'Mixed-Status' Immigrant Families Look to Obama for Help

By Kari Lydersen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 16, 2008

CHICAGO, Nov. 15 -- The people were of different nationalities and backgrounds, but they had a common refrain: Don't split up our families.

The 300-plus people who attended the meeting Saturday at St. Pius Church in the Pilsen neighborhood were sending a reminder to President-elect Barack Obama to keep his promise to address immigration reform.

"I expect Barack Obama, our engine for change, will do everything he can to keep his promise for comprehensive immigration reform that reunites families who are already separated and keeps families together," said Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D), who called the meeting and who in the next Congress will reintroduce immigration legislation he co-sponsored last year.

Chicago, Obama's home, has in recent years been at the forefront of the battle over immigration. The wave of massive marches for immigrant rights in 2006 started here, and Chicago groups -- including the grass-roots organization La Familia Latina Unida -- have for several years taken the lead nationally on "mixed-status" families.

The Aguirre and Pulido families that gathered in a Mexican restaurant after sharing their stories at St. Pius are among the nearly 2 million families in the United States with at least one undocumented parent and children who are U.S. citizens. The families' stories, as well as those of others who filled out forms documenting their hardships, will be put in a report and given to Obama.

Ana Pulido's husband came to the United States from Guadalajara, Mexico, at age 15. Ana is a U.S. citizen, and their three sons were born here. Pulido's husband, 35, went to Mexico in 1998 when his father was on his deathbed. He returned to the United States using his nephew's identity, was deported, then returned illegally again. He has a pending deportation order and fears that agents might show up at his home any day.

"I have two choices: divorce him or bring the whole family to Mexico," said Pulido, 31, a real estate agent, who fears that her mother also might be deported. "When you've been married to the same man for years, that's a hard choice."

Her husband, who works as a carpenter and asked that his name not be used, said he has no family or job prospects in Mexico. "My 15-year-old son said if I'm deported, he'll quit school and get a job," he said.

Doris and Robert Aguirre also fear that their family will be split up. Doris Aguirre, 43, who was born in Guatemala, entered the United States illegally with her Honduran-born son, Bladimir. She married Robert Aguirre, a U.S. citizen, and they have a U.S.-born daughter. She and Bladimir have deportation orders, and she fears that she could be sent to Guatemala and her son to Honduras.

But she has faith in Obama: "We gave him our vote of confidence. Latinos voted for Obama; now we're waiting for a response."

"President-elect Barack Obama is committed to reviving immigration reform. This has been a priority throughout his career in public office and will continue to be a priority in an Obama administration," spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

A study by the Pew Hispanic Center found most undocumented immigrants are from Mexico, but there were also citizens with European spouses at the Chicago meeting.


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