Parents fearing deportation pick guardians for U.S. children

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By Kristina Cooke and Mica Rosenberg | SAN FRANCISCO/NEW YORK

SAN FRANCISCO/NEW YORK Parents who immigrated
illegally to the United States and now fear deportation under
the Trump administration are inundating immigration advocates
with requests for help in securing care for their children in
the event they are expelled from the country.

The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles
(CHIRLA) advocacy group has been receiving about 10 requests a
day from parents who want to put in place temporary
guardianships for their children, said spokesman Jorge-Mario
Cabrera. Last year, the group said it received about two
requests a month for guardianship letters and notarization
services.

At the request of a nonprofit organization, the National
Lawyers Guild in Washington D.C. put out a call this week for
volunteer attorneys to help immigrants fill out forms granting
friends or relatives the right to make legal and financial
decisions in their absence.

In New Jersey, immigration attorney Helen Ramirez said she
is getting about six phone calls a day from parents. Last year,
she said, she had no such calls.

“Their biggest fear is that their kids will end up in foster
care,” Ramirez said.

President Donald Trump’s administration has issued
directives to agents to more aggressively enforce immigration
laws and more immigrants are coming under scrutiny by the
authorities.

For parents of U.S. citizens who are ordered removed, the
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency “accommodates, to the extent practicable, the parents’ efforts
to make provisions” for their children, said ICE spokeswoman
Sarah Rodriguez. She said that might include access to a lawyer,
consular officials and relatives for detained parents to execute
powers of attorney or apply for passports and buy airline
tickets if the parents decide whether or not to take the
children with them.

Randy Capps of the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), a
Washington-based non-profit that analyzes the movement of people
worldwide, said that while putting contingency plans in place is
a good idea, he does not think the level of fear is justified.

During the previous administration of President Barack
Obama, a Democrat, the likelihood of both parents being deported
was slim, Capps said.

He doubts there will be a huge shift under Republican Trump
toward deporting both parents.

“The odds are still very low but not as low as they were –
and this is just the beginning of the administration,” he said.

About five million children under the age of 18 are living
with at least one parent who is in the country illegally,
according to a 2016 study by MPI. Most of the children, 79
percent, were U.S. citizens, the study found.

In the second half of 2015, ICE removed 15,422 parents who
said they have at least one U.S.-born child, according to ICE
data.

Obama was criticized for being the “deporter in chief” after
he expelled more than 400,000 people in 2012, the most by any
president in a single year. In 2014, the Obama administration
began focusing on a narrower slice of immigrants, those who had
recently entered the country or committed serious felonies.
Trump has said he would still prioritize criminals for
deportation.

‘WORRIED ALL THE TIME’

In rural New Jersey, Seidy Martinez and her husband Jose
Gomez have begun the difficult conversations with their
10-year-old daughter about what would happen if her parents were
deported.

Martinez, a house cleaner, and Gomez, who works on a horse
farm, are both from Honduras. They entered the United States
illegally, and do not have papers, unlike their daughter, who
has been granted asylum, and their 3-year-old son, a U.S.
citizen.

“Now we are worried all the time. We don’t have anything
that would allow us to stay here,” said Martinez. “Our main
concern is what will happen to our children.”

She has told her daughter that she could live with her aunt
in Miami and is considering drafting paperwork that would give
her relative some legal rights if she and her husband are
deported. The 10-year old tries to comfort her mother. “She
tells me, ‘Mami, tranquila. Don’t be afraid, I am scared too but
don’t worry everything will be OK.'”

‘IF MOM DOESN’T COME HOME’

Rebecca Kitson, an immigration attorney in Albuquerque, New
Mexico, says she advises her increasingly nervous clients to
have the kind of conversations Martinez and her husband are
having with their children.

She said she urges parents to be specific in their
instructions. “If Mom doesn’t come home by a specific time, who
do [the kids] call?” said Kitson.

Immigration groups are offering low-cost services. CHIRLA,
for example, offers a free sample letter and help filling it
out, which then must be notarized at a cost of about $10. But
some parents here illegally say they have had trouble finding
affordable help.

Melvin Arias, 39, a New Jersey landscaper from Costa Rica
who entered the United States illegally 13 years ago, said he
decided after hearing news of stepped-up immigration enforcement
to take legal precautions for his five-year-old son and
six-month old daughter, who are both U.S. citizens.

But when he asked for help from two different lawyers, Arias
was told preparing legal documents would cost him between $700
and $1,250. He is looking for a cheaper way to obtain the
paperwork he needs.

“If there comes a time when both of us have a problem, I
want there to be a responsible person who can come and get [the
children] for us, to take them to wherever we might be,” Arias
said.



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