status to those who have children here and who have a clean record and maybe to all the 11.3 million undocumented people who are already in the country. It's going to be impossible to deport all of them. That's one thing. The other thing is to come up with a better set of laws where people can get here from their countries of origin with a permit to work already in a way that the law is not broken.
This country is always going to be having a high demand for cheap labor. As long as this country has a demand for cheap labor, there will always be people wanting to come into the country to take the jobs that the people who have documents don't want to take because of the pay and the amount of work. We are also aware of the fact that in the United States, people are coming to get educated better day by day. There will always be that gap for the people who don't have a formal education -- 43 percent of the job market is for people who don't have any university diplomas. As long as there is a demand for that kind of work, there will always be people who want to take it.
We do understand that a lot of the people who get here, the problem, for those who immigrate here, originates in our countries of origin. But then, we end up in the United States with a problem that we have to deal with. It's our reality that we cannot turn our heads to the side because that's just the way it is. America keeps attracting those people because of the freedom and the many good things this country has to offer.
Read on for more from Arturo Garcia.
Talk about how you got involved in the project and your own background in this work.
I had pancreatic cancer. I was very close to being on the other side a couple of years ago. I was hospitalized for a few months. When you are in that state, you suddenly realize there is no country, there is nothing that really matters. All our thought systems become nothing in one second. You realize your place in this world is to help human beings. That's it. It's not because I'm Mexican. It's not because I migrated here. It's not because of my family. To me, it's a human responsibility with this issue and every other issue in the world. We need to start working with what's in front of us.
As an immigrant myself, fortunately I have not dealt with a lot of the issues that these people have dealt with, but I do have friends and family members who have dealt with this. It's horrifying. It's very, very, very hard on families and it's very, very hard on kids.
They live in this country. They come here to reach a dream that we all want, and they just don't do it legally. Some come and try to do it legally, but the paperwork in the immigration system in both countries makes it very difficult to get a permit to come to this country and migrate. As a result, people try in different ways. It would be just pathological for me to or anybody to keep repeating the same thing over and over that does not help bring a solution. We are dealing with a force that is beyond us: poverty, corruption, violence, war. All those things drive people away. Guess what? In the United States, work is available.
The United States is a huge country that can hold a lot of these people, and they want it. They want it, and they come here regardless of the price they have to pay. Some people die in the attempt. Some people get deported and families are broken. It's very hard, so personally, I see a lot of people come from my own country (Mexico) who are going through that terror of deportation. I want to be able to contribute to a solution.
I'm not the kind of person who says the government must do this or the authorities must do this. I'm the type of person who says we all have to put our effort into making this a better system. By making this a better system, it will prevent a litany of people coming to this country illegally and becoming a liability for the system and for people who are here who didn't have to go through that.
In this country, from what I have seen, what I have lived as an immigrant, people are very nice. People are very kind-hearted. The American people are very, very kind people, but a lot of them are misinformed about the situation. It can be a foreign problem if you don't have some of your immediate family or friends going through it. To a lot of people who do not know all sides of the story, it's very easy to judge, and it's very easy to act in a repugnant way to foreigners. That has to stop. We are human beings, and we all deserve a chance, not only in this country but in life.
Basically, we want to inform people about the hell the families go through as a result of families getting deported and try to lift up consciousness about it. I think we all have the right to be informed and the book does that. The book informs. It's also a way of protesting, but in a very specific way, in a very ordered manner, in a very respectful way.
Our attempt with this is not to point the finger toward anybody or any institution or the government or anything like that, but instead to raise consciousness and to let people know that this is an issue that needs immediate attention and to stop having the immigration issue as a political flag or stop looking at the Latinos as a scapegoat for the problems that go on in this country.
There are a lot of problems that go on in this country that need attention, but the immigration issue is one that needs immediate attention. We're going to be presenting the book. We're going to be talking a little bit with the community. And we hope that people will get this side of the story by children who actually go through the problem themselves.
Arturo Garcia will give a free presentation on his book at 5 p.m. tonight at the American Friends Service Committee, 901 West 14th Avenue, Suite 7. For more information, go to the event's Facebook page. He will also offer a program from 7 to 9 p.m. November 29 at the Aurora Cultural Arts District, 9898 East Colfax Avenue, Aurora. Go to http://brokenthebook.com/ for information about these events and more.
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