By Natasha Karunaratne
For some of us, immigration status is an ambiguous, unthought of marker of identity, while for others status is a weighted word, one instilling fear and power, as a marker of citizenship. With 9 million people in the United States living in mixed status families, NPR’s podcast, CodeSwitch, took a look at just one of these families: the Gonzalez’s. The Gonzalez family has three siblings living under one roof: Abigail who’s undocumented, Miriam who has DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), and Jose Ventura who’s a citizen.
The two older sisters, Abigail and Miriam, were brought from Mexico to the U.S. when Miriam was 6 years old and Abigail was only 6 months old. They did not discover they were undocumented until Miriam was applying for a special program in the 7th grade and asked her mother for her social security card. Miriam’s mother explained to her that she does not have one because she’s undocumented, but that she must never share this fact with anyone.
Miriam followed her mother’s warning and did not share this part of her life with anyone, except with her high school guidance counselor, who lead her to a support group for undocumented students at UCLA. She found out that she could not only go to college but also find a support system there for student’s like her. However, as an undocumented immigrant, Miriam could not apply for financial aid or get a job, meaning she’d have to rely entirely on scholarships. During her sophomore year she was forced to take time off from school when one of her scholarships fell through. Luckily for her, that same year the Obama administration announced the DACA program, allowing Miriam as an undocumented minor to defer deportation upon renewal for two years and obtain a work permit in that time. Miriam immediately started working and got her way through graduating from UCLA.
At this same time, Abigail was not yet 15 when DACA was announced and therefore could not yet apply for it. When she did become old enough to apply, she held off, as she only needed this documentation to work and it was expensive to continually renew DACA every two years. When it did come time for Abigail to apply, the Trump administration rescinded DACA, and Abigail was left undocumented. Her sister, Miriam sued the Trump administration for their rescission of DACA, but the Supreme Court merely allowed for DACA recipients to continue renewing DACA without allowing for new applicants to apply for such documentation.
While such changes in policies allowed for these two sisters to have differing documentation statuses, their youngest brother, Jose Ventura was born in the U.S. and become the only citizen in his family. As the only citizen, Jose Ventura faces a lot of pressure from his sisters to do well in school and get a job so that as an adult he can sponsor his parents to apply for green cards. Jose Ventura despises this pressure, but he knows its necessary for him and his family to stay together.
Miriam, Abigail, and Jose Ventura explained that their family does not discuss their mixed statuses, immigration policy, or the possibility of deportation often amongst each other. CodeSwitch host, Shereen Marisol Meraji, supposes that “maybe it’s too overwhelming or maybe they want their identity to be more than documented, undocumented, and citizen.”
- What do we learn from the Ventura families’ story about the challenges that undocumented immigrants, DACA recipients, and citizens in mixed status families face?
- While there are 3.6 million dreamers (or undocumented minors), about 2 million are eligible for DACA, but only 800,000 have DACA. After listening to the story, how would you begin to explain these discrepancies? Why might those who are eligible for DACA hesitate to apply?
- Why do you suppose that the Gonzalez family does not talk about their mixed documentation statuses often?
- What role does immigration status play in the lives of each member of the Ventura family? What role does it play in your life? How does it impact how you see yourself and how others see you? Do you think about your documentation status often? What factors contribute to how often you consider this aspect of your identity?