When President Obama told the government last month to stop deporting immigrants whose children are American citizens, half a million parents in Texas were suddenly eligible, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
As part of KERA’s American Graduate Yearbook, we find out how two young Texans received this news.
John remembers his family’s shock when his uncle got deported a few years ago.
“I was kinda afraid that something like that could happen to my dad," he said.
John, now 15 and a sophomore at Polytechnic High School in Fort Worth, is an American citizen. So is his mom. His dad has been working construction for years in Fort Worth, trying to raise a family on meager earnings.
“They pay him way too little and he has horrible working conditions,” he said. John thinks they treat his dad poorly because he doesn't have his papers in order.
His family knew President Obama had asked the government to stop deportations a few years ago for people who were brought here as children, an executive order called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The order made 180,000 children and young adults in Texas a little less afraid.
It also gave John’s dad hope for more executive orders.
“He was excited so he could get a better job, and we were all watching to see if he would qualify," he said.
His family heard Obama's new executive order with muted joy.
"We were unsatisfied that it would be temporary, but besides that it was pretty good," he said.
John is a baseball player at Polytechnic. He says the attendance and grades requirements for being on the team help him stay on track in school.
Deferred Action, Deferred Dreams
His classmate, Viridiana, also watched the president’s speech a few weeks ago with her family.
“All my family was so excited about it," she said. "But then when we heard it was just for the parents of kids who are citizens, and it didn’t affect us in any way. We were excited for nothing."
Viridiana was brought to the U.S. as a 2-year-old. Like John, she also saw an uncle get deported—the father of two American children.
“He had a baby girl, and a guy that was barely in elementary [school]," she said. "So his wife stayed here with the kids, but she wasn’t able to support the kids, so she had to leave to Mexico with them.”
Viridiana's family didn’t talk about it much. She is grateful for the Deferred Action for children, even though there's a registration fee and she's not sure what will happen when the president leaves office.
She can’t help but be jealous that John’s parents will get another benefit that has passed her by.
”We have to pay to renew our deferred action," she said. "We don’t get health care assistance like the citizens. And now they get to keep their parents here, while we still run in danger of having our parents deported."
Complex Problems For Young People
Polytechnic is 70 percent Latino, and principal Josh Delich said he sometimes feels overwhelmed trying to help a school full of students with these same challenges.
“From kids whose parents were deported, asking me to write letters to the embassy -- I've literally had kids in tears in my office," he said.
Delich is an upbeat and energetic leader of Polytechnic. But he got serious when he talked about the mental strain that his students are under from the fear of their parents getting deported.
"It’s the hardest thing as an educator, because you don’t have an answer," he said.
Delich doesn’t have answers for the president or Congress on the immigration question, either. He just wishes he had more counselors, more therapists, and more resources to meet the needs of the students in front of him.
Visit KERA's American Graduate Yearbook at yearbook.kera.org.