Would You Risk Death to See Your Family Again?

What if you were told tomorrow that you needed to leave immediately and you could never see your family again, unless they were willing to follow you? That’s the position a lot of residents of the United States find themselves in every day as they’re deported for being in the country without their immigration documents in order — and sometimes, deported by mistake. If their children and other family members have residency rights, they’re allowed to stay, forcing people to make a terrible choice: take everyone with the deported family member, or split a family in two.

For many, the ultimate decision is to leave family members in the United States. People may be concerned about safety risks, or want to provide more opportunities for their children. In some cases, children and other family members of deportees haven’t been to the country the deportee calls home, and can’t imagine living there. They may not even speak the language, and they aren’t familiar with the customs, the laws and the other minutia of daily life in what, to them, is a foreign country.

Leaving your family behind in the United States may mean you’re not supposed to see them again, but many deportees try anyway, at great personal risk. Advocates are fighting for a “right to return” provision in U.S. immigration law for the estimated 20% of deportees who leave spouses, children and parents behind when they leave the country, because the costs, both human rights-wise and economically, are immense.

Deportees may decide to attempt to cross the border again to reunite with their families, chancing their luck on an extremely risky proposition that involves paying someone to help safely get them across the border, counting on that person to not exploit them, sexually assault them, or abandon them in their hour of need. Others may try it on their own, gathering intelligence from friends and family members to come up with a strategy for getting across the border without going through immigration authorities.

Some of these immigrants die in the desert, never seeing their families again and in some cases not being found for weeks, months, or years. For family members, the disappearance of a beloved partner, parent or child who was deported is ominous, and a mystery that may never be solved: did the deportee never make it to safety after being dropped off in her home nation? Was she murdered? Did she try to cross the border and fail? Has she been entrapped in a forced labor scheme?

Others are finding themselves in federal prison, apprehended for illegally crossing the border. Immigration detainees are not entitled to legal representation, and they may wait for months or years in a highly backlogged system for their cases to be heard. Many don’t know their rights and speak poor English, making it difficult to understand the cases against them, argue in their defense, or seek assistance. Immigration detention in the United States is also rife with problems like poor health care, bad food and sexual assault by guards and other inmates, as with the rest of the prison system.

Family members may have difficulty finding out if a loved one is in immigration detention, especially if they themselves are also undocumented immigrants, as they won’t want to attract attention to themselves.  This leaves them hanging with the terrifying unsolved mystery of a deported and disappeared family member; sounds like a nightmare, doesn’t it?

Immigration reform must fix situations like these, which is why pushing for right of return provisions is so important. Because no family should be separated by cruel circumstances, and people should never have to wonder where their loved ones are.

Photo credit: Alex Proimos) / CC BY 2.0


Jane R.
Jane R4 years ago

I say, deport the whole family, don't separate them. They should never have come here in the first place if they couldn't do it legally. The United States cannot house everyone wanting to leave their country. We are overpopulated as it is. Come here legally or don't come at all!!

Monique C.
Monique C4 years ago

Maybe it would be simpler to deport the family, along with with illegal immigrant. It's horrible that they put their family in this situation to begin with.

Robynne W.
Robynne W4 years ago

Why couldn't they come here legally?

Debra L. Watson
Debra L Watson4 years ago

Immigration in this country needs to be fixed! What in the world are these people thinking when they put someone in jail, that tax players money! Legalize these human beings, so they can pay their share of taxes and watch our economy grow! And the debt shrink! Also, the people who are jail because of marijuana crimes should be let go! Makes no sense to keep spending money, we don't have! Legalize immigration & marijuana! We as a nation of 98% can pull us out of this shit hole we're in! We have to elect representatives that fight for us & not big companies!

Marilyn L.
Marilyn L4 years ago

If people would be honest and come here or stay her legally there wouldn't be a problem, now would there.

Mary L.
Mary L4 years ago

WE have to keep screaming and screaming and demanding until things are changed.

Ken W.
Ken W4 years ago


Pamela Tracy
Pamela Tracy4 years ago

In the case of families they should go to the bottom of the list as far as deportation. If none of the family members have committed a crime they should be given amnesty if that would apply. Single men and women should be at the top of the list..and only those who have committed a crime.

Liliana Garcia
Liliana G4 years ago

Children should NEVER be separated from their parents. If the decision is deportation then parents should choose not the Govt even if the child, through some technicality is a USA citizen. People coming in illegally should not be treated as criminals. There must be a way either to find a responsible sponsor OR send them back home in a reasonable time. Jailing people is not the answer, people have become blind to see jail as a "solution" to almost everything!!!. If there's no way to allow them in, send them back. I agree the best thing to do is to remain home and try to change the dire conditions which drove them to immigrate BUT that's a are very complicated process which in many cases would take to make a revolution and part (ahem) with old allies of their governing elites usually in collusion with the oppressive forces at home. Does it ring a bell? Just saying...

Angelene B.
Angelene B4 years ago

So sad :(