Since Daymieri Ariciel Narvaez was a child, she wanted was to help her parents live without fear. As the daughter of undocumented immigrants, she dreamed of enrolling in the military so that they could obtain a green card and no longer be at risk of deportation. “I was always afraid that I wouldn’t find my parents when I got home.”
Narvaez is part of a mixed-status family. According to FWD.us, more than 22 million people in the United States live in mixed-status households, where at least one undocumented person lives with US citizens or lawful temporary immigrants. Mixed-status families can include a couple where one spouse is a citizen and the other is undocumented, or a household where the parents are undocumented but the children are protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Nearly half of all DACA recipients live in mixed-status families. Children in a mixed-status household are often forced to take on vital roles—acting as translators, legal representatives, and intermediaries between the US system and their immigrant family members.
For the children of undocumented immigrants, trying to fulfill these responsibilities is laborious and confusing. “I had the trauma of an immigrant child who always wants to do something to help their parents but cannot do anything,” said Narvaez. But despite those obstacles, her parents pushed her to continue her education. Now, Narvaez is a freshman at Columbia University with a full scholarship, pursuing a biomedical engineering major.
A 2019 report from the Journal of Applied Research on Children found that “discrimination against mixed-status, Latino families constitutes a critical threat to the health and well-being of Latino children” and that “further research should inform immigration policies that support (rather than threaten) the health, well-being, and health care practices that mitigate the stresses experienced.” To children in mixed-status families, these reforms can’t come fast enough. “I haven’t given up the hope that my parents will legalize,” said Narvaez. In 2008, Barack Obama promised voters that immigration reform would be a “top priority” during the first year of his presidency. Millions of immigrants waited for the administration to provide an easier path to citizenship—but it never came. “[My parents] are hoping that a policy will work something out for them. But the probability of that goes down every time [politicians] make promises and don’t keep them.”
According to the Polarization Index, which was developed in part by the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism to track national political division through social media, immigration is the most divisive issue in the United States. In August, a Gallup poll found that almost 40 percent of Americans wanted immigration to decrease—the largest amount since 2016. “I want politicians to be clear about immigration and be transparent with people,” said Ruth Rodriguez, a student at the University of California–Los Angeles. “I know immigration reform won’t come any time soon.”
In July, a group of Democratic representatives introduced the “Renewing Immigration Provisions of the Immigration Act of 1929.” The legislation would update the immigration registry cutoff date so that an immigrant who has been in the United States for at least seven years would now qualify, allowing around 8 million immigrants to gain lawful permanent status. “For decades, immigrants who contribute significantly to our communities and our economy have been relegated to a legal limbo,” said Representative Zoe Lofgren. “I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing this legislation to provide these immigrants with the stability and certainty they and their families deserve.” The bill was also introduced in the Senate by Dick Durbin and Alex Padilla in September, but, with a new Congress now in session, the proposed legislation will have to be reintroduced.
Until immigration reform is passed, millions of families will continue to live in fear. “I have to go to therapy because I was feeling the pressure of being part of a mixed-status family. Feeling guilty that I was not with my parents, that they will be deported and I won’t be able to be with them, see them, help them,” said Rodriguez. Rodriguez is an advocate for mixed-status families. In 2022, she traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet public policy practitioners as a Public Policy and International Affairs fellow at Princeton University. This year, Rodriguez hopes to expand her network and get firsthand experience in lobbying and public policy. “People like me with mixed-status families need a label to identify themselves with, and I think they had been missing that for a long time.”
Rodriguez says that her mixed-status helps her see immigration policy proposals from a unique—and critical—perspective. “Any issue that I encounter, I see it through the lens of not only a documented individual but also as an undocumented individual. I will see how policies will affect my parents and people that I love who are undocumented,” said Rodriguez. “In the end, what pushes me is that my parents came to this country, traveling miles to be here. Here I am, scared to do the same thing; I can come back, but my parents can’t. When I realize that, I am maybe fearful, but I cannot let that stop me. Because the same courage that runs in the blood of my parents to be here runs in mine.”