Fearing Deportation, Families Plan For The Worst

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In the wake of the Trump administration's plans to crack down on illegal immigration, fear is sweeping through immigrant communities. Parents are being advised to put a plan in place for their children in case they find themselves detained or deported.

Brothers Miguel, 14, and Angel, 15, know exactly what to do if they come home from school one day and their mom isn't there.

"I would immediately just grab the binder and just call my family here," Angel says.

He's talking about a black, three-ring binder they keep in a closet. Their mother, whose name is not used because of her fear of being deported, put it together a few months ago.

Her six children are all U.S. citizens, but she came here illegally from Mexico 18 years ago. And while she prays every day that she won't be picked up and deported, Angel says she's prepared them all for the worst.

Angel says after grabbing the binder, he would, "call to a friend of mine that's a police, have him to come to the house and take care of us while we figure out what happened to my mom and where she is."

The mother says she's given her two oldest boys instructions on what to do and who to call. She also put a notarized letter in the binder giving her cousin, an American citizen, legal authority to take care of all of her children until they can be reunited with her in Mexico.

Her 7-year-old daughter doesn't really know about any of this. She's busy being young — playing basketball and violin and winning her school's spelling bee.

She's mostly unaware of the panic seeping in around her. Her mother says she wants to preserve that sense of innocence for as long as possible.

"I felt horrible when I had this conversation with the three older kids because even though they are older, they would cry and hug me," the mother says, as translated from Spanish. "I understand that I am in a country that's not mine but it is the country of my children. So, if they were older I wouldn't worry, but they still need me."

It's estimated that there are more than 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. and that more than four million children who were born in this country have at least one parent who's unauthorized.

Jess Hanson is a lawyer with the National Immigration Law Center based in Los Angeles, Calif. She teaches "know your rights" workshops and says the anxiety across the country is palpable.

Her advice to parents? Make a plan.

"If you're detained in a workplace raid at 1 p.m. and you're supposed to pick your kids up at 3, you know, who's going to pick up your children?" she asks. "Who's going to feed them dinner? Those kinds of very practical considerations need to be taken into account."

Other things to include in a plan are updated passports, key phone numbers and a power of attorney to watch over your kids, "to allow a relative or close friend to make medical decisions on the child's behalf and a place for the child to live temporarily if the parents are not around," she says.

Hanson says if families don't make a detailed plan — if they don't have their own black binder with details on who can legally step in to take care of their kids — they run the risk of the state stepping in and placing their children into foster care.

Jennifer Guerra is a reporter with with NPR member station Michigan Radio. You can follow her at @RadioJenG.

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