Immigration Orphans: How US Policy is Hurting American Kids


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Brandi, an 8-year-old American child, vividly remembers the morning her father—an illegal Mexican immigrant—was forcibly taken from their Miami home by federal immigration officials. She had been getting ready for school when ICE officials entered the house with guns, demanding her father's arrest. She has not seen her father since.

Her story is heartbreaking but it is not unique: more than 100,000 American children are affected by parental deportations each year. These deportations can have devastating consequences for children; apart from the emotional and psychological effects of losing a parent, these children often end up in a financially perilous situation or are even placed in foster care. The byproduct of a broken immigration system, these childrens' stories have often gone unnoticed.

Except by Nora Sandigo.

A Nicaraguan immigrant and current Miami resident, Sandigo has devoted the past six years to helping children like Brandi. She is the legal guardian of over 800 American children who have lost at least one parent to deportation. 

"It's a blessing and a huge honor knowing that I can serve with what I have. Its not as much as I would wish because I don't  have the means and I'm just one person, but I'm really happy to be able to do something for these kids," says Sandigo.

Parents who fear deportation sign a contract with Nora, granting her "power of attorney" of their children in case they are deported. This enables Nora to oversee their daily needs, such as doctors appointments and school meetings. It also means that should deportation occur, she can take care of the child until they get placed in a home with family or friends. For illegal immigrant parents, this is a huge relief. Often times their worse fear is that their child will be put up for adoption and they will have to fight to regain custody rights.

And the children aren't the only ones who pay for the current immigration situation—taxpayers do too. It costs taxpayers approximately $26,000 a year for every child in foster care. In 2011, the US government spent at least $133 million to place these "immigration orphans" into foster care. In more recent years, this number is estimated to be closer to $600 million. 

For the most part, though, Nora provides for the childrens' everyday needs. 

"Every day we deliver emergency supplies to different homes in Miami and we visit the kids and bring them urgent things such as milk, Corn Flakes, things they need everyday, we also give them school supplies, clothes. In some cases we need to take them in an emergency because they need to go to the doctor, the parents or parent who is still there, who wasn't deported, doesn't have transportation. So we're looking out after all of these details," says Sandigo. 

President Obama's executive stay on deportations is still in effect. However, even if it survives legal battles brought forth by Republicans, it will expire in 2016 when he leaves office. In order to provide lasting relief to these American children, Congress needs to enact a more comprehensive and humane immigration policy.

If you would like to contact or donate to Nora, click here. 

Approximately 8 minutes.

Produced by Amanda Winkler. Shot by Winkler and Joshua Swain. Narration by Alexis Garcia. 

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