The Price of Parents for Young Undocumented Immigrants

In the United States, many individuals seeking citizenship have discovered it doesn’t matter what they’ve done, as much as what their parents have done.

In January, much of the world found out that students who have U.S. citizenship and who have grown up in Florida do not have the right to in-state tuition if at least one of their parents is an undocumented resident. Criticized by many immigration advocates as a measure that is unconstitutional, the action seems to be only one of many where the United States places penalizes its young citizens for the actions of their parents.

A recent Los Angeles Times article reported on how one little-known provision from the United States’ 1996 immigration law has caused some younger immigrants much strife in their now-adult lives. The provision states that undocumented residents who would be eligible to legalize their status are not given the right if they return to their native country and then come back into the United States.

Now married to a United States citizen and seven months pregnant, Jiovanna Campbell recently returned to her native country of Mexico to apply for U.S. citizenship. However, when she arrived there, she found out that her family’s trip to bring her dead uncle’s body back to Mexico to be buried barred her from gaining the right to citizenship. The trip took place when Campbell was 9. Now stuck in Mexico with a distant aunt, Campbell may face more than 10 years of living in limbo in a country she doesn’t know.

“I’ve never worked illegally,” Campbell told the LA Times. “I’ve never had a job in the U.S. I’ve never even gotten a ticket. I do community service. I thought my chances were going to be pretty good to be able to get my visa.”

However, experts who believe the 1996 provision was never meant to hurt the citizenship chances of children are now looking into the laws.

“If you’re saying you’re trying to get tough on immigrants who are crossing the border illegally, you can’t do that for a 9-year-old,” immigration expert Stephen Manning told the LA Times.