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SUNDAY, MAY 20, 2007

Deportations force tough family choices

CANCITA, Mexico (AP) — Since they joined their deported parents in Mexico, 7-year-old Adriana has stopped screaming “Papa!” in her sleep and 10-year-old Yadira’s asthma has eased. Pedro, 15, doesn’t break into tears anymore, and Adrian, 12, thinks of his new life as an adventure.

For now, these American children are trying to ignore the wrenching decision they have to make by the end of summer: Stay with their parents in this bone-dry village where they bathe in a canal and use an outhouse, or return alone to some of America’s best schools in Palo Alto, Calif.

Tens of thousands of families are facing similar choices, and even more soon could if Congress goes ahead with an overhaul of U.S. immigration laws.

About 3 million U.S.-born children have a parent who is living illegally in America, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, and since 2004 the government has been deporting illegal immigrants at a record rate.

The Senate is expected to begin debate Monday on a sweeping bill that would provide a pathway to citizenship for an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. The bill would limit the importance of family ties, capping visas for parents of U.S. citizens at 40,000 a year and changing a preference system that for four decades has favored such ties.

Pedro Ramirez Sr., 38, was banking on that system to give him and his wife a path to citizenship once their eldest son turns 18 in two years. Now he’s not so sure: The new proposal would place more emphasis on potential immigrants’ skills and education, and his deportation may rule him out anyway.

Ramirez never went to school. He sneaked across the border as a 16-year-old boy, learning English as he worked his way up from a minimum-wage factory job to night supervisor at an Albertson’s supermarket.

His promotion — and the jump in salary from $6 to $16 an hour — allowed him to move his family from the rough streets of East Palo Alto to quiet, suburban Palo Alto, home to Stanford University.

He and his wife also applied for residency, but were denied after their lawyer was disbarred. Immigration officials say they evaded notices to appear in court.

Back in Mexico, the family has spent their savings of nearly $10,000 unsuccessfully fighting for residency. Friends, parents and teachers from Pedro Jr.’s Gunn High School — No. 79 in the country last year, according to a Newsweek ranking
— have raised $2,000 for the family.

Before his father was deported in February, Pedro’s biggest problems were how to get into UCLA law school and persuading his football coach to let him be quarterback. Now, he says he might have to get used to the family’s two-room shack and bathing in a canal to keep the family together.

“If I go, I want to go with everybody,” he said.

His mother, Isabel, said she’ll let her children decide what they want to do.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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