I am an American citizen married to an illegal immigrant. We have a child. We would like to have another child, but I am terrified that my husband could be deported and I would be left with no husband and our children with no father. A new study just released by the Pew Hispanic Center estimates that the illegal immigrant population now stands at almost 11 million. If a mere 1 percent of these immigrants have an American spouse or child that would mean that more than 110,000 U.S. families face the same concerns.

Many people assume that immigrants married to U.S. citizens automatically become eligible for permanent residency. Most people erroneously assume my husband is qualified for citizenship based on our marriage and family. It's unfortunate, but these assumptions are not even close to the realities of immigration law today.

The fact is, he could be deported and be banned from returning to the United States for 10 years. If he did get deported, returned to his home country, and applied for residency based on the difficulty it would cause our family, he wouldn't be granted the hardship waiver for the following reasons:

* I make more than four times what the government would consider poverty level for a family of four, yet we would be only a family of two.

* I am college-educated.

* My son and I are in perfect health.

* I have only one child, not five or six.

To summarize, because I am not a poverty-stricken, uneducated woman with six kids, no job and no skills, and we are not unhealthy, we do not have a right to live together as a family. Our separation would not be a considered a hardship. How's that for "family values"? Every time I hear that catchphrase from by the same politicians who do not want to relax the current immigration laws, I'm enraged.

I know that in recent years the mood among much of the American public has turned against illegal immigrants, especially since the Sept. 11 attacks. "They broke the law," is the constant refrain. "Why should they be rewarded?"

The trouble is that the law is out of sync with economic and social realities in the United States -- especially with the job market. Many of those who decry illegal immigration willfully ignore the economic benefits it provides to much of the society. For most of the 11 million undocumented people in this country, this is the first law they have ever broken -- a law that makes no more sense to them than the laws requiring segregated seating on buses made to Rosa Parks. If it were suddenly and universally enforced, it would produce an economic disaster.

Yes, my husband came here illegally. Yes, he broke the law -- a law that is badly in need of revision. And the fruit of this illegal act was a family and gainful employment. If this hard-working, upstanding man is deported, his American family and his employer will suffer with him.

Wouldn't it make more sense to amend the law and allow our family, and others in the same quandary, to stay together? A $10,000 fine would be more palatable than a 10-year separation, and it wouldn't cost American taxpayers a dime.

The writer lives in Manassas.