Date: August 8th, 2012
Lisa was sad to see Pablo walk out of her life and little Angela’s. He did exactly what his dad did to him and what he said he would never do. After multiple fights and marital counseling sessions, he left their tiny bedroom weeks before Angela’s first birthday. Since then, Lisa has been juggling several housing options. At first, she stayed with her parents but the relationship with her mother deteriorated and she needed to get out. She rented a room for herself and Angela in a two-bedroom apartment she could afford with her salary.
Currently, her mother takes care of little Angela. This means that every morning at 6am, Lisa and Angela travel one hour by bus to Lisa’s mom’s house. Lisa then takes a 45-minute bus ride to her job where she works until 3pm. She takes the bus back to her mom’s house and they return to their home at 8pm. If Lisa were driving, the commute to drop Angela off would only take 20 minutes then just 10 minutes to her job. The extra two hours commuting by bus daily is really taking a toll on her life and the quality of the little time she has with her daughter. A few days a month she is in charge of closing the store at 9pm, but the last bus leaves at 8pm. Lisa relies on friends and taxis to get her to her mom’s house. With one taxi ride she spends the equivalent of one hour’s wages.
With only a high school education and no legal documentation, she is lucky to get a stable job at a clothing store with a salary slightly higher than the federal minimum wage. But Lisa is trapped. She lives in fear of being deported, she freezes and becomes anxious anytime she sees a policeman, and she doesn’t go out much. She would like to go back to school and become either a nurse or a teacher. She is smart, sharp and loves helping people. With the community college just steps from her home, one would think it should be easy for her to fulfill her dreams. But her fear of deportation keeps her away from campus. The community college recently changed their tuition policies so that any county resident with a county high school diploma pays in-county tuition, regardless of their documentation status. Still, the tuition is completely out of her reach. She is not able to work, AND go to school, AND support her daughter. But even if she is able to study, who would employ her afterwards? How would she get a driver’s license and a car to get to work? How would she be able to obtain a meaningful employment that will help her pave a secure future for her daughter?
She crossed the border in her mother’s lap when she was one-year old. She was raised in the U.S.; she got a good U.S. education, and she has the same dreams and aspirations as her peers. She is doing everything right. She works, pays her taxes, and has opened a savings account for her daughter. Yet she has been forced to be a spectator in her community with few options for upward mobility. The day President Obama announced the new policy that would allow Latino youth to study and work for two years without fear of deportation, Lisa texted me asking for help applying to the community college. Her fears were gone.
But school is the least of her problems right now. After almost one year of having no contact with Pablo, Lisa received the package she has always feared, divorce papers petitioning sole custody of Angela. She is going crazy. First, she has very few legal resources and doesn’t know the system. Because Pablo is a U.S. citizen, she is afraid he will have more rights to the child than she does. And even if she gets shared custody, where would her daughter sleep, will she be safe, will she be loved and protected? He has been gone so long without even asking for her, what are his intentions? Fathers should be allowed to build strong bonds with their children and have meaningful interactions, but sometimes this fills young mothers with a lot of fear and unanswered questions. To maintain custody—at least shared—she would need to prove she works and is able to support her daughter. She now faces the same problem she ran into when applying for child support. Because she is not documented, she can get her employer in trouble, but if she states that she doesn’t work, she would be lying. Lisa doesn’t know the system, the terms, the standards of practice, her rights as a mother above all. One thing she does know is that when you are undocumented, any certainty of due process, any standards, and safety nets disappear.
But Lisa, as well as thousands of young Latinos, are hopeful that the two years of amnesty Obama has offered will change her present and future. For many, the next two years will lift the veil of fear, will raise hopes, and may offer additional motivation to pursue an education.
What role do teen pregnancy prevention and teen parent supporters have in advocating for the rights of immigrants?
About the Author
Dr. Genevieve Martínez-García, Director of Innovation and Research at Healthy Teen Network, is a health educator committed to bringing innovation to the field of sexual and reproductive health. She has over 14 years of experience researching adolescent sexual and reproductive health issues such as mHealth, fertility, social determinants of health, cultural and economic barriers to health care access among minority populations, health media literacy, characteristics of programs for pregnant and parenting teens, and Latino youth pregnancy intentions.