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Emanual Ramirez,18-Year-Old US Citizen of Parents Without Work Authorization, Asks to "Keep Families Together"

Emanual Ramirez

[Editor’s Note: A recent study identified the health consequences of immigration policy on US citizen children of parents without authorization. Here, a young US citizen describes his own upbringing and the affect his parents’ immigration status had, and continues to have, on his family.]

When the Dust Rises

“When the Dust Rises” is an anthology of written and photographic submissions from Mount Vernon migrant youth, some as young as 11, who participate in the Mount Vernon Migrant Leaders Club. The content widely varies in form and speaker -- but in each of the pieces runs a common thread of the daily life of a migrating family: trauma, split families, moves, oppression, but also resilience, strength, and hope. Here are a few excerpts from the book.

“My parents would work for 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. Some days I wouldn’t see them at all or maybe for a just a brief second. Sometimes I would wake up while they were carrying me in or out of the car, but that was the only time I really got to see their faces, covered in dirt, blood, and sweat. I wouldn’t wake up because they would shake me or move me, but because I would feel their rough, cold skin rub against mine. Imagine that, five years old and not knowing what your parents’ faces looked like or what their voices sounded like...”
-From “The Truth Behind My Scars” by Javier, 16 years old

“I am from the handmade mandil
The 3 sacks of flour
Religious altars
And old pictures on the wall
I am from the coughing of the chile burning on the comal
The ‘xindá’ví-iniún’ and ‘kuákusou’
The killing chickens
And ‘vamos a hacer tortillas’”
-From “Where I Am From” by Nayeli, 15 years old

“When I was one year old, my mom left me with my grandma and my dad. It wasn’t because she didn’t want me; it was because she was trying to keep me safe and keep herself safe, too. I wish I could explain more about that, but I just can’t. We’re still trying to keep ourselves safe.”
-From “Crossing the Border” by Erendida, 14 years old

“How can you have the heart to separate families? He wasn't a criminal. He was a hard-working father with the wife, raising six children what did he do wrong? My mother was left to raise six children on her own for three years. He missed our birthdays and he missed my brother's graduation.”
-From “Taken” by Noemi, 11 years old

“I have a secret.
Don’t tell anyone.
super powers!
Yeah, you heard right.
I have super powers.
I am invisible!
But somehow...
Every time I enter a room, it follows me,
The fact that I am an immigrant."
-From “I Am an Immigrant” by Rocio, 14 years old

“I do not know what is going to happen in the future, but I will keep on working My way towards my dream. I am not letting anyone take the only chance I have to bring peace to my parents’ life. I want to be the first one to go to a university and give my parents a better life, a life where they don't have to work anymore. I have a dream, and I am giving all that I have. I still have hope, and until that hope no longer exists, I will do my best and won't give up.”
-From “Scared” by Rosa, 17 years old

What is it like to be the US citizen son of parents who lack authorization to live here? Eighteen-year-old Emanuel Ramirez wants his schoolmates, his teachers, and his entire community in Mount Vernon, Washington to know. He wants them to understand how his family has been split between two countries, how his parents struggled to have enough money for the necessities, and what fears they face daily. As a member of Migrant Leaders Club, an after-school club for middle and high school students whose parents are migrant farmworkers, he shared his stories, in school groups, during special community events, however he could. This month, his stories were among those published in, “When the Dust Rises,” an anthology by Mount Vernon migrant youth.

When the Dust Rises book cover

Ramirez has four older siblings who were born and raised in Mexico. In the 1990s, before he was born and while his siblings were still very young, Ramirez’s parents left them with his grandmother, and crossed the border on foot. The parents took migrant farmworker jobs, frequently sending money back to support the children, and returning when they could during the off-season. “They couldn’t afford to send [my siblings] to school, or buy them clothes or food,” Ramirez said, so his parents chose to work in the US to provide the basics for their family. In the early 2000s, Ramirez was born, in the US, in the Mount Vernon region of Washington State. His parents continued to work seasonal jobs, but ceased to migrate. Ramirez’s two younger brothers, 7 and 15, were also born in the US.

“We stayed here because there was work for my parents, in berries, gardens, in tulips. I remember staying in these little migrant communities. They were little camps where they gave us housing. My parents couldn’t afford an apartment. It was crowded, there was no privacy,” he recalled. “Once October hit, we moved in with my tios or cousins. That’s when we’d barely make any money at all. Sometimes we had to skip meals so we could save food and still be able to send money to Mexico, because they were struggling more than us.”

When Ramirez was five, a local social worker who is active in the farmworker community met with Ramirez’s parents. She recognized the family’s desperation for year-round work and housing. She linked them with full-time, year-round jobs in a local nursery, where they still continue to work. The three US citizen children attend school and have their basic needs met. Ramirez, who graduated from high school this year, is starting at Western Washington University in the fall. But despite their more settled lifestyle and the three children’s US citizenship and more stable upbringing, the family continues to struggle.

“The fear was always around,” when he was a child, said Ramirez, who emphasized that stress and anxiety around deportation persisted throughout his childhood, but Trump’s policies have elevated the concerns. “I’ve been lucky to have my parents until now. But I fear for my [younger] brothers… I fear they might not have the privileges that I had, because they might not have our parents around.”  In his family’s deportation plans, Ramirez’s youngest brother would go to Mexico with his parents, while his 15-year-old brother would stay with him until he reaches 18. The family, already split, would be further separated.

Fear of deportation rings very strong in one of Ramirez’s stories in the anthology. His story, ¿Donde Estas?, focuses on one of his older Mexican citizen brothers, who had been in the US without authorization, and was deported at the beginning of the year after living in the US for five years.

“My mom didn’t take it well. She’s not happy,” he said, saying the deportation added to the long-term depression and anxiety she experiences over not being able to care for her first four children, struggling for decades with poverty, and living in continual fear over her own deportation. “Both of my parents feel guilty,” for missing their childrens’ childhoods. The guilt was compounded when, four years ago, a second brother, who lived in Mexico with his grandmother, accompanied his grandmother on a trip to Oaxaca, where he was shot and killed.

“He took care of my grandma -- he worked and supported her when she couldn’t work,” Ramirez said. “There was no justice in what happened to him. The authorities didn’t care.”

Ramirez has written about his family’s struggles because he wants the community to understand, to empathize for families like his, and to take action. He first joined the Migrant Leaders Club because his friends were doing it, and because his parents were at work after school. But he soon recognized the impact. “Our mission is to inform the community,” he said. “We tell people, if you do even something little, that will help us. You don’t have to do something big. People like us don’t have political power, so we want people to make moves to help keep us safe, to help keep families together.”










Immigrant Resources and Immediate Support (IRIS) serves the basic human needs of immigrant families in northwestern Washington State.

Underground Writing, the publisher of the book, is a literature-based creative writing program serving migrant, incarcerated, recovery, and other at-risk communities in northern Washington through literacy and personal transformation.

Read Ramirez’s stories in When the Dust Rises, which features a forward written by US Poet Laureate, Juan Felipe Herrera, available for purchase here.


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