Miami class action lawsuit aims to halt deportation of U.S.-born children's parents
By Tal Abbady
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Posted October 12 2006
A group of lawyers and immigrant advocates Wednesday sued the federal government, seeking to stop immigration officials from deporting undocumented parents of U.S.-born children.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Miami, seeks class action status for 60 families in South Florida. Officials from Honduran Unity, Nicaraguan Fraternity and the Peruvian-American Coalition asked the court for an emergency injunction to halt deportations they say trample the civil rights of American children.
The lawsuit names as defendants President Bush, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and federal immigration officials. Advocates say an injunction would protect children while Congress considers competing immigration proposals — a debate that has been stalled in recent months.
“It's election time and members of Congress decided to save their seats and forget about immigration reform,” said Nora Sandigo, head of the Nicaraguan Fraternity. “They chose to sacrifice children who were born here but are treated like second-class citizens because their parents are undocumented.”
More than three million children born in the United States have parents who are undocumented immigrants, according to researchers at the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Institute. Often dubbed “anchor babies” by anti-immigrant groups, they form an emotional fault line in the debate over how to fix a frayed immigration system.
“Our children are not just branches you can just rip from a tree,” said Julio Rosell, a Cuban-born Pembroke Pines resident who faces deportation along with his Guyanese-born wife.
They don't know where their Florida-born children, Julio Rosell Jr., 9, and Jeannette Rosell, 10, will end up.
Rosell, 41, made his way from Cuba to Brazil and arrived in the United States as a stowaway on a mercantile ship. Immigration officials detained Rosell but eventually released him. He received a work permit, met his wife, had children and started a business.
Thirteen years after settling in South Florida, Rosell received a letter informing him that, as a stowaway, he did not after all qualify to stay in the United States, even though federal policy generally allows Cubans who reach U.S. soil to remain. After receiving the letter, he was stripped of his work permit and driver's license.
He could be deported to Cuba. Carolina Rosell, 41, who applied for residency through her husband, could be deported to Guyana.
“I'm in limbo,” Julio Rosell said. “Why didn't the government deport me when I arrived? They let me go. I made my life. Now I'm being forced to abandon my children.”
The lawsuit claims U.S. immigration laws that force apart families violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It also claims such separations violate the children's constitutional rights.
Advocates of stricter immigration enforcement laws, however, argue parenthood should not give undocumented immigrants special status.
“These parents have made breathtakingly bad decisions,” said John Keeley of the Center for Immigration Studies. “Nobody forced them to come here illegally. This is their burden. If they have a duty to care for their children, they must do so in their home countries.”
Contemplating a move to Cuba or Guyana worries Jeannette Rosell, a fifth-grader at Boulevard Heights Elementary School in Hollywood.
“I wouldn't know the language there. I wouldn't know anybody,” she said. “Where would I live? What would I eat? It's much better here in the States.”
Tal Abbady can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-356-4523.