Pro Bono Case, Part 2: The Farewell
This was the scene yesterday when I went to the jail to visit my client Paul O to review his asylum application. We were seated in a glass enclosed cubicle next to another enclosed cubicle. In that cubicle there was a woman dressed in pale blue prison garb. She sat at one end of a table. At the other end, a well dressed woman sat, and three young children, I would say age 2-6, crowded around the table, sometimes pressing their faces against the window that separated the two cubicles. The woman, in her early thirties, hugged and joked with the children. There was a ambience of warmth and happiness. Suddenly, the prison guard opened the door and said, “visitation over.” A few second later, the guard said “good luck to you ma’am.” The children looked anxiously at the seated woman in blue. They started to cry. The woman in blue started to cry. The well-dressed woman started to cry. The woman in blue stood up. The children were becoming hysterical now, clinging to the woman. Crying, she hugged the children one by one. She turned, and bolted from the room, with a great heave of a sob.
I tried to turn my eyes away from the scene and return to the asylum application, but I was transfixed. Here was pure suffering, and it transcended any debates about illegal immigration. A family was being torn apart. It’s simply dumb luck that I was born in the USA and did not have to leave my country to improve my life. The woman in blue was not so lucky.
Her’s is not a unique situation. A 2016 study by the Migration Policy Institute found that 5 million children under the age 18 have at least one parent who is in the United States illegally. Out of that number, 79 percent are U.S. citizens.
It’s not a new problem, either: Between 2003 and 2013, the MPI notes, 3.7 million immigrants were deported. Roughly a quarter to a fifth of those were the parents of U.S.-born children.