Undocumented Mexican Immigrant Hopes For Change

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If some legislators have their way, children who are born in the U.S. to undocumented immigrants will lose their birthright and families will be sent packing. Many say talk of changing the Fourteenth Amendment is merely a political ploy in the midst of a heated mid-term election year. WOSU profiles a Columbus family which is a blend of illegal immigrants and American born citizens.

“This is the sewing machine. It’s actually fairly new. I have pins, I mean seam rippers, chalks, scissors, all different kinds of scissors…”

This is Kimberly. The pretty, tall girl with long hair pulled up in a ponytail points out all of her sewing materials she keeps in her brightly decorated room that’s quite neat for a teenager. Kimberly is 16 years old today. She was born in New York City to undocumented parents from Mexico, but she’s a U.S. citizen because of the 14th Amendment.

Kimberly sews many of her clothes. It started as a hobby she picked up from her mom that has turned into a passion. She now sews custom dresses for girls at her school.

“I think the entire school knows that I make my clothing and there’s a list waiting,” Kimberly said.

“I’m so happy about my daughters, see? They keep busy, and they’re smart girls.”

That’s Dolores, Kimberly’s mom. WOSU has decided not to use the family’s last name because some family members are undocumented.

Dolores came to the U.S. from Mexico in 1989 with her two young sons at her husband’s insistence.

And Dolores, a former travel agent who enjoyed beach volleyball and sunsets, found herself in Brooklyn, New York working in a factory…far away from the sand and the sea.

“I had to stay there. My family was very traditional and I had to live with him no matter what,” Dolores said.

Dolores’s oldest son married an American, got his green card, and is in his fifth year of medical school at Ohio State. The younger son remains undocumented.

Dolores’s two daughters were born in New York – Kimberly and Kaytlyn who is in eighth grade. Although Dolores did not like the cold winters, she soon realized the States might offer a break for her children.

“It’s the best that we’re living here because it’s better opportunities for the family, for my kids, you know, their education,” Dolores said.

Dolores has not always been here illegally. She said she had a work visa when she first immigrated, but she never renewed it.

Dolores now is a single mom. Her husband went back to Mexico. He never returned.

She and her four children moved to Ohio 12 years ago. Last year, Dolores started her own business.

“I’m a cleaning person, you know, working hard. I clean offices. I clean houses.”

Her days are long, but Dolores said being her own boss has its advantages.

“I make better, you know, money. And I have to pay a lot of taxes, but it’s good because I have a chance to pick up my daughters, going to different activities with my daughters. We stay together. And I work,” she said.

To get to work, though, Dolores has to drive – without a driver’s license. She’s can’t get one because the state requires drivers to prove they’re here legally. That means if Dolores gets pulled over she could go to jail.

“Well, before I was very worried. Well now I am thinking, too, but not too much, you know, because after 22 years, you know, anything is possible. And I’m not thinking about that,” Dolores said.

Her daughters worry though. Kaytlyn, a cross country runner who loves language arts, understands the gravity of her mother’s situation.

“She just has something wrong with her car, to a regular person just be like, oh, I’ll get it fixed in just a couple of days, but to my mom, it means more than that because it could cost something more,” Kaytlyn said.

Dolores watches the news, so she knows immigration reform is a hot topic.

“I hear. I’m a little scared, but I’m not put a lot of attention. I think in this country have to change the mind about immigrants,” Dolores said.

There are families like Dolores’ all over Central Ohio and around the country. And a growing number of conservative lawmakers think children of undocumented immigrants should have their birthright citizenship revoked. And some want to go as far as amending the 14th Amendment.

GOP State Senator Tim Grendell opposes tinkering with the U.S. Constitution. Grendell said family units which are blended, like Dolores’, should be allowed to stay in the U.S. But only if the parents work toward citizenship.

“At the end of the day if the parents do not do something to become legally in this county I think the family unit is subject to being asked to leave the country,” Grendell said.

Columbus immigration attorney Joseph Mas calls the recent birthright revocation proposal outrageous. And he likened it to ethnic cleansing.

“It’s odd that we are only discussing the taking away the citizenship or denying citizenship to individuals who are born here when those individuals happen to be brown,” Mas said.

When asked specifically about Dolores, if she could now, 22 years later, obtain citizenship, Mas said its highly unlikely.

He said a more likely scenario would be for Dolores to go before an immigration judge – say if she were stopped for some kind of violation.

“The best thing that might happen under those circumstances is that her removal proceedings would be stayed or suspended either indefinitely or whatever. That doesn’t necessarily that she’s going to be a legal resident. That just means they’re not actively seeking her deportation,” Mas said.

Dolores remains optimistic. She might seek citizenship in few years when both her daughters turn 18.

For now, Dolores is focused on Kimberly’s 16th birthday party, which will mix Mexican and American customs.

And somewhere in the back of her mind Dolores knows this could be the last birthday party she throws for her daughter for a while if she gets pulled over. But she says nothing will separate a mother from her children.

“If they throw me out, I come back again no matter what. I’m not [going to] miss my family here, you know.”