No hope and no chance for success for nation’s undocumented children
Immigration attorney Michael Feltman calls them “undocumented American citizens.”
They are the ones with the most heartbreaking of stories, he says, the ones for whom there is no hope for the future, no upward mobility to a chance for success in America, no matter how good their grades are or how hard they work. They are the undocumented children of immigrants.
“Unless their parents achieve citizenship and petition on their behalf before they turn 16, they have almost no chance of ever gaining legal status,” Feltman says. In recent years, legislation has an already complex issue worse, he says.
As of April 1, 2008, the law on adoptions changed, for example, requiring states to follow the Hague Convention rules. These rules state that adoptions of undocumented immigrant children after that date are not legal for immigration purposes — a change that means American citizens who adopt such a child cannot petition for legal status on behalf of that child.
The rule was meant to shut off one route that parents had used to gain legal status for their child: giving up custody, usually to a close relative.
• Undocumented children face a future with no hope.
• A false claim to be a citizen carries a lifetime ban on legal status.
• Adoption route to legal status has been blocked by 2008 law.
“The one exception is that a parent can relinquish custody to the state,” Feltman says. “If a parent signs over the child to the state and the child stays in foster care until he turns 18, then the state can petition for citizenship on their behalf.” The state can also deport them, he says.
In many cases, marriage to a U.S. citizen is a path to citizenship. But not if the undocumented spouse has ever “falsely claimed” to be a citizen, an offense that carries a lifetime sentence of ineligibility for legal status, with no possibility of waiver.
“If the person has ever checked the ‘U.S. citizen’ box on a job application, they have permanently cut off their ability to ever gain legal status,” he says. “That applies to a 16-year-old at McDonald’s working part time, and not even knowing yet that he wasn’t born here.”
Feltman says he deals every day with the heartbreak of young people who have lived here their entire lives, gone through public or Catholic schools here and graduated from high school — but can’t get a driver’s license; can’t get federal or state student loans or grants for college, no matter how good their grades are; and can’t get a job even if they manage to work their way through college.
“I see so many families where the kids are doing absolutely great in school, top grades, participating in sports. Then at about sophomore year of high school, they fall flat. Their grades go down, they drop out of school. Why? That’s about the age they are when they find out that they have no future, nothing to hope for, nothing to work for.”
Their only option, he says, is to leave the country. Because they have lived here illegally for longer than one year, they can’t come back — even to visit — without triggering a “re-entry violation,” which automatically blocks them from applying for legal status for 10 years, he says. Few of them know the language of their native country, and rarely are there jobs available in Mexico or Central America.
“If there was opportunity there, their parents wouldn’t be here,” he says. “So most of them just stay, working menial jobs, starting a lawn-care business or, all too often, falling victim to the temptation to lie about citizenship status or to use someone else’s Social Security number — offenses which severely limit their chance of ever getting legal status down the road.
“I had one young man who chose to get an engineering degree because he knew that engineers are on the list of ‘needed occupations’ that fast-track your application for entry into the United States.
But he learned that didn’t apply to him. We allow people from other countries to come here to take engineering jobs, but if you already live here, we don’t allow you to gain legal status to work as an engineer,” Feltman says. “I don’t know how this country got so screwed up, but I know it needs to be fixed — and the sooner the better.”
DAILY HEARTBREAK: Attorney Michael Feltman said he deals every day with children who have no chance for upward mobility because they can’t obtain legal immigration status.
This article published in the March, 2012 edition of KANSAS FARMER.