The recent presidential campaign season has brought new fears to illegal immigrants and their children.
Questions regarding whether children of illegals should be allowed to stay in the United States even
though they were brought here at an early age. Children who came to the United States with parents
who had no saying in their coming and have lived their entire known life here are now being threatened
with deportation and are terrified at the prospects new laws could upend life as they know it. Grand
Rapids Public Schools has many parents who fall into that category.
Meet Y. a young mother of 5 children, who range in age from 5 to 13. She is one of the hardest working,
most engaged, and education supporting parent in Grand Rapids Public Schools. Her children are some
of our brightest lights. From the pushing of both parents and the prospect of a four year paid college
experience through Challenge Scholars her children are thriving. They routinely get behavior, grade and
attendance awards. The oldest three getting perfect attendance rewards for last school year. They are
constantly pushing each other for the best grades and now see college as an expectation and not just an
option. Perfect attendance is still a big goal for them even though they had to miss school for a couple
days this year to visit their dad.
But life wasn’t all that easy for Y. At the early age of 4 she was brought here from Mexico with her family
and siblings. They settled in West Michigan and she attended Grand Rapids Public Schools until family
situations forced her to drop out of high school at 15 years old. Her parents had recently divorced after
her mother walked away from the family and moved back to Mexico. With a baby herself Y and her
husband helped her father raise the younger siblings and their baby. With constant support from her
husband Y eventually got her GED and later a pharmaceutical degree. She uses herself as an example to
her children how if she could do it (get an education), they can as well. Although not yet a citizen she
was able to get a DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals which allowed her to get a social security
card and a driver’s license. Her husband wasn’t as lucky. He came to the United States on his own at the
age of 18 after quitting school after 6 th grade to work in the fields in Mexico and was therefore
undocumented. Work was hard to find and he became the at-home parent while Y worked third shift at
the local hospital. They are a great team together.
Y’s parents didn’t learn English and therefore were constantly fighting the language barrier. This
affected their ability to engage at schools or even attend parent teacher conferences. Y is fluent in
English and Spanish and was a volunteer at Sibley where her children attended elementary school. She is
now the Parent Action Leader at Westwood Middle since her oldest started middle school. They were
living the dream and making it work until a simple traffic stop in November changed their lives. Caught
driving without a license her husband was arrested and put in jail. When they found out he was
undocumented his case was turned over to Immigration Customs Enforcement for possible deportation.
His court date in late February was not what they had hoped and he was sentenced for deportation. The
family is appealing the decision and will hear in about 4-6 weeks. Although lawyers are optimistic about
the outcome, there are no guarantees. Her husband has a solid track record for twenty years of five
children, strong family and a working wife of 13 years. He goes to court with the backing of their
landlord, neighbors, and the children’s teachers through letters of support. Y has made no plans to
follow her husband back to Mexico if that is the way the verdict goes. They feel convinced that they
cannot jeopardize the education and future of their children by moving to Mexico. They have nothing
there for them.
Y’s faith and hope is something to be admired. She believes everything happens for a reason and she
instructs her children to pray that God’s will be done. For the past several months now Y has had to be
the only parent who not only works full time, but takes care of the house and children, and still
volunteers at their schools. Since she works third shift her brother spends the night with the children
when she works. Her shifts are ten hours long with 7 days on and then 7 days off. Y makes the 75 minute
weekly drive to Battle Creek on Thursdays for a 40 minute visit with her husband. These are school
hours so if the children come along they must miss school which is a difficult decision for them to make.
The oldest son wants to be an engineer and the second son wants to be a lawyer so he can help his
parents and the next oldest, a daughter, wants to be a nurse or a teacher. The younger two are not sure
yet. Y and her husband have taken a rough start to life and a difficult present situation to instill a strong
faith in the goodness of God while they require good grades and hold high expectations for their
children. They are being solid role models in all aspects of life and only good can come from these
outstanding parenting examples. They continue to be high achieving students with a determined mother
to help them succeed in both education and life.