Across the country, immigrants live in heightened fear of deportation. However, one subset of this population struggles with additional worries.
Immigrants with children who have disabilities often feel staying in the most developed country in the world is their lone chance to provide their children with the adequate care they need. In this changing political climate where the new administration is aiming to crack down on undocumented immigrants, these families are living in a different kind of fear day to day, afraid of what the future holds. Days spent walking to the park, or going to the shopping mall, have been replaced with staying indoors, fearing the immigration raids that have been taking place in their neighborhoods.
There has not been a lot of research conducted on immigrant parents of children with disabilities. But previous studies have found that it is difficult for these parents to find adequate care for their children.
A 2016 study from the University of Iowa, “Immigrant parents of children with disabilities and their perceptions of their access to services and the quality of services received,” states:
“Research on the experience of immigrant parents of children with disabilities have revealed that immigrants feel discriminated against by providers. [One study] found that Latino immigrants, overall, face oppression and asymmetric power relationships. This oppression and power relationship is magnified when there is a member of the family who has a disability. Interactions between parents and professionals are often fragile when there are cultural differences between them.”
Disparities continue in education as well, the study notes:
“It is known that the numbers of children of immigrants are disproportionately high in special education, but [one study] found that they are delayed in getting initial access to services. Once in special education, the child’s immigrant parents are often not as active in their child’s special education as would be ideal.”
Undocumented immigrants Rafael and Sonia of Santa Cruz, Calif., have been doing whatever it takes to ensure that their 8-year-old daughter, Abril, a U.S. citizen, is receiving the best care she can possibly get. Abril suffers from cerebral palsy as well as epilepsy, and every breath she takes she risks choking on her own saliva or phlegm. Her everyday care requires at least one of her parents to be by her side at all times, as well as a suction machine to help her swallow properly. Abril was born here, but her parents were not, and if they are forced to go back to Mexico, Rafael and Sonia fear that Abril will not receive the care she so desperately needs. “If we go to Mexico and we have to bring her, it is certain she will not live much time,” Sonia told California Healthline.
The logical answer to this dilemma would seem to be to apply for legal counsel and start the process for legal residency, but Barbara Pinto, a senior staff attorney at El Centro Legal de la Raza in Oakland, recommends against such a move. She calls applying for such a process “irresponsible and unethical” in today’s climate. Pinto says that if the judge happens to cancel the application, which happens often, the case can turn immediately into one of deportation.
Rafael and Sonia then feel that their best bet is to remain in legal limbo, leaving their immigrant status — as well as the care of their daughter — simply to chance. As for leaving Abril with family or friends, Rafael fears the complexity of her care would deter people from taking her in.
Their options are finite; they could leave their daughter with a couple who are merely acquaintances, leave her in foster care or bring her to Mexico where no doubt she will receive inferior care. Seeking legal action for many immigrants has turned out to be more of a deportation trap than a journey toward citizenship. Cases just like Abril’s are an unintended consequence of the recent crackdown on immigration, and there are millions just like hers, with parents just like Rafael and Sonia, forced into the shadows by a lack of beneficent legal options.