After graduating from photography school in New York, Ester Jove Soligue began to collaborate with the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization that includes people of various faiths who are committed to social justice.
As part of its Immigrant Rights Program, the AFSC was collecting testimonies from children with family members who had been deported as illegal immigrants. Their stories were presented to Congress in June 2010.
Through her relationship with the AFSC, Soligue met 16-year-old Jocelyn. The girl’s mother, Maria, was deported three years ago after a fight with a neighbor, leaving Jocelyn and her father, Miguel, to take care of her sister and four brothers.
Jocelyn and her siblings were all born in the United States, making them legal U.S. citizens. Impressed by Jocelyn’s strength, Soligue turned her camera toward the family to capture their plight.
Miguel works in a furniture store to support his six children, leaving the bulk of the childcare and household chores on Jocelyn’s young shoulders.
“My mother left when my baby sister was about to turn a year old,” Jocelyn told the AFSC. “It is challenging to take care of a baby. I thought that being a mother was an easy task, but I learned that being a mother is a lot harder than work.”
Soligue says that Jocelyn’s daily routine is a draining one. Every morning she wakes up and readies herself and her younger sister for the day. After school, she has dinner and chores.
“It’s nonstop, especially since my brothers don’t listen to me,” Jocelyn said. “As a family, we try to keep a united front.”
The children’s mother, Maria, is living in Mexico, where she picks up occasional work cooking and cleaning at a hotel. The family maintains contact with her through letters and phone calls, but they dream of the day when they can be reunited.
They hope they might be able to legally bring the family back together when Jocelyn turns 21 and is able, as a natural born citizen, to sponsor Maria’s immigration under the U.S. family reunification program.
Jocelyn sees the effect of her mother’s absence on her father as well. “He is always tired because he works all the time, but earns very little. When my mother was here, things were easier. She helped with everything. Now my father has to support our family by himself,” she told the AFSC.
Jocelyn’s family is far from being alone in this situation. The AFSC is returning to Washington this month to share similar stories.
The group says that 1 in 10 American families are of mixed immigration status, where at least one parent is a noncitizen and at least one child is a citizen. The 2010 Census estimates that people born outside of the U.S. make up 13% of the population.
Nearly 50,000 children had parents who were removed from the country during the first half of 2011, according to a report that Immigration and Customs Enforcement presented to Congress in March.
Additionally, the AFSC cites a 2009 Department of Homeland Security report stating that 108,000 parents of U.S. citizen children were deported from 1998 to 2007.
Soligue hopes Jocelyn’s story highlights the importance of keeping families together.
“They wake up every day and their mother is not there to say good morning, to prepare homemade food or to help them with their homework after school,” she said. “Miguel has to face every day the emptiness of the loss of his wife. He has to deal every day with the sadness of their children, and his own (sadness).
“They are kids; they don’t know about laws or borders. They deserve to have their father and mother next to them.”
- Cody McCloy, CNN